When we work remotely, our performance is based more on the results we produce rather than the time spent producing it. How can we be productive remotely? In this episode, I share my favorite productivity tips.




Original transcript

Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining me and welcome to episode 98. Today we’re going to be talking about productivity tips for remote workers. As freelancers, we’re primarily focused on delivering value. When we work remote, people don’t know how long we took to work on something. And actually, it doesn’t matter as long as the end product is what’s expected and of high quality. So I’ve collected some of my favorite remote productivity habits from all the interviews I’ve done and interviews that I’ve listened to in other podcasts as well, and I’m going to talk about them with you today.

So my number one remote productivity habit is find a comfortable workspace. Everybody has different needs when it comes to working. For example, I’d love working from my home office. Many of you have heard me talk about this before. I have an electric sit-stand desk and I have multiple monitors. I have excellent coffee and an excellent speaker system, something that’s really important to me because I’m a big music fan.

On the other hand, my husband hates working from his home office. He loves going into a physical space and being there with his colleagues. He likes to be around people. He likes to hustle and buzz when everybody is working on stuff. So very different working styles and very different productivity styles. As remote workers, we have the luxury of creating the spaces where we work best, and it can be a journey to figure out what that is. But I encourage you to try it. You can try co-working spaces. You can try libraries, coffee shops, home offices, working with other people, whatever it is that gets you into the creative flow. That’s what you should be doing.

Now I want to mention something new that I’ve been working on with some of the folks in the virtual team talk group which is a virtual co-working space. A group of us are using the online virtual office tool called Sococo in order to work together online in a virtual space. So we’re all working from the comforts of our own home or wherever we are. But we’re meeting online and working together. Not on the same project, we’re all working on our own things, but we’re working together in this virtual office. So I can bounce ideas off people. I can take a break and have conversations. I can join in other people’s meetings if I see that they’re happening.

So if you’re a listener of this podcast and you’re interested in joining the virtual team talk co-working space, then just send me an email and ask for an invitation to the space. I’d be happy to invite you.

Okay, once we’ve found a comfortable setup, the next thing that a lot of remote workers struggle with is surprisingly not working all the time. I’ve heard a number of different ways of mentioning this. It’s telepressure and telestress, technostress, I’ve heard. And it’s true, especially when we love what we do. We can have a hard time turning off. But that is not good for productivity.

The only answer that I’ve really found for that is creating boundaries for ourselves and then sticking to those boundaries. So for example, you may decide that at 9 o’clock at night, all of your electronic devices get turned off and you do other things besides being online.

Or I’ve heard other people say that they don’t check their phones first thing in the morning, that they leave that until a little bit later after they’ve done other important things. This is really a tough one because it’s up to us individually to know what our boundaries are and to stick to them. And man, if that were easy, then weight loss would also be easy because that’s also a simple formula, right? It’s just eat less and move more. But we simply have a hard time putting boundaries in place for ourselves like this. So this was an especially tough one. But I encourage you to think about what are the boundaries that would help you and then just try a couple of those things out. There are some really fun tools, actually, some habit-making tools that you can try for putting those boundaries in place, lots of different apps. Just look for Habit Graphs in the App Stores and you’ll find plenty of things that can help, and that can be a fun way of gamifying some of these boundaries that you want to put in place.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how getting a morning routine in place has really helped them. Now again, everybody is going to have their own morning routine that works for them. So I’m going to just tell you about mine and let you know what worked for me. In the past, I would wake up and grab my phone and just check out what had happened the night before while I was sleeping. I would read the news and get updated on what my friends in the U.S. were doing on Facebook and reading some emails just to make sure nothing super important had come in. And then about 20-30 minutes later, I’d roll out of bed and start with my stretching routine and go for a walk and drink coffee and then get to work. But I found that actually, I was pretty tired and that I had a hard time focusing throughout the day. And after listening to numerous people talk about this on the Timothy Ferriss podcast, a lot of people said that what they’ve tried to do is not check their phones first thing in the morning and that it actually has made a difference because apparently, we only have a certain amount of willpower and decision-making ability in any given day. So when we start the day, by filling up our brain with all these things that are happening, it sort of decreases what we’re going to be able to accomplish in the rest of the day. And that intuitively makes a little bit of sense for me. So I thought, “Well, let’s give it a try.” So I actually put my phone on the other side of the room so that I wasn’t able to grab it easily when I just woke up. And instead, I started my day with a morning stretching routine and then a short walk and then a short meditation exercise because I’d been hearing a lot about that on various podcasts that meditation can help with focus through the day.

And then after I’d done all that, I would grab a cup of coffee and get my day started. So now what surprised me is what a difference it made. Previously, of course, I can’t attribute it all to just not checking my phone in the morning. But what it did allow me to do was concentrate on focus and not having distractions during the day. So not only did I not check my phone in the morning, but I didn’t check all my social media throughout the day like I used to. And by the end of the day, I definitely felt less frenzied, less tired, and more focused. So think about one, small thing that you might want to add to your morning routine or change about your morning routine that might help you stay more focused and less frenzied throughout the day and then try it for a week and see what you think.

