Productivity Hacks for Remote Workers: 7 Tactics for Working Smarter
January 9, 2018 –
When you start at Convert, you get a few onboarding documents and a solid half million links.
And here’s the gist of most of them:
Figure out how you work best and then work that way.
Working independently gives you a lot of freedom. But as some would say:
And mitigating the “power” to work wherever, however, and (to a great extent) whatever hours you choose—it is a big responsibility. No one is looking over your shoulder. No one is “checking in.” Showing up to work means opening your laptop.
Now, I’d been working independently for a while, already. But I still fell into traps.
Like: “I went to Facebook to check on some ads I was running but now I’m just on Facebook.”
Or: “Someone shared a cool Medium article in Slack and now I’ve read 12 Medium articles.”
And that aside—learning to work in a way that was best for my own productivity, AND aligned with a team, was a new challenge for me.
So I started paying attention to what “figure out how you work best” means for our team. And came up with a list of methods that might help other remote workers figure it too.
What it is: Pomodoro give structure to the idea of “taking a break.” It’s a way of working on a specific task in sprints.
Traditionally, it breaks down like this:
- Decide on a task, and set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Work on that task 25 minutes—until the timer rings.
- Take a 5 minute break.
- Repeat 4 times.
- Take a longer 15-30 minute break.
Just as splitting a large goal into smaller goals, makes it easier to achieve—splitting big tasks into small objectives make finishing them more obtainable.
How it works for remote workers: No matter what your job is, if you work online, and with a team—your focus is probably semi-distributed. I get notifications from emails, asana mentions, and slack mentions throughout my day. And while I don’t need to get to them “right now,” it’s hard not to stop what I’m doing and make the red notification flags go away.
My Pomodoro timer reminds me to focus on one task. If I need to, I can use my 5 minute break to clear some unreads.
(Or check Twitter).
Quite a few Converters rely on Pomodoro:
How to get started:
Pomodoro is easy to integrate into your existing work routine.
Do your time tracking with Toggl? It’s desktop application has a Pomodoro feature that’ll alert you while you work.
Focus Timer for iOS allows you to customize your sprint intervals. Also check out Pomodoro Time, ClearFocus, or Marinara (for web).
Eating Live Frogs
What it is: Mark Twain once said: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Eating Live Frogs is a system designed to combat procrastination. If “getting started” isn’t your problem as much as “getting it done”—you might benefit from starting your day with your hardest task.
So, make a to-do list, and reorder it. Start with the tasks you like the least, and remind yourself: it’s all uphill for here.
How it works for remote workers: When you work at home, you’re really your own accountability check. So what’s to prevent you from breezing through the tasks you like, and then rushing to meet deadlines for the ones you don’t?
Listing your tasks from easiest to hardest, and jumping right into the deep end, makes sure that your day goes uphill.
I am in a constant battle with my inbox. So, I check emails first thing in the AM. And I schedule any stressful calls early—so I don’t worry about them the rest of the day.
How to get started: Go ahead and make yourself a list for tomorrow. Throw on it everything you need to get done, and order them to start with the task you’re least looking forward to.
Oh, and give Brian Tracy’s book on beating procrastination a look over.
What it is: Deep work is what it sounds like. While a lot of productivity methods talk about using your most efficient time wisely, or building in productive breaks—deep work argues for the opposite. For shutting it all out—and for working sans multitasking, or distraction.
Cal Newport puts forward a few possible methods for reaching “deep work.”
- The monastic approach—attempting to eliminate all distractions.
- The bimodal approach—secluding yourself completely for a set period, and leaving the rest of your time free.
- The rhythmic approach—which works similarly to the Pomodoro methods. Set (longer) blocks aside for “deep work”—and use a calendar to track what you accomplish.
- The journalistic approach—take the free time that pops up in your day, unexpectedly, and channel it towards focused, deep work.
The important thing is just to pick a method, and do it religiously. Instead of waiting to get “into the zone”—get into a habit of choosing to make deep work happen.
How it works for remote workers: This strategy came to me from my friend/coworker Morgan:
Here’s her plan for blocking distractions, and getting into a “deep work” state of mind:
- Get an alarm clock and start my day without my phone.
- Dedicate time to email and admin work.
- Dedicated time to “tasking” Asana tasks that are important that take more than 5 minutes but I need to follow up and interact with people.
For me, I took a limited monastic approach. I started taking some time off on the weekdays, and dedicated in a few hours on the weekends to getting writing done. On a Saturday, I’m notification free—and I can “one tab” my way to deep work.
No matter your schedule—making a routine time for truly focused work, can boost your productivity.
What it is: Ah, the Getting Things Done method. One of the oldest, and most comprehensive, productivity systems in the book.
This one’s a little more complicated, but it relies on similar principles to our other productivity methods: focus. Pick one task. Give it your undivided attention—and keep your mind from dwelling on anything else that “has to get done now.”
There are a few basic steps:
- Document everything that needs to get done—anything your stressed or anxious about.
- Define the things you wrote down into small, specific action steps. Like if you wrote down “report”—you might break that into “pull metrics,” “edit slide deck,” etc.
- Prioritize each task, add due dates, split them into projects—or groups of tasks you can do together (like respond to emails).
- Look back at your lists and adjust any tasks that still seem vague.
- Get things done.
Why it works for remote workers: For us, GTD works seamlessly with Asana. Build out tasks by projects, write everything down, prioritize, assign due dates, and attack things in order—leaving else behind.
But starting to use the Getting Things Done Method can also change your perspective on how you think about work.
How to get started: One of the easiest things you can start doing now to incorporate principles of GTD into your day is to come up with a “collection bucket”—or a place where you can dump all the ideas that come up and try and take you off task.
This can be a notebook, or an asana board, or a notepad app. Anywhere you can write something down, and push it out of mind.
To dive in a bit deeper, and start implementing the full GTD system, there’s a great video here that breaks down the basics.
What it is: The “extreme version” of this concept is Biological Prime Time. It involves monitoring your daily productivity: tracking your energy and motivation, throughout the day, for a period of weeks.
Then, you comb through the data, evaluate the variables (did you get a good night’s sleep? Did you drink coffee?), and determine when you’re optimally wired to do the best work.
The less scientific method, is to go off of intuition. Making sure you’re alert and working when you feel most productive—regardless of whether that falls inside of, or outside of, the “9 to 5.”
How it works for remote workers: This is something I realized immediately when I started working with a fully remote team.
Going through slack, you see messages like this:
[slacks of people on and off]
I personally know I work best right when I wake up. So I get a few hours of work in around 6, workout around 8, and make it back to my computer for a few hours before lunch.
How to get started: When you catch yourself hitting a roadblock—note it. Pay attention to when your attention starts fading throughout the day, and rebuild your schedule around when you work best.