how to be productive while working remotely
We’re in a new era of work.
I always knew I wanted to work remotely and in college, people laughed at me for a bit. You have to earn remote work, they said. It’s hard to do.
But now? Some companies are fully remote, some companies allow for remote days, and some companies have some remote employees and some in-HQ employees (that’s my company). But regardless, more and more companies are (and should be, in my opinion) moving toward the trend that is remote working.
While I’ve prided myself on being able to absolutely CRUSH working from home 98% of the time, it did take a lot of trial and error, especially as I moved into a full-time remote job.
Coffee shops are my ideal remote work space, but I’ve learned more and more that it’s necessary to balance working at an outside place vs. working from my actual home — mostly because sometimes you just need to be home to eat (and not spend $$$ eating out), give yourself a mental space, and do the things that you can’t do if you’re not at home (i.e. laundry).
Whether you work from home (remotely) all the time, or just sometimes, or even never (and are looking for some insight as to what it’s really like), keep reading for my tips, tricks, and experiences.
1. Do not let yourself get into bed
I repeat, do not let yourself get into bed. Not during the workday, at least.
Sometimes I’ll take my laptop into bed with me if I’m at home and have to work after dinner, but it’s pretty not ideal for 2 reasons:
You’ll be more likely to Netflix binge something if you’re in bed instead of actually working.
So make your bed as soon as you get up in the morning. Go through your morning routine, then put real clothes on and leave your bedroom. Preferably close the door and keep it closed.
2. Find your ideal work-times & create a routine
Some people are morning people; some people are night people. Either works, but you have to work with your natural circadian rhythms.
Figure out when your peak energy times are and try to do your deep work then. Snooze your Slack notifications, turn your phone on Do Not Disturb or airplane mode, exit out of all tabs that you don’t need, turn your laptop (if you have a Mac) on Do Not Disturb*.
*Note: I actually set my laptop to be on Do Not Disturb from the hours of 7am-7pm AKA when I’d be working.
Then build the rest of your routine around that. Schedule meetings for when you find it hard to do deep work (for me, that’s the afternoon), workouts for when you either have the least resistance (the morning), need a break (midday), or need to destress (evening).
Create a routine for yourself, just like you would in school or in an office, and try to stick to it.
Read: How the Most Productive People Schedule Their Days from Business 2 Community
3. Take breaks & set boundaries
It’s easy to slack off when you’re working from home, but it’s also easy to work nonstop because there is no physical office to leave, no clearing off your desk at night and maybe evening leaving your computer on said desk (gasp).
If you’re lucky enough to have space for a home office, it’s a bit easier to set boundaries. Treat it as you would in a real office — clean off your desk, close your computer, and close the door of your office if there is one.
If that’s not an option (and even if that is), you can set boundaries digitally by:
Turning off Slack or other messaging services
Exiting out of all work tabs
Ideally closing your laptop and not turning it on until morning
Check everything you need one more time (email, group threads, Slack, etc.) and then stop
Do a recap of the day and brain dump
Create a to-do list for tomorrow
The other thing is to take breaks often for maximum productivity.
I’m a huge fan of the timer method — setting a timer (do it via voice control; it’s faster - I learned this from an old boss of mine) for X amount of time and sprinting to finish work in that allotted time, then changing tasks or taking a break after.
There’s been a lot of research on what breaks are effective, but the biggest pieces of advice I can offer on breaks are to know what type of breaks work for you and to actually take them.
Take purposeful breaks (aka not scrolling down Instagram for an hour) so you don’t get lost in a rabbit hole.
Grab a snack, grab a coffee (with or without friends), call your mom, take a walk, go workout, etc. Breaks should recharge you, not make you reluctant to go back to work.
P.S. I’ve been doing cryotherapy as break sometimes because each session is only 3 minutes (10 minutes when you count setup time) and it wakes me up better than coffee and boosts your mood while reducing muscle inflammation.
4. Change your scenery
I typically do my work from a coffee shop for half the day, then home, the library, or another coffee shop for the other half. Mostly because it’s kind of weird to park yourself at a coffee shop from 9-5, but also because it allows me to give my mind a break.
Also so I can go home and make lunch or make lunch then venture out, depending on how my day is structured.
I recommend that you walk from place to place when changing scenery - walks inspire creativity and allow you to decompress, and also help you get moving, which brings us to…
5. Get moving
Bet you didn’t see that one coming (lol).
Movement is important to get your blood flowing to your brain - and you know, the rest of your body.
What type of movement you do depends on you. I personally like walks throughout the day (like aforementioned) and a workout class sometime during the day.
Mornings are great for pumping you up for the day, and is my preferred time to workout if you have to work the hours of a 9-5, even if it’s from remotely.
Lunchtime or mid-afternoon workouts are preferred if you don’t have to stick to a strict schedule because they’re typically emptier classes (if you’re doing workout classes), your muscles are looser, and for me, it’s when I really need a mental break anyway.
Evening or night workouts are really difficult for me personally to do, because by the time the sun sets, I’m mentally done. Pretty much the only thing I can get myself to do is yoga, which is actually pretty great in the evening, but still. If you’re a night person, go for it. I know people who enjoy going to the gym at 11pm.
Figure out what your form of movement is, even if it’s just a daily walk, and commit to it. Ideally, pencil it into your planner (or like… add it to your iCal/Google Calendar) so you’ll have it as part of your routine and be more likely to stick to it.
