Early last month I joined about 80 other participants, alumni, and staff from the Praxis startup apprenticeship program for an intense weekend of skill sharing, collaboration, and fun.
Breakout sessions at conferences are usually pretty “meh,” but these were the best of the best. I came away with pages and pages of notes, some of which I’m finally sharing now.
My friend Amanda Kingsmith shared some great tips on staying productive while working remotely. This is a challenge for me, so I can think of no one better to provide workarounds than Amanda – a fully remote Praxis advisor, yoga coach and business advisor, and podcaster (Did I mention that The World Wanderers Podcast is one of the top travel podcasts on iTunes?).
Try out some of her* field-tested productivity habits next time you’re working away from the office.
1. Plan Your Days Ahead
Get a paper daytimer or another calendar planning tool. Track your objectives and obligations for each day.
2. Know Your Non-Negotiable Priorities
Define your pivot points for each day. What are the things that you absolutely must accomplish? What are the commitments that are non-negotiable? If you can stick to these, you still will have won even on more chaotic days.
3. Think About How You Spend Your Time
What do you need to do on a weekly, daily, monthly, or other ongoing basis? What are you doing at those intervals now?
4. Motive Yourself By Changing Your Environment
Don’t work in your pajamas. Go somewhere – a coffee shop, a park, etc. You’ll find yourself focusing more on your work during time spent at a place designated expressly for the purpose of doing work.
5. Treat Yo’Self
If you finish a long day of work and cross of your to-do’s, reward yourself with something nice that would normally be out of your reach or normal budget/routine. Train your mind with these positive incentives.
6. Set Deadlines
Your clients or bosses won’t be around in person to hold you accountable. You have to do that for yourself. The first step to accountability is a standard. While you can be tempted to avoid structure while working remotely, setting (and keeping) deadlines for yourself is healthy and essential. Find an accountability partner to keep you on track with those deadlines.
7. Audit Yourself and Find Your Best Work Times
One of the great things about remote work is the freedom to set a schedule independent of the rhythms of office life. However, this can create bad habits of late nights and late mornings, and the strain of time zone differences can also add up. Pay attention to when you get the best work done and arrange your schedule to allow yourself focus in that time.
8. Take Regular Breaks
Breaks should not be an afterthought. If you find yourself working for four hours straight, you might realize too late that your real productivity and creativity have taken a dropoff. Be intentional about stepping away from your computer. Schedule in breaks to do other activities that rejuvenate your mind/body. It will be worthwhile for your work.
9. Set Boundaries
Just because you’re on a weird time zone doesn’t mean you need to be taking calls at 2 AM in the morning – unless you’re into that kind of thing. Once you’ve figured out the working times that are best for you and have agreed upon hours with your clients and/or employers, stick to them. Don’t give in to the temptation to be always on and always available. It will dig into your productivity in seriously damaging ways in the long term.
10. Find Workarounds for Your Productivity Weaknesses
Checking Facebook too often? Block off your own access. Missing deadlines? Get an accountability partner or business coach to hold your feet to the fire. Do whatever it takes to convince your body and mind to obey you and do what need’s doing. There’s always a clever way to make work more rewarding and slacking off more costly.
11. Show and Tell
When you’re working remotely, it can be hard to tell if your employers or clients know about your hard work. You don’t have the benefit of being seen at a desk every day. The best way to counter this is to touch base with clients/employers regularly and share meaningful updates. These updates should show tangible evidence of value created in your time away. This is already more than most in-office employees do, so if you treat this as a consistent practice, you won’t need to worry about keeping your place on a team.
*(Note: I’ve paraphrased many of Amanda’s points from high-level notes, so these phrasings do not necessarily represent Amanda’s exact points or phrasings. My recall is also only partial, so I’ve taken the liberty of filling some gaps in my memory through intuition).