We all have those days where we feel completely unfocused and unmotivated to work. Unlike office workers, though, remote workers can easily be sidetracked by chores that need doing around the home. You think to yourself that you’ll just take care of this one thing and then get back to work. One chore leads to another and, before you know it, the day is almost over and you haven’t made any headway on the project that’s due in two days.
Working at home requires a great deal of discipline to stay focused and to keep pulling yourself back on task whenever you waver. The following four tips can help you to push past the productivity lulls and get back on track so you don’t fall behind.
Scheduling Your Day: Focus on the Toughest Tasks First
Most people find that the first few hours of the workday is when their focus and productivity are at their strongest levels. When scheduling your day, try to limit the number of tough tasks — those that require deep concentration or considerable brain power — to two or three per day (be realistic about what can be accomplished in one day). Schedule these tasks for the first few hours of the day.
If you make it through the tough tasks, you may be motivated to keep going and complete the more routine tasks scheduled for the afternoon, like phone calls, email, etc., and your day will end on a positive note. On the other hand, if you run out of steam, at least you will have made some headway on the difficult, time-consuming tasks.
Break Down Projects into Bite-Sized Tasks
Sometimes the lack of motivation stems from your to-do list. Is it filled with project end goals rather than smaller activities and tasks required to reach those goals? For instance, “write article” is an end goal, not an item for your daily checklist.
Work backward from your project deadline to list and schedule the smaller tasks that will move you toward completing the final project on time. In this case, bite-sized to-dos might include researching the topic, identifying expert sources, scheduling interviews with those sources, transcribing interviews, outlining the article, writing specific sections of the article, revising the article, proofreading the article and submitting the final version.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when looking at a day filled with large, comprehensive goals that require a lot of time and effort. Focusing on the smaller steps along the way will motivate you to keep moving and progressing toward your target.
Be Realistic with Your Time Estimates
When scheduling daily tasks for yourself, prioritize your checklist so that the more difficult ones or those that need the most concentration and energy are scheduled for the time of day when you’re at your most productive. Try to limit the number of high-effort tasks to two or three per day, and then fill the rest of your schedule with smaller, easier-to-accomplish tasks. For instance, if writing is the activity that requires the most concentration and effort, schedule it for the first couple of hours of your workday. Follow it up with organizational tasks, team project tasks, email and phone calls during the afternoon.
Be realistic when scheduling tasks and deadlines — understand what you’re capable of producing on a typical day. Then be sure to give yourself some buffer time around each activity, if possible. Remember, if something can go wrong, it will. You don’t want one unforeseen incident to throw your entire day or week off balance.
Tip: Use a free time-tracking app to measure the minutes that you spend on each task. Time everything that you do for a few weeks, or better, a few months. This activity will give you a lot of insight into how you spend your workday. People tend to underestimate the time it takes them to complete tasks, which leads to overloading the schedule and missed deadlines. Once you have a better handle on the time it takes you to do your work, you can be more realistic when scheduling your day. Popular time-tracking apps include Hours, Timely, Toggl, EverHour and Paydirt.
Most of the time, simply getting started is the hurdle that you need to get past. This is the basic concept behind the popular Pomodoro Technique, a time management method used by many remote workers. Try setting a timer for 10, 15, 25 minutes — or whatever time period you feel comfortable with. Start on your task and don’t stop until you hear the timer alarm go off. Once you get past that mental block, you may find that it’s easier to keep going and complete the task at hand.