Are you trying to figure out how to work remotely effectively?
You may have already scanned through loads of other blog posts seeking recommendations.
The web has been littered with remote work tips and tricks since the COVID-19 pandemic forced many of us to work from home.
In my humble opinion, they provide a “corporate perspective” on how you should work remotely. They don’t offer any advice on taking advantage of the biggest opportunity remote work offers you.
Discovering how you really like to work and what makes you feel uniquely productive!
We’ve all dreamed of not having a boss, so don’t squander this opportunity by asking to be told how to work!
There’s no one right way to work remotely, only the way that feels right to you!
Why Working Remotely Is So Hard
You’re not alone if you are struggling to work remotely.
It’s hard for a variety of reasons.
Anything new is challenging.
Think about the last time you learned something new. What did it feel like when you first tried it? How long did it take for you to get the hang of it?
If you started working remotely as a result of the pandemic, your work life was turned upside down. In an instant, you were asked to work in a completely different way with no guidance. So of course you find it challenging!
Working remotely takes practice like any other skill.
The choice was made for you.
Fans of remote work choose to work in this way, myself included. They had time to transition from working in an office to working from home.
They had the luxury of getting comfortable with it over a period of time.
Those who are less than enthusiastic about it had the choice made for them instantaneously by the pandemic. No one likes to have the rug pulled out from under them.
I constantly remind people that remote work during the pandemic is not a fair assessment of what remote work is really all about.
We haven’t been taught to manage ourselves.
As much as we like to think we’ve had autonomy over how we work, the pandemic made many people realize how horrible they are at managing themselves!
Maybe you feel that way.
Most of us are so bad at managing ourselves because we’ve never been taught how to do it. We’ve been taught to defer to authority figures and to “follow the directions.”
Even now, you’re seeking direction for how to work remotely.
You’re grasping for the familiar.
The structure you relied upon to organize the rhythm of your workday was wiped out. All your routines, social cues, habits and influences have been erased or severely compromised.
Work as you know it died. You’re suffering a loss and you need to grieve it.
In an attempt to feel “normal,” you are unknowingly trying to grasp for the familiar by trying to recreate your office at home, but you can’t.
I’ll admit, working remotely during the pandemic is definitely the loneliest version of remote work I’ve experienced in the last 20 years.
Funny how we used to complain about spending more time with our co-workers than our family. Now the opposite is true! You may be happy or unhappy about that!
Again, pandemic aside, remote work doesn’t have to be lonely if you don’t want it to be. It gives you the choice to design your optimal social needs for your work.
Your work is valued differently.
Like it or not, most of the work we do in offices is valued based on how much we are “seen in the office.”
Now that you are working from home, your work is more likely to be valued on results, outcomes or deliverables.
It no longer matters how long it takes for you to get something done. You don’t have to fill an arbitrary 8-hour day to demonstrate your value. You just gotta get your work done, regardless of how long it takes.
When I first started working from home, I noticed how much more quickly I was getting my work done. I felt guilty, so I just did more work to fill up my day!
Eventually, I realized, I only had the mental capacity to do around 4 hours of quality knowledge work each day (the same is true for most people). If I was getting what needed to get done during that time, then good for me!
Don’t work out of insecurity, instead focus on the value you create for your company.
Work Remotely Experiments You Can Try Right Now
Make working from home easier by giving yourself permission to experiment with different ways of working.
Stop trying to align yourself with the rhythms of your corporate master and start honoring your own personal productivity needs.
Start by making a list of your biggest struggles, moments during the day when you feel the most resistance and anything that annoys you.
Pick one and explore ways to make your work align with your needs.
Here are some experiments you might consider.
#1 Dress How You Want To Feel
Most articles about remote work recommend getting dressed professionally each day.
What if that doesn’t make you feel energized or motivated?
What if you discover you’re getting more work done in less time while hanging out in your PJs?
My co-collaborator for this post, Jordin James, says she thrives off the freedom of being able to work in her pajamas whenever she feels like it!
Dress how you want to feel, not to impress.
If you thrive off the feeling of getting dressed up like you are heading in the office every day, go for it!
If you’ve never really thought about how you dress affects your mood, experiment!
You might discover you prefer to dress in different ways based on different work activities, like working in solitude versus being on a team video call.
#2 Design Your Workday Around Your Peak Performance
Most people struggle with working remotely because they don’t know how to organize their day.
Try organizing your day around your “peak performance period“. It’s the foundation of my workday. I design my ideal workday around it.
Mine is between 7 am and 11 am.
I’ve learned to reserve my most important work for this special time of the day when I feel the greatest clarity.
I can get my work done faster and of much higher quality.
