Let me be clear that autonomy does not mean doing less; it means the freedom of doing things in a better, more optimized way.Steph Smith, Integral Labs*
Like so many other aspects of remote work, you will find yourself needing to manage almost every aspect of your productivity yourself. That’s not a bad thing per se—a small set of studies have shown that remote workers actually contribute between 1.5 and 4 days a month in extra individual productivity, compared to traditional office workers.* Given that remote work is increasingly measured via outcomes instead of time working, productivity is make-or-break for a remote worker.
Here are some suggestions for maximizing your productivity when you work from home:
Establish a schedule that works for you. We’ve covered this in detail elsewhere, but it’s important to have a schedule that supports your work and communication with your team. This will help you get into the right mindset and habit to work. If you plan to take short breaks regularly throughout your day, just five or ten minutes an hour away from the screen can help you come back feeling refreshed. It’s wise to make sure that you also build in a good amount of time to take a lunch break and get out of the house.
Clarify your responsibilities and priorities. You might already have a clear set of goals that you are working towards more autonomously, or you might be in a more task-based role where you have work assigned to you. Regardless of the nature of your daily work, it’s critical to make sure you understand exactly what’s required of you and to ask questions if you need to clarify anything. If you’re not sure of what’s most important, that’s a sign that your team’s goals aren’t aligned, and you will want to speak up and let your manager know so you (and anyone else who might be uncertain) can get aligned.
Understand when you’re most productive. Although remote workers tend to work longer hours than traditional employees,* it’s also important to understand how you’re spending your time, and when you’re most alert and energized. This goes beyond just whether you’re a morning person or not. People’s energy and motivation varies throughout the day. A good path is to take stock of how you prefer to work and schedule the right types of work during the day for your energy level. This is especially important if you’re not in the same space all the time or are traveling, and need to make the most of the times when you’re most effective.
Schedule time for distraction-free work. Sometimes you really need to get your head down and concentrate. The best approach is to block off time in your calendar for these activities, turn off notifications, and eliminate other distractions so you can give the task your undivided attention. You and your team might even want to schedule particular activities for specific days—for example, Monday could be your meetings day, Friday could be your catch-up and small tasks day, and Tuesday through Thursday could be your project days. Tools like RescueTime can automatically work out where your attention is when you’re using your computer, so you can make adjustments.
Use a to-do list. This may seem like obvious advice, but it’s often not heeded. One major boost to productivity is tracking all of your tasks in one place—that way you can manage your project activities, team member requests, miscellaneous actions, and other activities from a central location. Even if your company has a good communication architecture in place, you may still have information and requests coming in via email, Slack, a project management tool, over the phone, or through other systems. There are plenty of great to-do list managers, so it helps to try them out and see what works for you. Examples include productivity practices like “Getting Things Done” or approaches like checking off tasks at times that reflect your differing energy levels.
Hold yourself accountable. Good self-management comes from being responsible and accountable for your work. This includes making sure you’re reporting on what you’re doing to your team and manager, and being sure that nothing falls through the cracks. It can also be helpful to get a work accountability partner who can provide extra incentives. If you start to feel overloaded or you need more time, it is important to talk to your manager about sharing work or using techniques to get you back on track.
Further Resources for Productivity
Now that we’ve covered the general approaches and skills for remote working, it’s time to move onto more practical areas, like creating the right workspace.