Be More Productive and Efficient by Working Remotely

Ben Groulx
Nov 12, 2014

Working Remotely

Last week, we published an article on virtual companies, Being Virtual: Creating Efficient Remote Companies. It's a great read that nails down the benefits of having a remote company, and how working in one can be a major win.

In my article, I am going to expand on some of the ideas Blair introduces us to in her article, and talk more about how working remotely can affect our lives on an individualistic level.

"Working remotely" doesn't have to mean "working from home"

Blair's definition of remote working is spot on because it doesn't attach a specific location to your work -- other than "just not actually at work." For me, remote working is working from home: The place I work is also the place I live, but this doesn't mean that is the only way. Remember, virtual work can be done from anywhere. If you would prefer to work from the coffee shop down the road, or the perhaps the library, and that is an efficient situation for you, then all the power to you.

What's important about remote work, as we'll uncover, is that you discover what works best for you, and then adapt your workflow to fit this best.

Make working remotely work for you

Remote working isn't for everyone, and that is okay. For example, when it comes to learning, some of us learn better with the aid of visuals, while others need to hear it. There is no right or wrong way, just the way that works best for you.

Initially, working from home was a struggle for me because I hadn't yet found a system or a routine that was conducive to my style and strengths. For a long time, work was something I would do "in between" other tasks. Working at home gave me too many freedoms, something I was just not accustomed to. I was at home -- think of all the fun things I could be doing instead!

But eventually I did find that a system that worked for me. And I got there by taking a step backwards and looking at this whole "working from home" thing in a larger sense. I asked myself questions about how I worked best, questions like:

  1. When are you most productive?
  2. Are you more of an improvisational person, or do you like routine?
  3. What are the tasks you enjoyed most, and which the least?
  4. How can you balance all aspects of my life?

By answering these questions in a truly honest way and determining your strengths and weaknesses, you will be able to then work backwards and develop a structure that will be easy for you to adhere to.

Create a schedule

When are you most productive? -- What days and times do you do your best work? Working from home allows so much flexibility in terms of scheduling because you really can choose any hour and day to work. Some people on our team are night owls and prefer to get their work done in the AM. Some people also prefer to work no more than a couple hours at time, sprinkled sporadically throughout the week, others cram all tasks into the weekend. As long as your delegated tasks get done, work the hours that are best for you.

I've found mornings are when I am most productive, whereas afternoons are the worst. (Right after lunchtime I just shut down mentally.) I get a little pick-up before dinner for a few hours too, so I try to get some tasks done then as well. While evenings are also a good time for me, spending some time with my partner, my friends, and myself is an important part of my life, so I make time time for it. My days end up looking a little something like this: 8:30am - 1:30pm, then 4:00pm -6:30pm.

Take a look at yourself: What times work best for you?

Adjust your system

Are you more of an improvisational person, or do you like routine? -- Some people like to work on-the-fly, where others need a perfect routine every day. An old acquaintance of mine used to have to get up, shower, fixed breakfast, read a book for 1 hour, and then start work at 9:00am exactly because they needed that set routine in order to feel efficient. That worked for them. Maybe you like checking-in whenever you feel like it… again, as long as your tasks get done, work however your are most productive.

Find what you like doing

As I previously noted, I do my best work right in the morning. Maybe it's because the coffee hasn't kicked in yet and my brain is on autopilot, but regardless of the task I simply get it done. So I've learned to do the monotonous tasks -- or the wants I really don't want to do -- first. As my day progresses, I do more and more of the enjoyable tasks so that by the time I hit my mid-afternoon rut, I can keep pushing through. It's a productivity method that I have learned about myself, and I truly.

What about you?

Is there an order of tasks in your day -- whether work-related or not -- that will allow you to feel more accomplished? Perhaps you want to do the biggest thing first in your day, that way you know you have it done? Perhaps you want to alternate not-fun and fun things throughout your day to keep in interesting?

Separate the aspects of your life

For me, it's important to separate my personal and professional lives -- to a certain extent. Not to say I they are in silos, but need some degree of separation. Design and development aren't just things I do to pay the bills, it's something I invest time and energy in for fun. I like this stuff. But that can be a scary thing: where does one end and the other begin? Having shared interests and work is great for motivation, but it's easy to get lost in it and have it encapsulate your existence. If living presently is important for you, diversifying the parts of your day can really allow you to enjoy the many aspects of life without becoming a giant blur.

Sticking to a remote work environment

Now that we've taken in introspective look at our habits and determined when and how we work best, it is time to put that into practice. In Blair's "Being Virtual: Creating Efficient Remote Companies" article, she notes that discipline is important to being productive. It's true: why spend all this time setting up a schedule, figuring out what work to do, and how to balance said work with the rest of our lives if we don't stick to it? The answer is to be healthy.

  • Refuel you body: drink water and eat periodically throughout the work shift. Water and food will help keep you alert and focused during your peak productivity hours.
  • Take breaks: When I code, it usually takes me about 30 minutes to 1 hour until I get in the zone. Once I am at the "work nirvana" I could program for hours on end and not notice. Setting a timer is a great way to remind yourself to take a breather. So go for a walk, water your garden, or do a bit of yoga or stretch… do something active that switches gears from what you were previously doing and allow your body to move. Your brain will thank you for it.
  • Get sunlight: Unless you live up in Yukon (I'm so sorry…) where days of darkness are the norm, getting some natural light shouldn't be difficult. Work in a bright environment and be sure not to recluse yourself into a cave.
  • Have lists and deadlines: If you are an improvisational person, having to-do lists with due dates might go against your nature. But by setting goals you are able to get a bigger picture, and can sort through lists. (Also, crossing-out items from your lists feels good.)

Remote working allows you to be your best self

A quick Google search for "work from home productivity" will yield an absurd amount of results, each claiming to know how to do it best. But what works best for that author doesn't mean it will be true for you. The whole point of working remotely is to make your own life more productive, more efficient, more manageable, and ultimately more enjoyable. So take a look at your goals, look at your options, and then make the changes in your work life that will allow you to be better in the professional -- and personal -- aspects of your life.

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