Last year I wrote a blog post about the 3 main roadblocks I encountered when learning to work remotely. The first thing I mentioned was that time management, productivity and discipline is suddenly all up to you.
Little did I know that this would become the thing I’d have to work the hardest to conquer.
Being easily distracted is probably one of the most common issues with working – remotely or not. I was born with the attention span of a particularly spazzy goldfish combined with the motivation levels of a sloth, so self discipline became something I had to exercise whether I liked it or not.
Here are some pointers for y’all fellow procrastinators out there. Read this post… and then get to work!
Block out noise
Unless you’re one of those people who take inspiration from the surroundings, it’s pretty important to block off any outside noise. This is especially important for me when working from a public place (coffee shop, coworking space, etc) but also at the office or at home.
If you’re “blessed” with having as deficient of an attention span as me, then those hilarious coworkers/SO’s/kids/friends you love so much can be a real concentration breaker. Even if I’m not really an active part of whatever is going on around me, sometimes it’s unintentionally distracting anyway.
First of all, I suggest figuring out whether you work better in silence or with some specific background noise such as music or podcasts. From there you can invest into either good headphones (completely noise cancelling are the best, although expensive) or a good pair of ear plugs.
I mostly listen to the Focus playlists on Spotify, but find whatever works best for you and ignore the external rattle. Don’t be scared to look rude – if someone really needs something, they’ll physically tackle you.
Stay organized with lists
I’ve always been a huge fan of (not to say creepily obsessed with) task and to-do lists. Team Teleport uses Asana for task management, and even though I have my daily tasks in there, I make an actual, handwritten list every morning of things that need to be done that day. It takes about five minutes, but it’s like my own little stand up meeting to get me into the mood. Plus, IMHO, ticking a task off in a virtual setting isn’t half as satisfying as crossing it off on paper.
However, fun fact – I might be physically in my twenties, but mentally stuck somewhere between ages 5 and 7. Therefore, as useful as to-do lists are, I sometimes feel like gnawing my own leg off at how much they bore me.
Other toddler-mentality adults out there – you might wanna try out Habitica. It’s essentially a “video game” to help you improve real life habits. It “gamifies” your life by giving you a little character and turning all your tasks (habits, dailies, and to-dos) into tiny monsters you have to conquer.
Even though the word “gamification” makes me want to vomit (along with “moist” and “happenings”), this app is exactly what it is – and it’s a pretty sweet tool for staying juvenile and organized at the same time.
Real adults can still use Trello, Asana or another more conventional app – doesn’t matter, as long as you stay organized and have a clear overview of what you’re supposed to be doing at all times. Either way, ticking stuff off from your list is an addictive feeling and pushes you to work that little bit harder.
Stop looking at notifications
I didn’t even notice that this was an issue for me until a coworker pointed it out after I almost punched him in the face to get to an unread Fleep message mid-conversation.
I can not stress this enough: stop constantly checking your notifications.
For whatever reason, I’ve always hated unread messages and notifications. Up until very lately, I couldn’t deal with them. I had to know immediately what was going on. It was like a horrendous addiction I couldn’t shake – talk about FOMO.
Here’s the thing – in most cases, nothing at all will happen if you don’t read a message or reply to an email within a split second. Pinky promise. Two things I’ve started doing to battle this strange addiction:
1) Use two different browser windows – one for whatever you’re actually supposed to be working on, and the other one for stuff with notifications (work chats, email, social media, etc). And don’t, I repeat, don’t worry about those notifications. If someone really needs your attention right away, they’ll manage to get to you.
I work in chunks between breaks (we’ll touch on that more later) so I check my notifications and updates before every break – every few hours or so. And even then, sometimes I only read the chats I’m directly mentioned in, because they specifically require my attention, and leave other stuff for later. I’m trying to slowly ween myself off even having that second window open at all, but hey, baby steps.
2) Don’t read stuff immediately – this was also a doomer for me because I work a lot with external articles and media in general, which pretty much means I got distracted every five seconds because someone posted an article I needed to read right there and then.
Now I use Pocket – an app that saves interesting articles, videos etc from the web for later enjoyment. Everything I want or have to read, I’ll put in there, and then have a designated hour or so at the end of the day to go through all of it.
It basically becomes a separate task and stops your train of thought constantly being cut by extremely important stuff like “31 Tweets About Farts That We All Secretly Relate To” in the middle of work.
Work in chunks
This is a fairly individual thing, but I’ve noticed that little breaks every two hours drastically improve my productivity – I Hulk out on everything for a few hours and then have a 10-20 minute break that clears my thoughts out.
I’ve already previously talked about finding your best time of day to work, but I also suggest playing around with your work-break ratios to see what works best for you. The Pomodoro method is very popular and a lot of people I know swear by it, but if it sounds fishy, test out other combinations.
If you’re looking for something simple, I use Plato Timer to regulate my work/play times. You can set your own work for and break for times, so it’s highly customizable.
Measure your productive time
I feel like the lovely people at Toggl should buy me lunch soon for how much I hype them in 90% of my blog posts, but honestly – it’s my favourite tool for time tracking.
First of all, it’s important to know how much work you actually got done on any given day – especially when you don’t have to work strict 9-5 hours, to make sure you get the required amount of work done. However, I also measure time per specific tasks.
Doing this means that at the end of the week (or month) I can compare time spent on various different task categories and see whether the results of my work are reasonable compared to the time spent on them.
I’ve also heard good stuff about Harvest, which is a time tracking app with similar features to Toggl – find whichever one suits you best, and take full advantage of the reports features as well as time tracking itself.
I started doing this about a year ago, and by now I roughly know how much time a certain type of task takes me by heart, so I can plan my time a lot better than before. Plus, there’s obviously the solid, written proof of getting work done in data form, which is always a nice kick.
What are your tricks for making sure you don’t stray when you’re supposed to be working? Let us know in the comments!
Team Teleport is currently distributed across 5 countries, plus we tend to travel around quite a bit. In addition to mapping out the relocation nuisances we could fix with software, we aim to offer a source of advice and information on remote work to encourage others to become location independent.