The first day of my dream job – I remember it all too well. Waking up before my alarm clock (the inevitable nerves, of course), making myself a coffee, getting dressed and sitting down at my living room table?
Certainly not what most people would expect on their first day. No office to get used to (or even occasionally lost in), no key card with an awkward mugshot of your face, no smart but not-too-smart dress code to provide a daily struggle
Instead, everything – and everyone – are online, virtually accessible. And all I want to do is impress my coworkers and show them why I landed this job – only I have to do it over 1,000 kilometers away.
But embracing the lack of dress code should have been at bottom on my list. Instead, I really should have been thinking about time management, self-motivation and the holy grail of remote work that is personal productivity.
Here are the six things I wish someone had told me before I embarked on my telecommuting journey.
So, this one’s obvious, right? Of course planning ahead and proper time management are going to be incredibly important.
But you don’t realise just how much until you start a remote job.
When you settle into your new remote position after a few days, you’ll start being given tasks with specific deliverables and due dates. Great! Time to get some real work done, right? Absolutely. But no-one’s there telling you when each individual section needs to be done by, or how to best manage multiple tasks.
So, take it from me – plan at the start, so you don’t get stuck for time later on.
Spend 5 minutes each morning prioritising your tasks for that day, realistically allocating time for each task, and making sure your entire schedule only consists of important activities that are conducive to you reaching your goals.
So, once you’ve set up your schedule properly each morning, you’ll have a crystal clear idea of what needs to be done that day.
But how do you keep on track throughout the day? Practically all of us struggle with staying focused and motivated throughout the entire work day. But those of us in remote positions have even more of a challenge. There’s no team there to spur you on, or environment specifically tailored to help you work.
So, it’s on your shoulders to make sure you can motivate yourself.
One of the best tips from our remote team members is to set goals with timelines, and make yourself accountable for completing them.
Once you’ve created a prioritised list of tasks, schedule them on a calendar, not just a task list. That way, you can instantly see how much you’re aiming to get in done in any given day, week or month.
Another great tip to boost motivation is to share this calendar with your team members. When they know exactly what you’re working on, and when you’ve said you’ll get it done by, you’ll instantly feel more accountable. Goals and tasks won’t just be another item to be ticked off a list – they’ll immediately become more tangible, and you’ll feel the responsibility to work to your own deadlines.
Did you know that it takes you on average 23 minutes to refocus on a task after getting distracted? That’s scary if you start to actually count the number of times your phone screen flashes up, or you receive that all-too-familiar email ding!‘ on your laptop in just one day.
And it’s so much harder to keep off your phone – or beloved social media sites – when you’re alone. It’s too tempting to keep your phone on vibrate and facing upwards, or tabs open on your screen.
There are two different ways you can approach this problem.
The hard and fast way is to block out distractions entirely. Download an app like SelfControl that literally doesn’t let you access certain sites. Just input your biggest virtual weaknesses, and you’ll no longer be able to absent-mindedly scroll your Facebook, Instagram or Product Hunt feed.
The other, much more lenient approach is to utilise your distractions to your advantage. If you schedule your distractions as a reward’ after a consistent period of work, then you essentially get to have your cake and eat it too!
One of the best ways to implement this is by using the Pomodoro method. This is an already established technique for time management, but it really helps to regain control of your distractions, too. Work for a solid 25-minute block, then take a 3-5 minute break. Repeat, and every third or fourth cycle, take a longer, 15-20 minute break. The technique was originally developed to help you focus during the work’ periods, but it very intuitively works with the concept of breaks as a time for reward’.
Now, you’ll feel motivated to work intensely during an entire 25-minute period, if you know you can browse a few feeds or memes (guilt-free!) afterwards.
A lot of these theories on time management and goal setting have been around for decades. Productivity isn’t a new concept, either. (Experts have been writing about productivity since the 80s…)
So you’re not the first person to contemplate personal productivity, let alone the first remote worker to identify the unique challenges that come with the territory. Thousands of people have been in your shoes, and faced the same initial struggles. As such, there’s no need to spend hours creating your own complex, personalised system for maximum productivity.
Living in the tech age means someone else has already had this problem, and come up with an innovative solution.
Whatever your industry, field or job role, there are numerous apps and tools to help you stay focused, keep up with deadlines, and work productively. Here are some of our favourites:
RescueTime – this app tracks the time spent on specific applications and websites, so you can see where you’re spending most of your time online
Calendly – this software takes care of scheduling your (real or virtual!) meetings and calls, so you can carry on working on bigger and better things
Toggl – this great app lets you track anything. Billable hours, time spent on a specific project, you name it – it’s an essential for a lot of remote working fields
For new remote workers, this is one of the first things you’ll be introduced to during your onboarding process.
Absolutely all remote teams need a way to communicate quickly and efficiently, and virtually, of course.
Remote companies are often ahead of the trend, so for them, email is absolutely a no-go. It’s clunky, inefficient and outdated. Documents get lost or missing, and email threads are awful for instant communication. So, naturally, almost all remote companies use an online communication platform.
Nowadays, you can message your team members instantly, share files, organise tasks and view all projects clearly and easily.
At Hibox, we use our own platform not only to chat, but to create tasks, manage projects, and know what everyone else is working on. It’s also our virtual watercooler’. We have a public stream that’s not intended for any real work’, but instead acts as the place where we let off steam, celebrate birthdays and share some amusing GIFs.
As a new remote worker, it’s key to get to grips with whatever platform your company is using as quickly as possible. Because – when you get properly stuck in and comfortable with the system – you’ll become productive so much sooner. You’ll be collaborating with your team members (who may be thousands of miles away), as effortlessly as if they were sat next to you.
So, your remote team have (most likely) already set up a perfect online office. And now, you’ve got access to some of the best tools to help keep you motivated and focused.
But what about the physical space you’re in?
It’s vital to not ignore where you literally do your work, especially as a remote worker. It’s been proven that your environment can affect the quality of your work. And the space you initially choose to work in may be a lot more detrimental to your concentration and productivity than you’d think.
For example, having too much clutter on your desk subconsciously distracts you. It makes focusing on your tasks and goals harder, without you even realising it.
There are a number of other small, simple changes you can make to work more productively. Suggestions from remote workers themselves range from finding the most quiet space in your house to work in; to making sure everything is tidy and neat (so your brain doesn’t wander to the mess you’ve left in the kitchen); to introducing some pleasant, calming scents (which can help you destress).
Or, if you find yourself going stir crazy, and your home too quiet – or even just too familiar – you can always explore coworking options. A lot of remote and nomadic workers still prefer the option of working in a communal, social space – even if it’s not necessarily with their own team members. As such, there are now thousands of coworking spaces all over the globe.
And if that doesn’t appeal to you, there’s always the tried and tested, telecommuting habitat that is the local cafe. Studies have shown that the background noise of a cafe is actually incredibly conducive to creative activity. So it’s not just an excuse for a cappuccino and fresh croissant – it can actually boost your productivity when it comes to certain tasks!
So these are the essential tips I’d give to anyone starting their telecommuting journey! It can take a little while to fully get into the swing of things, but if you implement a few of the techniques above, you’ll be reaping the – unbelievably many – benefits of remote work in no time.
About the author: Maggie Pancheva is a writer and productivity expert for Hibox. We provide a platform for teams and companies to communicate internally with ease, manage tasks and boost overall productivity.