Working remotely encourages you to reflect on your own unique performance cycle, rather than expending energy trying to align yourself with the rhythms of your co-workers.
When do you have your sharpest mental clarity and maximum physical energy?
Not sure? Try this exercise.
The more you align your work with your specific peak performance cycles, the more value you will produce and the saner you’ll feel.
#3 Observe Your Kids
If you happen to have kids, observe how they are dealing with distance learning or getting their homework done.
Their struggles are often your struggles. Like it or not, they hold up a mirror to some of your own behaviors.
As you observe what helps them focus or gets them distracted, reflect on what makes you feel focused or gets you distracted.
Instead of “parenting” your kids about how to get their work done, engage in a conversation with them about it. Ask them how you can help them or what could make doing their schoolwork more fun.
Don’t be afraid to share your struggles with them too, no matter how old they are! Ask them for their recommendations. They’ll appreciate feeling heard and you’ll be surprised by their insights!
If you don’t have kids, try “parenting” yourself. If you were advising your younger self, what would you recommend?
#4 Your Ideal Work Environment
You’re no longer stuck in your office, so what does your ideal work environment look like?
Take advantage of the blank canvas before you!
Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:
- How much light do I need?
- How much background noise is tolerable?
- What is my preferred temperature?
- Do I like to move to different locations throughout the day?
- Do I want to listen to music?
- What physical objects in my immediate surroundings energize me?
- What stimuli drains my energy?
- How does clutter affect my ability to focus?
- Do I want to sit or stand?
- How much social interaction do I need?
Be honest with yourself! Experiment with a few ingredients first. As you become more aware of your preferences, make adjustments.
Check out our 12-Week Self-Assessment Challenge to help you design your ideal workday!
#5 Your Get Started Routine
Starting your working day remotely can be tough! Am I right?!
Your day used to start with a commute, but now what’s your new ritual for starting your workday?
Here are some suggested rituals to try:
- Go for a 30-minute walk. When you return home that’s your cue to start your workday.
- Designate a physical area in your home for work only. The moment you walk into that area, your workday begins.
- Work somewhere outside your home to mimic a “commute”. Even if it’s just for the morning.
- Try a morning meditation to clear your head before you start to work.
- Enjoy one of your hobbies for an hour before you dive into work.
- Take a few moments to make a plan for your day.
#6 Don’t Dive Right Into Email
Try dedicating the first hour of your workday to your most important work or the work that makes you feel most energized.
When you dive right into your email, you are unknowingly asking other people to tell you what to start working on.
Make yourself and the work you enjoy most your top priority!
#8 Your End Of Day Ritual
As hard as it might be to get your day going, it’s often just as hard to know when to stop working when you work from home.
Experiment with setting a firm deadline. You might even set an alarm.
At the end of your day, instead of wishing you crossed off more items from your to-do list, take a moment to savor all of your accomplishments instead.
To close out your day, you also might want to write a brief plan for your next day. Identify your priorities, so you can get into your groove more quickly the following morning.
Schedule a short meeting with yourself to reflect on your highlights and lowlights for the day. Think about adjustments you might make to improve your mindset, habits and productivity.
#9 Best Breaks For You
You probably benefited from a lot of different social cues when you worked in the office to let you know when to take a break.
Taking breaks is crucial for sustaining your motivation, but they are easy to forget when you’re working on your own.
Beware of taking unproductive breaks like going down a YouTube rabbit hole, getting sucked into social media or reading news articles designed to press your emotional buttons. These kinds of breaks are akin to eating junk food.
When you feel the temptation by taking one of those unproductive breaks, it’s your brain’s way of telling you, “It’s time for a break!”
Here are some more productive breaks to try:
- Enjoy a cup of tea.
- Meditate for 5 or 10 minutes.
- Do a quick house chore for 15 minutes.
- Call a friend and chat for 20 minutes.
- Walk around the block.
- Add a few pieces to a puzzle you are working on.
- Try a creative outlet like an adult coloring book, doodling or dancing like no one’s watching!
As your brain gobbles up information throughout the day, give it a chance to digest by taking healthy breaks.
When you do, you’ll feel more refreshed. When you don’t you’ll feel more overloaded.
#10 Pomodoro Technique
You may have heard of the Pomodoro time management technique before, but have you tried it?
Break up your day into 25-minute increments, taking a 5-minute break in between each “Pomodoro.” Below is the official video for how to use the Pomodoro Technique.
Experiment with varying lengths of time and frequency of breaks to discover your optimal rhythm.
Personally, I run a 30-minute loop of the theme music from Lost as my unique version of the Pomodoro Technique!