All right, once you’ve got your morning routine in place, it’s time to start working. And I’ve found that sometimes it’s really hard to just get started. And the best technique for me has been timeboxing. Some people call this the Pomodoro Technique. And what I do is I have a timer and I set it for 25 minutes and I start and I just focus on one task for that 25 minutes. And then after 25 minutes, I take a five-minute break. I do some stretches and I look out the window to get my eyes focused on something that’s a little bit more long-distance because I’ve been staring at the screen for the last 25 minutes. I might get myself a glass of water or go stand outside in the garden for a few minutes and take a few, deep breaths. And then after five minutes, I get back to work and I do another 25-minute focus cycle. And I continue this for about three or four cycles, and then I take a longer break usually because after that amount of time, I’m ready for a short walk around the block or something a little bit longer. And then I use this timeboxing technique throughout the day. Loads of people have talked about how much this technique has helped them, so definitely, it’s worth a try because at the end of the day, we need to do the work. We need to execute on the things that we’ve promised.

Now another part of timeboxing that I find so helpful is that it forces us to break our projects down into smaller pieces. Sometimes when we’re stuck and we’re not sure what to do next, it doesn’t exactly matter what we do next as long as we do something. So if you are undecided about what the next, highest priority thing is, pick something and start on it and just commit to working on it for that 25 minutes. You can always change your mind after the 25 minutes. But it’s better to start and do something than to sit and be undecided for a longer period of time.

Something that I learned from the Entrepreneur on Fire podcast is to not focus on being better than other people but on being better than I was yesterday. So okay, some days are better than others. Of course, we’re going to have higher and lower productivity depending on all kinds of things that happened in our lives. But if we’re always focused on just being a little bit better than we were yesterday, we’re going to be moving in the right direction. If you’re really struggling to work on your own, then look for an accountability partner or a collaboration partner. I talk about this a little bit in episode 96, but a lot of people think like, “Oh, as a remote worker in my home office, I’m always going to have to work alone.” And actually, that’s not the case. There are some great tools out there that will connect us to each other. For example, I tell the story often of my collaboration partner Gretchen. She and I have been working together for the last five years entirely online. She is in California and I’m here in the Netherlands. And every day at 6 p.m. my time and 9 a.m. her time, we hop on Skype together. We turn the video on for the first five minutes just to say hello and how are you. And then we turn the video off and we get to work. Now we work on completely different things. There’s actually no overlap in the work that we do. But we’re there for each other, for bouncing ideas off each other, or, “Hey, Gretchen, can you read this blog post title? Tell me what you think.” Or oh, I’m really struggling with this proposal. Can you give me some advice? And it’s just nice to have somebody else around. Like I said before, the virtual co-working space is another way to do this with a great group of people if you want to be around a group of people but you want to just stay working from your home. There are lots of options to explore. And accountability partner is something slightly different than a collaboration partner in that they’re checking in with you on a regular basis to see how you’re doing and if you’re focused on meeting your goals. So, for example, I have a business coach and we’re constantly setting goals. And then the business coach checks in with me on a regular basis to make sure that I’m still focused and that I’m not running into any roadblocks and I’m not deluding myself about the things that I’ve decided to work on. And I have found it enormously helpful.

Now let’s talk about tools because there are some fabulous tools we can talk about for productivity. For example, there is a Chrome plugin called [inaudible – 11:15] which every time you open a new tab on your browser, it asks you what are your five most important tasks right now so that every time you open a tab, you actually get a reminder that you have priorities for the day.

There are also tools like RescueTime which actually track which sites you’re visiting throughout the day and which apps that you’re using throughout the day. There is Wunderlist. There is Toodledo. I mean there are a hundred productivity apps out there that can help you. The important thing is to try something, see if it works, and iterate from there.

Okay, so those were a lot of productivity tips. Let’s run through them one more time. Number one, find a comfortable setup. Experiment and iterate and find the places where you work best. Number two, put boundaries in place for yourself and stick to them. Number three, find a morning and evening routine that works for you. Number four, use timeboxing techniques. Number five, break your projects down into small pieces. Focus and do the work. Number five, experiment with a variety of tools that could really help you. And number six, find an accountability partner or a collaboration partner to work with or come and try the virtual co-working space with the virtual team talk people in me.

Now I want to add one last thing because I think it’s one of the more important things that people always talk about, but I think it gets overlooked, which is don’t forget about physical exercise. I know when I’m really busy, I always think, “Oh, man, I could really use that hour that I had planned to go running today, to finish this report.” But don’t do it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that that’s going to be a productive way to spend the hour. Definitely, don’t give up physical exercise over getting things done. It will feel like you’re buying yourself more time but you’re really not. So go for the walk. Take a swim. Go for a bike ride. Go run. Don’t give that stuff up. Your brain needs the space to think and clear itself out.

Okay, those have been my favorite productivity tips for remote workers. I’m very curious what works for you and what doesn’t work for you, so please get in touch. You can find all the information at collaborationsuperpowers.com. Stay tuned next week when we interview another remote team doing great things. A huge thanks to the awesome Nick, the podcast monster. He’s the producer of this podcast. You can hire him to make you a star at podcastmonster.com. And a special thanks to Alfred Boland, the graphic designer for Collaboration Superpowers. You can hire him to make you look cool at bolanden.nl. That’s bolanden.nl. All right, everybody, let’s go out and be super, duper productive and be powerful.

Podcast production by Podcast Monster

Graphic design by Alfred Boland

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