This is a guest article by Benjamin Brandall.
Benjamin Brandall is a content marketer at Process Street, where he writes on startups, SaaS, and workflows. In his spare time, he runs Secret Cave, a blog about obscure entertainment and internet culture.
Working remotely is a minefield of distraction and wasted time.
Unlike an office environment where you’ll have colleagues and a manager onsite to keep you focused, remote work has you setting up whenever and wherever you want. Distractions run amok and in many forms, whether your family hovers around and tries to chat or you “accidentally” flick over to Facebook while doing “research”.
In order to consistently remain productive and hit deadlines you need to have a strict plan of action and a healthy dose of self-discipline. Otherwise your work can quickly bleed into your personal time, which is a recipe for burnout and disaster.
Hence why I’m sharing the five tips which have consistently helped me to hit my targets over the last two and a half years of remote work. From how to limit distractions to organizing your time efficiently, let’s stop wasting time and get started.
The first tip is an easy one – try working around other people. They don’t have to be anyone you know (in fact, strangers can be better to avoid the temptation to talk), but having people around has helped me to stay focused more times than I can count.
The best way to do this (and how I work on most days) is to go out and set up in a public space, such as a shared office or cafe. Shared offices benefit from having others who are also pulling their daily grind, which encourages you to do the same.
Meanwhile, cafes, bars, and so on, typically have free wifi and a decent level of background noise to stop you losing focus. Just be sure to buy some food or drink every so often to keep the staff happy.
If you’re dead set on working at home then the best way to have people around is to set up your own shared office. If you have any friends in the area who also work remotely, go ahead and invite them around. You could even swap locations every other day to keep your surroundings fresh.
If you’re home alone with no-one to work with, try linking up with a team member on Google Hangouts, or even calling a stranger to work through an app like Focusmate.
I find that working in silence is a great way to have my mind wander off mid-task and ruin my productivity. To solve this I started experimenting with different kinds of background noise, to mixed success.
First, you don’t want to listen to music with lyrics. While it’s nice to picture yourself singing along to your favourite tune while blazing through your daily tasks, the more likely outcome is that you’ll get distracted and fall behind.
Beyond that your selection is largely free reign – the best way to find out what will work for you is to try various methods and see how your productivity is affected. For example, I’ve found that electronic and classical music gets me into a perfect focus zone.
You don’t have to listen to music, however. Coffitivity is just one example of services which provide various ambient backing tracks to hum away as you work. These are just enough to stop your brain from stagnating but (much like instrumental music) not distracting enough to break your focus.
One of the biggest problems I had at first when working remotely was figuring out how to prioritize tasks. I slipped into the habit of doing smaller tasks in the morning (when I’m most productive) to “get them out of the way” and then moving onto chunkier duties later in the day.
I was an idiot.
Filling my most productive time of day with smaller tasks only ruined the chance of having any motivation for more important tasks. I constantly ran right up to my deadlines, which in turn stressed me out and forced me to pull extra hours to get everything finished.
Nowadays I’ve reversed the tactic, and take care of the biggest, ugliest task first before moving onto smaller duties and admin. That way my energy is going towards the task that actually requires it, rather than less important items which serve as little more than distractions.
Another problem I had was attempting to edit a post on the same day I wrote it. Now, I’m not saying that all of my work back then was awful (the edits themselves were fine), but each post probably took me around 5x the time they do now.
Do yourself a favor and research, write, and edit your blog posts on separate days. Not only will you waste less time during each step, but you can work on several posts in a day by cycling through these tasks and sticking to a schedule.
For example, your could research post 1, write post 2, and edit post 3 all in one day (obviously posts 2 and 3 will have already been written and/or researched) to make sure that you’re not sitting around with nothing to do.
No matter how hard you try, doing everything yourself will only boost your productivity so much. Unless you’re willing to adapt your workflow to use the best productivity apps available, you’re not going to see much in the way of results.
These will vary massively depending on what tasks you’re doing, but for a few quick recommendations:
Sometimes the simple tips are the best, hence why I’ve stuck to these five despite trying hundreds of different methods over the years. The key to productivity isn’t in performing brilliantly on one day of the week after all – it’s about consistently doing well and hitting your targets efficiently.
I’d love to hear how you stay focused in the comments of this post though. What’s your #1 productivity tip?
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