#11 Friday Feels
Try liberating yourself from your to-do list one Friday and only do the work you “feel” like doing!
Abandon all your “shoulds” and just feel your way through the day. Start your day without an agenda. Take a deep breath. Do the first task that pops into your head that excites you!
Don’t judge whether or not it’s a priority! Just do what makes you feel inspired. After finishing your first task, take a break. Then decide what you feel like working on next.
At the end of the day, review what you accomplished. Reflect on how you felt about approaching your work in this way. You might be surprised by how much you get done without feeling overwhelmed!
#12 Automate That
What boring, monotonous tasks are you doing over and over again as part of your daily work?
There’s probably an app for it!
Again, since no one is looking over your shoulder as you work from home, figure out ways to get your work done faster using automation.
Here are some common automation’s you might want to try:
Start spending more time on the work you enjoy and less on the stuff that makes you miserable!
#13 Move Your Body
There’s no need to feel chained to your desk any longer!
Your body was designed to move, not to sit for hours on end! Experiment with different ways to move your body in different ways throughout the day.
During your breaks, take walks, stretch, bike, garden, jump rope, do yoga or get a house chore done that makes you exert yourself a bit.
Even as you work, hold and move your body in different ways beyond sitting. Try standing for part of your day as you work. Walk and talk during some of your phone calls. Sit on an exercise ball to strengthen your core!
Moving your body more will help you burn off anxious energy, boost your endorphins to help you manage your stress levels and keep your mind more clear.
#14 Make Your Work More Playful
Ever feel like you’ve been taught that work can only be considered “work” if it makes you obligated or miserable?
It doesn’t have to be that way! I’m not suggesting your work is going to be rainbows and unicorns every day, but working from home offers you the opportunity to make your work more enjoyable!
Remind yourself of your childhood. What types of activities motivated you to take action because you enjoyed them? Are there any elements from these activities you can incorporate into how you approach your work?
You can also experiment with gamifying your work. Here are 8 ideas you can try.
When I have a few tasks I’m unmotivated to do, but need to get done, I turn them into a “beat the clock challenge.” I set the timer on my phone for 20 minutes to see if I can complete the tasks before the timer goes off.
I find this technique particularly useful when tackling email, so I don’t get sucked into my inbox longer than is necessary!
The next time you feel resistance to accomplishing one of your work tasks, stop and ask yourself, “How could I make doing this task more fun?”
#15 Mono Tasking
Think you are a great “multi-tasker”? I’m sorry, but there’s no such thing!
Studies have shown your brain can only focus on one thought at a time. If you feel like you are doing two actions at once, your brain is simply switching your attention back and forth super quickly.
You might think you’re saving yourself time, but you are actually depleting your brain’s limited energy more quickly. Rapid switching of attention between two different tasks is a huge energy drain!
Converse your brain’s energy and get more done in less time by mono tasking. Focus only on getting the same type of task done at any one given time.
For example, I only schedule interviews for our podcasts on Tuesdays. By keeping my brain in “interview mode” that day, I can easily record up to 6 interviews and sometimes 8!
There are several different tasks involved in the production of each podcast episode. I need to find guests, schedule the interviews, record the interviews, edit the interviews, write the show notes, share on social media, etc.
I group related tasks at different times of the month. I never perform all the tasks for the same episode in the same day or even the same week!
If I did, I would be asking my brain to switch between all different kinds of tasks. Even though they are related to the same podcast episode, it would be an inefficient use of my energy.
I often tackle administrative tasks on Mondays. I generally write blog posts (like this one), trainings and coaching emails in the mornings during my “peak performance period“.
Take a look at your to-do list. See if you can categorize your tasks and then schedule time blocks to complete those tasks.
Remote Work Is Here to Stay
I know we all fantasize about going back to “normal.” To some degree, things will eventually go back to the way they were before the pandemic, but many things won’t.
The pandemic has changed how we work. Working in an office and working remotely aren’t mutually exclusive.
They are both valid options and need to be evaluated differently by every company and by each individual.
I’m hoping our mass experiment with remote work has made you realize that you have more control over how you get to work than you may have realized. I call this time we’re living through, “The Great Reflection“.
I encourage you to keep finding ways to make your work, work for you!
Manage Yourself More Effectively
For more resources on working remotely, check out our Self-Management Email Coaching Series. Within the first 30 days you’ll learn:
- How to create more time to do more of what you really want to do.
- The 4 questions you need to ask yourself daily to boost your personal growth.
- Why paying attention to your attention will help you manage yourself unlike anything else!
- Why managing your energy and not just your time will make you more productive and less anxious.
This article was written with the help of writer and inner-peace coach Jordin James.