Every day it seems like more and more workers are trading in traditional office environments for the flexibility of “working from home.” In fact, according to the New York Times, 43 percent of employed Americans have reported doing at least some work remotely. And why shouldn’t they? Now that communication (and even entire industries) have moved to the cloud, many people can do their jobs from pretty much anywhere.
Of course, working remotely is easier said than done. Mixing your home- and work-life invites all kinds of distractions. And coffee shops are unpredictable — who knows how loud the music will be? Or when the wifi will cut out?
But as a small business owner or solopreneur, you’ll need to master the art of working remotely at some point, whether it’s launching your business at the kitchen table or managing an entirely remote team. So we got tips from business owners, freelancers, and members of the small business Reddit community to learn how they stay productive while working remotely.
Here’s their best advice.
1. Have a dedicated workspace
This may seem obvious, but it was one of the biggest themes we heard from remote professionals. Curating a sacred workspace at home is a great way to minimize all those distractions at home.“I cannot focus on work in the same place I eat my meals and watch television,” says one personal finance blogger. “Putting a dedicated work station (meaning, for me, simply a desk in the guest bedroom) boosted my productivity. I don’t do anything at my desk that’s not work related — and I never work from the couch. That’s just a nap waiting to happen!”
It doesn’t need to be a full-blown home office. Even a cozy corner, work desk, or specially-designated chair can help create that mental (and physical) separation needed to focus.
2. Try varying that workspace
For some folks, a single workspace can get way too monotonous. There’s a lot of variety and stimuli you get in traditional offices that you just don’t get at home, whether that’s chatting in the kitchen or bustling about to different conference rooms. Try adding in a dash of variety if you’re the type that needs it.
One seasoned freelancer recommends switching it up: “In recent years, I’ve started working a lot from coffee shops. I work 3 to 4 hours, break for lunch, then 3 to 4 hours at a different coffee shop, then done. I’m also signed up for co-working spaces, so I physically Uber or drive over to work, which puts me in work mode. Some days I just coffee shop instead, and once in awhile I will just stay home and work all day.”
Many of our experts agreed — actually commuting to a different location put them in the right mindset.
3. Beat inertia by structuring your mornings
One of the toughest things about working remotely is just getting started, especially when you don’t have people around you as a physical reminder of your looming deadlines. One tactic is to, the night before, write down the first task you need to tackle the next morning. This ensures you’ve got a specific activity to sink your teeth into first right when you get started. With all that mojo flowing, you’ll start feeling productive quickly, setting the right tone for the whole day.
Another Reddit member emphasizes the importance of taking advantage of earlier hours: “I have to have something scheduled in the morning, not as soon as my day starts, but shortly thereafter. It can be a phone call, scheduled time to work on a project, or time with a client. It helps to get me going.”
How you approach mornings is critical to establishing the tone for the day. Put in the effort the night before or in early morning to get started right.
4. Establish a set routine that works for you
Each one of the remote workers we polled highlighted the importance of self-discipline: a set schedule is one way to ensure you’re maximizing your productivity at home. And it’s not just scheduling work on the calendar. Plan for the habits that make you happy, whether that’s working out, reading for pleasure, or making your own ham sandwiches for lunch. These are some of the things you’ll actually get to enjoy during daytime hours — one of the perks of working remotely!
Marissa Dubecky, freelance writer, shares, “It took me a long time to get used to working remotely, but now I definitely have some habits down that keep me productive and improve my mood throughout the day.” For her, that’s “Getting dressed before I start my work day, having set hours, and going on a run as a short break.”
5. Avoid constant interruptions and context-switching
One of the first rules to achieving a productive state is putting yourself in the right environment for what you need to get done. According to small business growth advisor and author, Mike Van Horn, business owners who manage teams need to ask themselves: “When do I need to be in the thick of things, and when should I work on my own?” He goes on to explain:
“I had a long-time client who owned a print shop. So much hustle and bustle. Employees always had questions for her — things they should be able to answer for themselves. She turned a room at the back of her house, which was near her shop, into an office. She would retreat there to focus on things like budgeting and marketing campaigns or talking with major customers. Then she’d head back to the shop to manage.”
Even if you’re a team of one, consider scheduling time and places together. Do you need to make a series of client calls? Then batch those together to minimize the amount of time spent context-switching. Need to be heads-down on a project? Find a quiet corner to bang it out.
6. Dress the part. (No, seriously.)
This one may seem silly, but it’s important! It can be hard to take your work seriously if you’re still cruising around in your pajamas at 3pm. One freelancer actually suggested putting on a blazer when taking client phone calls. That way you’ll feel buttoned up and confident when you’re speaking. Standing can also help during important chats — whether that’s on the phone or on video chat. You’re less likely to slouch and standing firmly on your two feet can similarly boost confidence.
7. Find the right tools
Many remote workers rely on tools to stay connected and stick to deadlines. Chat or video conferencing platforms like Slack or Google Hangouts are great for connecting with clients and your team. It’s faster and more informal than email, which can help you quickly get the answers you need to move forward. Plus, chat platforms tend to encourage casual conversation, which can save you the headache of carefully crafting every word of a client email.
When it comes to staying on-task, many remote folks also recommended Asana and Trello: “Asana (the task-tracker website) is actually a pretty decent tool for self-management,” shares one Reddit member. “It sends you email updates, too.”
Put your Chief Operations Officer hat on: Are there certain activities taking you a long time? What could be more efficient? Chances are, there’s a tool (or an app) for that.
8. Don’t forget to get outside and talk to people.
The lonely factor of working remote is definitely something to consider. If you’re working from home on your laptop all day, some people (especially those that score high on the extraverted scale) can quickly feel starved for human contact. So, do your best to get outside, move around, and schedule some calls.
Bill Ericson, President of National Project Management, Inc., couldn’t agree more: “Be sure to get up and stretch, take a break, call a colleague on the phone and chat about an issue that needs a resolution. In my opinion, some voice-to-voice human interaction is crucial to not driving yourself absolutely crazy! At lunchtime, get out of the house and breathe some fresh air. Do not stay inside all day long.”
9. Remember why you’re working remotely in the first place: work/life balance!
Yes, it’s easy to get distracted as a work-from-homer. But on the flipside, it’s tempting to let work take over your personal life. Though all 24 hours are now your oyster, some freelancers suggest sticking to the typical work schedule, Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm. After all, that’s when vendors, clients, and coworkers are open for business.
Bill Ericson shares once more: “I’m a big believer in NOT being available 24/7/365. […] Sure, I can start at 5am and get some paperwork or emails completed. I could do the same after hours at night or even on the weekends. But that seems to simply stretch out my workday and my week.”
Now, dial up to full productivity.
So if you’re just starting a new venture or simply choosing to live the remote work lifestyle, there are plenty of hacks to boost productivity while enjoying your office-free life.