As much as we’d like to have an endless supply, our time, focus and physical energy are limited —rather unfortunately. So how do we squeeze out enough human resources to reach our personal and work goals?
Unlike in-office work, remote work puts everything back in our hands; we no longer depend on external structure to dictate our behaviour. After all, being in a workspace with everyone working is quite motivating, and usually enough to get stuff done daily. But now, it’s up to us to determine what to do with our time, energy and ability to focus.
What do high-performers do with all this freedom? They create their own cages— and this enables them perform optimally. So without further ado, here’s how to take full control of your freedom.
Build A Routine
Without a routine, working/relaxing unbridled is what you’ll probably do. Neither of them has ever been a stellar idea. There’s no part of you that is unlimited, so you need to find and maintain a balance of stress and relaxation.
As you might know, not all stress is harmful. We need some amount of stress or discomfort to be able to grow and enjoy life. Similarly, your routine should be challenging enough to keep you on your toes, but still standing.
It should also incorporate breaks, de-stressing periods, free time and allowance for personal care that you should make serious efforts not to skip. As far as I’m concerned, I’m as busy working hard as I am resting and taking care of myself.
Remote workers need boundaries to protect our time and prevent distractions of different kinds.
You need to be firm with and kind to yourself and everyone else. Unlike in-office work, leaving the building is up to you. The single act of getting up to go home helps switch your mind off from work — easily recreated for remote work through a daily/weekly routine.
Having a routine helps you get enough done, building the habit of hitting small goals that build up every day. We’re always building habits — whether we’re slacking off or achieving our goals. Each decision we make leads us closer to one and further from another.
No one will see you bingeing on YouTube or your favourite anime all day. But you’ll get used to slacking off, and that’s unfair to your teammates counting on you to do your part.
You’ll need to prepare beforehand, a schedule that you can trust to help you achieve your personal and work goals.
It should be generous and effective, flexible but tight. It should focus on building habits from a day to a week, to a month and a year. That way, you can follow it “blindly”.
Here’s what I mean.
Some things should be fixed, like a wake-up time, meal times, or meetings. Some other things can be flexible, like what time of the day you work. Here’s an example:
Wake up by 6:30. Make the bed. Go for a run with the dog. Enjoy a smoothie on the terrace. Listen to podcasts. Work for 4 hours, with 15-minute breaks. Fixed break time by 12:30, non-negotiable. Cook lunch. Paint for 2 hours. Have a cold shower. From 3:45, work for 4 hours, with 15-minute breaks. Destress with meditative yoga for 30 minutes. Check social media for 1 hour. Put down the phone by 10:00 & prepare for bed. Sleep for 8 hours.
How you want it is up to you. You might benefit from having a fixed time for some things more than others, it’s important to keep editing till you’re satisfied.
Work hard to achieve the most important things every day; balancing stress and relaxation, always.
- A morning routine will help you get into work mode. A fixed bedtime will almost always equal a fixed wakeup time. Follow that up with a morning routine, and you’ve got yourself a work habit. If you have trouble falling asleep, develop a sleep ritual to put you in the mood.
- Also, days won’t all be the same. If you can try to make each morning count, you’ve had a good day or the potential for a super day. I learned that from Bill Kerr, maestro of Athyna.
- Allow empty slots of time to handle any emergencies, or to cross off things from your to-do list.
Budget your Attention
It’s public knowledge that our attention spans are shortening, thanks to the user experience of technology. It’s a catch-22— causing user experience designers to design for an even shorter attention span. Enough philosophy.
Since our attention spans are shortening, we’ve got to do something about it. It’s so easy to get lost scrolling the infinite feed of social media. Emails can even take up to 2 hours to deal with. Netflix & YouTube show us no mercy with their delicious content — but, like every good thing, we have to know when to stop.
Instead of letting your phone’s notifications tell you what to do with your time and attention, turn Do Not Disturb on while you work. If you need more help than that, browser extensions like Just Focus will help you keep yourself accountable. Just do what you’ve gotta do.
It’s also good to go after work in short bursts if your attention span can’t take the ferociousness of Cal Newport’s Deep Work just yet. You still have to get your job done, don’t you?
It’s important to build strategies that consider your personal attention span. I believe you can increase it, but that’s a story for another day.
