Working remotely is not a luxury, it became a necessity. In countries affected by confinement measures to face the covid-19 pandemic, the rate of remote workers increased from as low as 3% up to 25%. Against common beliefs, according to a study from Airtasker, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year. But with kids around, no proper desk, a difficulty to separate work from personal life, people who are not used to it wonder: how to maximize personal productivity while working from home?
At Dreamin, we built our company on a “digital nomadism” ground, offering our employees the possibility to work remotely from any place of the World for a couple of weeks each year. From an early stage, we grew our team processes and self-discipline based on remote work and are now happy to share the 5 most important tips we have learned as a team:
Now left alone in a house full of temptations and distractions, you need to build your new sphere of work and apply a strong self-discipline. This starts with finding your spot: make sure to choose a comfortable place, have a proper desk and chair, and stick to it. Add the accessories that you need: additional screen, laptop stand, mouse, paper and pen, headphones, etc. If you can, isolate yourself from the other persons of your place, keeping a quiet environment where you will not be disturbed, taking regular breaks. We recommend a break at least every two hours, exercising or stretching to compensate the lack of moves (you can find many Youtube tutorials for that). Then, apply a strict schedule of work, sticking to the chosen timings, taking time for breakfast or coffee before you start the day and leaving it when your day ends.
It is important to continue the same work routine as you had, from 1 to 2 weekly team meetings, not overloading yourself with too many calls while still feeling a strong team connection. On top of that, to counterbalance the lack of personal interaction, we recommend giving preference to quick 5-min visio calls rather than written conversations. Another tip is to stick to the same tool, to avoid any confusion or unclarity in the process. You can choose among: Google suite of tools, Microsoft’s, Slack, Zoom, Skype, etc. As explained by Mark Mader, President and CEO of Smartsheet, finding the right tool is not enough, working in transparency is also much needed: “Technology is an enabler. I think an important element that people don’t talk about, is this notion of workers wanting to feel informed. Organizations must give people the confidence, transparency and information needed to be empowered”. At Dreamin, we organize our weekly team meeting on a Trello board with everyone’s weekly tasks and focuses and the Management line keeps updating the team on the company’s vision and plans. Our goal is to keep a high trust level among each other, as well as to make everyone’s work meaningful as part of a bigger plan.
Do you know what is one of the biggest risks while working remotely? Brain overload. This is mainly due to the will to show your Manager or Team that you are online and working, thus multitasking and checking messages every 5 minutes. But keep this in mind: you do not need to answer your messages right away, your productivity level will decrease and your personal work will be negatively impacted. Take your time and stay focused on your task! We recommend to remove notifications and look at your messages (emails, Skype, Whatsapp) only 3 times a day. Some people even specify the times they are looking at emails in their signature, saying they will not be reachable at certain times. This very simple tip is probably the hardest to apply and yet the most effective: it will help you increase your productivity, reduce your brain overload to remain focused on what really matters for your company and team.
Many experts have created productivity methodologies to help individuals increase their efficiency, even though it is sometimes hard to get rid of old habits. Here is a short selection we made of simple and easy ways to create a new efficient routine. We suggest you to test, choose and mix among them to find out what works best for you. The first and simplest one is called the Personal Kanban. It consists of splitting your projects and tasks into 3 categories: To Do, Doing, and Done. It will make you list your tasks and update their status thus keeping track of your achievements, using the medium that fits you the most (post its, whiteboard, digital board such as Trello, notebook table, etc). This famous method can help sort things out, but does not help you on deciding where to start. A different method to help with that is called “Eating live frogs”: do the worst thing first. Based on Mark Twain’s theory saying “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day”. Now you get the philosophy… schedule your daily tasks from hardest, most intimidating, anxiety-inducing to the easiest. You will improve the quality of your work by doing your “frog tasks” when your energy level is the highest and progressively feel better along the day. For that, you can create a new file in your inbox called “Today’s frog” or list your frogs into a notebook or task management tool. It is of public knowledge that we do not have the same energy level all day long, and our picks may vary from one to another. The “Biological Prime Time” methodology pushes you to study yourself (over a course of 3 weeks) to take note of your ups and downs and factors impacting your productivity level. You will end up with a personalized graph to understand when your productivity level will be at its best and thus prioritize your most important tasks during these daily slots.
Based on that, you can then apply the “Timeboxing” method, also called “day theming”. It recommends you to split your day and calendar into blocks of time with specific tasks assigned to each one. For example, from 9 to 10 am “Emails catch up and follow up”, from 10 to 12 am “Morning meetings”, from 12 to 1 pm “Admin tasks”, from 2 to 5 pm “External Partners tasks”, etc.
Another effective method is called the “Pomodoro technique” developed by Francesco Cirillo. It is a great tool to allow you a strong self-discipline and efficiency. For that, start by listing 4 main tasks and add a timer to work for 4 sprints of 25 minutes, taking a 5 minute break between each and a longer break at the end of the session. It could be that 25 minutes are not enough for your type of tasks, in this case you can apply a different time structure, such as 52/17 or 90/20.
The last method we want to highlight is called the “Eisenhower Matrix”.
Split your tasks within 4 categories based on their importance and urgency levels to help prioritize the right way: do it immediately if urgent and important, delegate if urgent but not important, decide when to do it if important but not urgent and do it later if not urgent or important.
What would your day look like if you decided to apply all of them & maximize your efficiency chances?
1- Draw your “Personal Kanban” columns (to do, doing, done) and add the tasks you need to achieve today
2- Add an etiquette to each task, labeling its importance (Eisenhower Matrix)
3- Organize your day with those tasks in your calendar (Timeboxing) following your personal energy flow (that you would know thanks to the “Biological Prime Time” method) + Don’t forget to put the hardest one at your peak of energy (Eat the Frog)
4- Finally, whenever you start a task, put on a timer & stay focus for 25 minutes straight (Pomodoro technique)
A strong factor impacting productivity at work is the level of motivation. After a while staying at home, with limited interactions with colleagues, it is natural to feel demotivated from time to time. This is why it is important for companies to work on remote employees’ enthusiasm and motivation. One way is to get more transparency on the long-term vision as explained above, another way is to create fun times to reconnect all together! We can share the examples that we have applied at Dreamin to overcome the covid-19 pandemic and confinement measures:
And don’t forget … when your working day is finished, disconnect! Indeed, we tend to have difficulties in consciously leaving work and end up mixing both our work and personal life. That’s why at the end of the day, shut down your laptop as if you were at the office and had to go back home, disconnect and enjoy personal activities and distractions.