Top 5 Remote Working Hacks

Remote Working Hack #1 Write down the top three tasks you need to complete on a given day.

I generally find the more I have to do, the less I get done because of repeated task switching, which often leads to procrastination. My number one piece of advice is to write down a very small number of your top priority tasks (I find three works well), focus on them and consider other tasks as distractions. I usually split my work day into three blocks, focusing on each of these and then any other smaller tasks can be completed once those top three tasks are complete. This creates a greater level of urgency for my top priorities, increases focus, and decreases opportunity for procrastination.

You can adjust the number of larger key focus blocks to account for your type of work i.e.  I’m an engineer so my tasks are generally fewer and larger, a personal assistant may have many tasks that are smaller. Keep a task list for each week and see what you complete on average, then build your daily plan.

Remote Working Hack #2 Put Effort into Structuring your Day

One thing I’ve struggled with recently is mornings, I’m based in Ireland and mainly work with US clients so they’re online later in the day. I can start my day later, and finish later. This causes problems when you sleep in until 9 or 10 am and then you don’t  finish until 7 or 8pm. This then means you’re not realistically going to fall asleep until 2am. The two issues with this for me, are:

  • the 3 hour window from 11pm-2am is rarely productive or healthy. I find myself either watching Netflix or looking at my phone, rather than socialising or exercising.
  • Because I am seen to be online at those hours, my team tend to *expect* me to be online at that time, scheduling meetings later in the day exacerbating the issues, making it more difficult to get back to starting the day earlier.

When working on-site, likely your line manager would have enforced these hours. However, with flexibility comes responsibility so you are expected to monitor your own working hours. Therefore, it is important to choose the hours YOU want to do. Push back on late meetings, avoid answering emails, responding to conversations outside of working hours – unless you’re comfortable with this being considered your regular working hours. Arrange your hours so that you can fit your personal tasks e.g. socialising, exercise in at the times that you want them.

Remote Working Hack #3 Move Around

Take advantage of your ability to work remotely!  Change your working location if you find a productivity plateau. A different room in the house can allow you to feel more focused as it’s not somewhere that you would traditionally be relaxing e.g. the kitchen table instead of on your bed/couch so you that can set it up as an area associated with focused working.  A coworking space is another interesting option as you will generally find other remote workers and small businesses, trying to get a lot done in a short space of time (and also a great place to find clients!). I find different locations help me to focus at different points throughout the day for instance a morning cafe has the buzz (and proximity to coffee!) that I need to start by working day and spending the afternoon in  coworking space provides a higher level of focus which is useful for me as I do my best work later in the day.

Remote Working Hack #4 Get comfortable using headphones

I’ve noticed that some people don’t like to wear headphones or listen to music when working. I can never quite get my head around this. It lets your location dictate your productivity. I will admit that I found it unnerving at first using noise cancelling headphones, I felt isolated from my surroundings, susceptible to miss something happening nearby but after about 30 minutes that feeling was gone and I managed to achieve another level of productivity that’s only possible when you can shut the world out and genuinely focus on what you’re doing. I now find having my headphones on means I’m in work mode, it almost flips a switch in my head and interestingly enough, when I’m struggling to focus, I’m usually avoiding wearing my headphones, because that’s when “work starts”.

Remote Working Hack #5: Removing Distractions

Usually when I follow the first 4 steps in this post, I don’t have much trouble with distractions, especially once the headphones are on. My general rule when working is once you have started a task, stay  on it until it’s finished or until you’re at a place in the task where you’re comfortable taking a break that won’t require a lot of cognitive effort to resume it later. This is why I don’t buy in Pomodoro timers as a methodology. If you still get distracted easily, being aware of the following things may help to clear the biggest distractions you’re likely to face:

  • Close any browser tabs that have animated favicons or titles, like how Gmail adds a “2” to the icon, or a tab might change the title e.g. “(1) Twitter”. These are tricks these services employ to make their app “addictive” at the cost of your productivity.
  • Be ruthless in muting non essential slack channels.
  • If you visit a site out of habit instead of actually wanting to go there, break the chain. If you have it bookmarked, remove the bookmark, so you have to manually type the address into your browser.
  • Use browser extensions to help limit your social media. I found this one: excellent, as instead of outright blocking, it just asks me how long I want to scroll facebook. Most of the time I don’t, and I pretty much just stopped using Facebook after I added it.
  • If your phone is going to be on the table, have it face down. If vibration is enabled, place the phone on something like a book or glasses case so it’s less noticeable (if you’re sharing tables in a coworking space PLEASE DO THIS for the sanity of the other people!!)
  • Avoid using your phone as part of your work, I recommend using a laptop based alternative, e.g. for different chat apps. Every time you look at your phone, it’s very easy to get lost in notification hell and you forget the reason why you looked at it in the first place.