Just make sure to be proactive in preventing distractions from being around your work zone, rather than spending energy trying to resist them. That’s why you should separate your workstation from your PlayStation, hehe.
If 70% of people admit to getting distracted at work on Powtoon’s blog, the odds aren’t exactly in your favour. Distractions can also come from people around you, so set time boundaries with your family & friends. Time is expensive.
Try wearing headphones at home or at the coffee shop when working. Even if there’s no music playing, headphones show most people that you’re not available for conversation.
There’s no proof that humans can execute more than 1 task efficiently. Do not multitask, my dear. In fact, there is proof of catastrophic failure from the attempt to multitask.
What your brain does is try to shuffle between two tasks at once, as quickly as possible. The result of that? An increased error rate of 50%, thank you very much, and 100% more time required to complete your tasks. Until we can create an auxiliary human brain, let’s focus on one task per time.
Finally, because your attention span doesn’t last forever, taking breaks are a great idea to recharge. Yoga, meditation, art — anything that takes your mind to an alternate state of rest will help you create and maintain a pure, focused work environment.
- Creating a secondary account on your PC should help you stay away from distracting apps.
- Forest is also a good way to stay away from your phone if you find it tough to resist “just checking”.
Keep your Energy Up
There’s a popular definition of energy where I’m from. We say, “energy is the ability to do work”, and it’s pretty accurate. But energy doesn't grow on trees. (Well it does, technically, but you get my point)
Tony Schwartz said so (well, I paraphrased, a bit). He’s the founder of The Energy Project, a business that energizes employees for life and work. In his TEDx talk, he discusses what enables humans to get things done.
The world as we know it runs on energy. We refuel cars and replace batteries, but don’t pay much attention to ourselves and our different energies, and that has to change.
According to Schwartz, human energy is physical (from food; the ability to move), emotional (from internal or external states; the ability to enjoy), mental (from interesting stuff; the ability to focus), and spiritual (from a purpose; the ability to desire).
All of these work in tandem to fuel us. As a remote worker, you can take care of your physical energy by:
Getting regular exercise: I know, I know, you’ve heard it before. Your body and brain will thank you for obliging this time. Your emotional state gets elevated, and your blood circulates better, et cetera, et cetera. That means your body stays healthy and provides you with more energy per day.
Getting through 2.5 hours of (WHO-recommended) moderate to vigorous physical activity every week will change your life. You’ll also become more disciplined, because exercise trains your mind too.
It’s easier when you start gently and build up the pace. Start at home, or at a gym (when it’s safe). You can do it, baby.
Eating healthy for a change: Feasting on nuts and seeds (instead of crusts and “cheese”) provides your body with a slow-releasing energy supply. That means you won’t get tired or sleepy at noon.
But you’ll need to cut down on the high carbs. They supply more energy than your body needs, and at a super-fast rate. And so your body decides to store the excess energy in your belly and waistline. Fruits and granola, on the other hand, have nothing but love for you.
Eat nutritious food, I beseech thee. There’s no reason not to. Drink lots of water to hydrate your brain, and less alcohol or coffee when you have to work. There’s an energy crash that comes with each sip. Sip not, my liege.
- Keep healthy food and snacks close by. Get a snack drawer or fridge, and stock up on all the good stuff when you go shopping. If you have less junk, you’ll eat less junk.
Sleeping up to 8 hours a day: Unfortunately, we’re not solar powered. Please guard your bedtime with your life. Some good advice is to mute & drop all electronics an hour before bedtime and not look at them till the next day.
Take naps too. Look, even Google lets their employees take naps at work. We need to be able to do healthy things to help us work better. 2 hours or less, usually does the trick.
Take work breaks to replenish your attention span, as we discussed before. Also, move outside for your calls, go for a walk, eat out, anything!
- Work at your best times: Work when you’re recharged, not after you’ve spent your energy on lengthy chores. No good can come out of tired work.
- Tackle the bigger problems first: Your mental energy is better off facing 1 giant than 100 gremlins. You can hit ‘im hard, and hit ‘im straight. If you spend your fresh-baked energy on small tasks, you’ll be too tired to take on the big and urgent ones.
- Switch off for a while: Create a high-octane environment that lets you disconnect from everything outside of work for a while. That means you try to get as much done as you can within your work hours. Create a “focus-mode” where you get no notifications (except emergencies), and shut off from outside until you take a break.