You don’t need another article explaining how you should “drink water throughout the day” or “get up every 2 hours” or “step outside for some air!” All of the remote work guides that I’ve read have been trash, so I wanted to write something more in-depth, actionable, and useful so that you actually crush the next few weeks (months? years? decades?).
Before we get into the weeds, I’d recommend reading Deep Work by Cal Newport and The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss as these books do an incredible job describing why you should master the art of focus and how to achieve maximum productivity levels.
Mastering Your WFH Habits
When I started working from remote, I’d feel down, lethargic, and unaccomplished at the end of the day. Honestly, some days I was more depressed and irritable than I’d been in months. I pinpointed a few common issues that you may have experienced as well:
- Spending tons of time on my phone
- Lying on my bed in the middle of the day
- Watching a lot of YouTube/TV
Through some experimentation, I realized that when I made the following changes to my workday my productivity and mental health dramatically improved:
- Always have a schedule ready for the next day
- Turn off your phone until lunchtime
- Start the workday with a deep work session
- Get 1-3 deep work sessions in per day
I highly recommend experimenting with these approaches for 1-2 weeks and if they don’t work for you, abandon them! However, I feel like they’re going to change your work experience entirely.
The first thing you’re going to need to do is grab a notebook that you can use as a schedule going forward. Do this now! Let’s schedule your day for tomorrow using Cal Newport’s time-blocking approach.
What the fook is that, you say? Glad you asked.
Newport creates blocks of time throughout the day so that it’s easy to batch together different tasks. For example, instead of working for 10 minutes, sending out an email, working for another 30 minutes, running an errand, etc. he’ll block off 1 hour after lunch where he knocks out all of these undemanding tasks. Additionally, he’ll create blocks for deep work sessions (we’ll get into that in a second). Here’s a picture of a typical Newport day:
It’s nice to do this in a notebook so you can edit it on the fly. Don’t worry about nailing every minute, your day will change, that’s OK. However, having a general idea of the day ahead gives you way more control over it.
Additionally, at the top of your schedule write down your two top priorities for the day. Use the 80/20 rule to determine these.
The most important part of your schedule will be your time allotted to deep work sessions. These are 1-3 hour blocks of time where you work through a specific list of goals with deep concentration and no distractions. Ideally, you should plan these sessions for around the same time/place every day as it’s easier to build the habit that way. I really recommend that you start your workday with a session as it makes the rest of your day more enjoyable and productive.
For each session you need to:
- Turn off your phone and put it in another room
- Find an isolated place in your house and tell everyone not to distract you (optional: put a Do Not Disturb sticky on the door)
- Turn off Slack and email
- Write down a list of goals for the session and how long you think each one will take you
- Optional: throw on some noise cancelling headphones
Turning off Slack and workplace communication will be impossible for some people (i.e. if you work in customer support), but for many it’s more feasible than you’ve been led to believe. One strategy that worked for me was talking to my boss about how it’s hard to get quality work done with your Slack always buzzing and, thus, you’d like to propose that you block off 2 periods per day where you go offline. You can explain to him/her that during these sessions you’ll get way more done than you otherwise would and will be way more satisfied with your remote workday. Another strategy, if the above doesn’t work, is that you spend 1-2 hours at lunch or before/after everyone else starts working and get at least 1 deep work session in while no one expects you to be available. Additionally, you could just try blocking time on your calendar for 1 deep work session tomorrow and see if anyone even notices — I doubt they will.
The list of goals for the session will help you hyperfocus on what you need to get done as well as provide you with motivation. If you put a time next to each goal and keep a timer open in front of you, it’ll make you work way faster. If any goal takes more than 30 minutes, break it down into sub steps that you can do in less. You might want to take short breaks to stretch your legs during these sessions, but remember no YouTube, phone, or any other distraction until the time period is over.
No Phone Until Lunch
Out of all the changes I’ve made to my workday, this has had by far the biggest impact on my productivity and my mental health.
It can be a tough change, but after a few days you get used to the habit and your mind feels so much clearer during the morning that you’ll never be able to go back. Additionally, you even feel better in the afternoon and evening because you started your day off on the right foot.
Many people make an excuse that this is impossible because their relatives or friends might need to urgently get in touch with them. From my experience, this is a false idea that your mind is tricking you into believing. I’ve been doing this for over a year and have never once had something so urgent come through that it couldn’t wait until after lunch (and I’ve dealt with multiple emergencies and deaths in this time period). If you let your family know that you need to do this for your mental health and productivity, they’ll probably be frustrated at first and then understand.
Please, please try this for 7 days and tell me that it doesn’t change your world completely.
Again, treat these tips as a 1-2 week experiment, ditch whatever doesn’t work, and add other things that do.
If you’re able to master the remote work life, your entire world will expand. You might even be able to convince your boss to let you go remote.
If you want more information on how to make the most of the lockdown, check out our newsletter. We’ll send you fitness, mental health, and productivity tips that you can use each day. And if you have any questions or want to get in touch, feel free to shoot me an email.
Go get it!