How do focus on work when you can so easily make a snack, turn on the TV, or
climb into bed?
It’s a question a growing number of Americans are asking themselves as more shift to working from home. Gone are the traditional distractions of noisy coworkers, hovering bosses, and general office hubbub. The newest workday interruptions include the family dog, small children, and your own short attention span.
Exactly how to make the most of working outside the office — and how to stay focused — is one of the main topics discussed in “Remote: Office Not Required,” a new book by entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.
Drawing largely from their own experiences running web-app company 37signals, Fried and Heinemeier Hansson offer a number of strategies to help remote workers make the most of their unconventional setups and stay motivated for a full day of work. Here are their top seven tips:
1. Set a schedule.
It’s great to have the flexibility of working any time, any place, but operating without any structure can hurt your productivity. Divide your day up into blocks. Fried and Heinemeier Hansson suggest using “Catch-up, Collaboration, and Serious Work” as your labels. Maybe you take a break between “Collaboration” and “Serious Work” to have a snack or play a game with your kids. The important thing is to use a relatively consistent schedule each day. Sure, you can switch it up once in a while — that’s one of the huge benefits of remote working — but having a set routine will help you switch between professional and personal modes from the confines of your own house.
2. Get dressed for work.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to be in a full suit in your kitchen. But there is a psychological benefit to ditching the pajamas and getting dressed decently. Changing from loaf-around-the-house clothes to presentable attire is another way of creating boundaries between home life and work life. You can put the slippers and sweatshirt back on at the end of the day.
3. Mix up office and remote work.
Just because you’re a remote employee doesn’t mean you have to work remotely all the time. You can work from home some days; commute to the office on others; or do both at once. Fried, for example, tends to work from home starting around 7:30 or 8 a.m., before heading into the office around 11 a.m. The quiet mornings allow him to catch up on work without office distractions, while the afternoons let him address more collaborative projects. As a remote employee, you can be flexible, so take advantage of that. A routine is helpful (as discussed in the first point), but doing the same thing day-in and day-out can numb your creativity and make it easier to zone out while working.
4. Consider the coffee shop.
We’ve all faced the mid-afternoon lull. That can be particularly dangerous when working from home, as it’s far more liable to turn into a mid-afternoon nap. When complete isolation makes it harder, rather than easier, to concentrate, it’s time to relocate to somewhere with some friendly white noise. That might mean the neighbourhood coffee shop, a local park, or a library. As Fried and Heinemeier Hansson write, “It sounds counterintuitive, but the presence of other people, even if you don’t know them, can fool your mind into thinking that being productive is the only proper thing to do.”
5. Overlap with your teammates.
Even if everyone on your team is in a different country, it’s still important to schedule some overlap in the hours you’re putting in. This might mean you need to make some scheduling compromises, but it will pay off in terms of collaboration. You’ll still likely have part of the day just to yourself, and then during the overlapping period you’ll have colleagues to bounce ideas off and get help on any tricky projects. When you’re feeling stifled and unexcited about a project, conferring with a coworker can be a great way to jumpstart your ingenuity and find new motivation for an old idea.
6. Separate your digital devices.
One thing that makes switching between work and play particularly difficult is having all your emails, phone calls, and other communications mashed together. For some people, this is inevitable. But if your company gives you a separate work phone or computer, take advantage of that. Use one set of devices for professional matters and the other set for personal. That way, when work is over, you can literally unplug.
7. Take on work you like.
This may sound naively optimistic, but the fact of the matter is that self-motivation is essential to remote work, and people are far more likely to be self-motivated when they care about what they’re doing. If you like what you do but still are feeling burned out, it might be time to check in with your manager. Are you stuck on a project? Do you need to take a break? These are legitimate questions to raise, especially when your boss can’t check on you in person every day.
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