Real World Productivity Tips for Telecommuters

By Meredith Summers | Published May 22, 2017

If you're one of the 23% of workers who does some type of remote work, you probably already have opinions about what it means to have a home office. While there's little doubt the flexibility of the role will inspire jealousy in others, it's not necessarily a dream come true. Telecommuting has a lot of perks, but it can also feel incredibly isolating. Without the external pressure to finish tasks and maintain a schedule, things can fall apart pretty quickly. Follow these tips as a way to tighten up your day and get more done.

Real-World Statistics

Before you learn about how to get better at working from home, you should have some context about its role in business as a whole. Around 80% of remote workers report they're more productive when they're not in the office, and on average, do about 13% more work every day than employees in the office. Rather than feeling less invested in the company, 87% feel more connected to their work. This is all great news, but that doesn't mean it's a perfect system. Only 67% of managers say their employees are as productive when working from home. So still pretty good, but there's a bit of a disconnect there (whether perceived or not.)

Getting everything done (correctly and on time) is your first priority — not ensuring you take a short break every day at 10 a.m.

Stop Focusing on the Schedule

Having a schedule is important, there's no doubt about that. Some creative types thrive on erratic hours, but you're likely not one of those people. The real trick though is to ensure you can work within your limits. Getting everything done (correctly and on time) is your first priority — not ensuring you take a short break every day at 10 a.m. Eventually, your body will let you know how and when it wants to operate.

The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, did an analysis about high- and low-performers in a particular sales office. He found the top performer was absolutely meticulous about his routine. Not only would he get everything he needed ready at night, but he did things like programming his coffee maker to have a steaming cup ready as soon as he awoke. These types of positive actions program your brain to be more productive, particularly when you work from home. The most amazing takeaway from this tip is that you don't have to transform your whole routine (and you shouldn't even try.) Focus on one pattern of behavior you want to change, like hitting the snooze button, and target it until you've effectively corrected the behavior. Also, throw out the whole 30-day rule to enforce a habit, you change at your own pace.

Experiment and Forgive

If you find yourself idly wandering around the house or clicking around online when you hit a difficult problem, you may want to consider trying something new. Happiness is typically measured by small, reachable goals, and too many failures can take your productivity from bad to worse. Focus on something you find fulfilling to clear out the cobwebs, and then get back to work. Also, you'll need to learn to forgive yourself when you make mistakes during this process. There is often no one to give you feedback when you work at home, and you're likely your own worst critic. If you've just spent an hour looking at vacation rentals when you should have been processing reports, you can't let that downward spiral of shame stand in the way of getting back on track.

If you find yourself idly wandering around the house or clicking around online when you hit a difficult problem, you may want to consider trying something new.

Get Some Social Interaction

Too much alone time is horrible for people, regardless of how frustrating it can be to deal with people sometimes. Remote workers benefit from getting out whenever and however they can. Most coffee shops will have some combination of electric outlets and Wi-Fi, so make use of the portability to get more done. If you need to stay in your home office, at least try to get out for lunch. No matter how trivial it may seem, even brief encounters with restaurant employees can provide some relief to being alone all day.

Don't Live and Die with Your Deadlines

It's so tempting to wait until the last minute when you work from home — after all, you can work all night if you really wanted and co-workers won't be around to judge (we can't speak for your family.) Unless you have specific deliverables to hit throughout the day, you may find yourself putting certain things off. But acting on the same instincts as a college kid won't make you a better professional. This may be a good time to rely on another co-worker to check in with throughout the day or to impose strict rules on yourself about milestones and rewards. For example, you'll only let yourself have a treat when you've hit the halfway point for a project.

Do More With Less

Working more hours doesn't necessarily translate to better work. While work ethic is extremely important when it comes to being productive from home, that doesn't mean pushing through those last few hours is actually doing you any good. Your brain isn't equipped to be pushed past a certain brink, and it's not worth forcing it. Instead of concentrating on how many hours you've worked, concentrate on the quality of work you've done. If you get inspired at 8 p.m., then jump back online and start cranking things out. A schedule with zero flexibility is only likely to imprison your productivity.

Use the Right Tools

If software is slow or inefficient, you'll find yourself dreading certain tasks when you're working from home. You may even try to find solutions that allow you to avoid using the proper protocol (e.g., sending an email when you should be sending a task.) The right combination of communication and automation can not only free up more time to do more, it can help you hit a groove you might not have even realized was possible. Even the most productive employees out there are always looking for that next subtle edge, and part of that edge is having the right tools. Check out tools like Trello, Slack, Google Keep and articles like these to get ideas for productivity tools.

Eat Better

Your eating habits will have a lot to do with how you function throughout the day, so don't neglect them. Unfortunately, cooking for one isn't necessarily easy (no matter how many people tell you it is.) Salads, pasta, and sandwiches are all good options, but it will be a struggle not to head to the kitchen every time you get frustrated. While it can be expensive, going out for something healthy can really improve your outlook and nutrient level — especially if you're one of the many snackers that walk amongst us.

Pick Up the Phone

It's easy to assume other people either already know what you're up to or don't need to know. But the confusion that arises from a lack of communication is often what causes managers and owners to completely outlaw the practice of working from home. Untangling communication mishaps will cut into your overall productivity, so start working on the art of the update. When anything significant happens, send an email or pick up the phone. Excessive phone calls aren't recommended of course, but a few throughout the week encourage relationships while providing the means to explain some of the more complicated aspects of your work.

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Meredith Summers

Professional freelance writer for companies who want to get more done. She enjoys reading, going to the beach, and brief descriptions of herself.