6. Plan your day
This goes with creating a routine, which we talked about earlier, but each day will have some variance depending on what you have on your plate at work and what you have in your personal life.
I recommend getting into the habit of planning your day the night before so you can optimize your time and mentally prepare yourself for what’s coming the next day.
I use my Passion Planner religiously for this — it grounds me in in the morning and then I use it again at night to plan out the next day and review this day. It also works for monthly planning and goal tracking.
7. Working from home does not = a day off
If you need a day off, take it. That’s important.
But working from home doesn’t equal a day off.
It’s not beneficial to your company for you to watch Netflix when you’re supposed to be working and it’s not beneficial to you either – it typically creates this sense of guilt and/or fear of getting caught slacking off.
It’s a weird limbo where you’re “online” so you’re still thinking about work, but being zero percent productive.
Believe me, I went to a university where we did co-ops (full-time paid internships during the school year) and I’ve heard all the “work from home but not really working” stories.
Again, if you need a day off, please don’t feel guilty taking it. It’s the key to recharging and becoming more productive, but make it a “work hygiene” practice to not take days to work from home as complete free-for-alls.
8. Use tools to help you
I / my company use(s) a variety of tools to keep us all on the same page. I quite honestly think that they’re the most efficient company I’ve worked for in terms of business tools (we don’t email internally!), but here are the ones I use on a daily basis and recommend that you try out either personally or professionally:
Slack: OK, this only works if other people you work with are on Slack, but it’s a great communication tool. If you are in a position to make a business decision for your business, I 100% believe in it. It’s not (just) a place to send GIFs - it’s a hub of NO EMAILING BACK AND FORTH (thank goodness) and for quick responses. You can do so many things with it — there are a ton of integrations) and it allows you to connect with your team while still maintaining your own workflow.
Asana: TBH I hated Asana the first time it was brought around at my old company. Nothing against Asana or the company, but I think it was a failure of getting everyone on board to use it. Now? Asana is my lifesaver — it’s my to-do list at work, but it also works to collaborate on projects, plan marketing campaigns, plan business experiments, keep track of creative requests, and much more. Like Slack, you can do a ton with Asana. If I could use it for my personal life and other aspects of my business(es) and not pay for it, I would.
Google Calendar/iCal: I have my Google Calendar synch with my iCal because I personally (weirdly) prefer iCal. All my friends know this. But seriously, I schedule everything into my calendar. Everything. Every meeting, where I will be doing work and when, my workouts, coffee dates/lunches with people (hint: you can and should also send them a calendar invite because the likelihood they will cancel on you or forget is lower if you do that). I’m also a color-coder AKA everything has its own particular color.
Google Drive (Sheets, Docs, PPT): You know that time you were writing on Microsoft Word and then your computer shut down and you lost everything? Or when you lost your actual computer and everything was gone? BACK IT UP ON THE CLOUD. Or just use Google Drive to do all your writing/planning/all the things, because it’s free (unlike Microsoft Suite), is automatically backed up and stored, is accessible from any computer, and allows you to share, edit, and collaborate.
My physical planner: I’ve been using Passion Planner since many many years ago when they launched on Kickstarter. They’re a mission-driven, women-founded and owned company based out of San Diego, but even more than that is that they are a beautiful, effective planner. There is a goals section at the front (and a mid-year check in), and it’s helped me achieve so many of my goals (and was the keystone to me recovering from my eating disorder, because I literally wrote down the steps I’d take for me to recover).
Gmail: Yes, Gmail is necessary when communicating with external people (and for when I do freelance work, my blog work, and have to communicate with clients). While I’m still lamenting the death of Inbox by Gmail, Gmail has kind of justified it by incorporating some of the features that I loved about Inbox into their new standard Inbox, including snoozing emails and scheduling sends.
Notes App: This is honestly one of the reasons why I’m a fan of the iPhone/Mac combo — seamless integration from phone to computer. I use my Notes app to type up anything from ideas to to-dos for all aspects of my life: personal, work, freelance, blog/content creation, fitness, teaching workout classes, etc. Here are some Notes shortcuts you can use.
Dropbox: This is my ideal place for storing photos. You can use IFFT to connect (more on that later) so you can automatically store some photos, but it’s great if you’re a photographer or content creator — I upload to Dropbox and share the link with brands/other people. Companies can use Dropbox for graphic design work if you don’t opt to use Drive.
Keyboard Shortcuts: Please, if you’re using Google Chrome and not using these shortcuts, LEARN THEM. Same goes for Mac/PC shortcuts.
Industry-specific: Hootsuite (for social media scheduling and management), MailChimp (for my personal mailing list + clients’ mailing lists), Klaviyo (email service provider for work and for clients), PayPal (for invoicing), Squarespace (for this).
IFTTT: Stands for “if this then that,” which is essentially what it does. It’s the conditional statement you learned about in high school… made possible by computer automation. I use it to automatically download IG photos I post to Dropbox, but the possibilities are virtually endless — you can even order pizza via Alexa and Twitter.
Crushing Work from Home by Paleomg (Podcast Episode 129)
5 Tips for Being Productive While Working from Home by Jenna Calderara (Bloom Blog)
The Best Coffeeshops in Boston to Get Work Done (this blog)
Deep Work by Cal Newport (book)
Beyond the To-Do List by Erik Fisher (Podcast)