For most of my career, I’ve often been told of how lucky I am to be working remotely.
We built Doctor Arthritis to be an ecommerce brand in the truest sense of the word. As a business model, it meant we could operate a borderless business—we could distribute to more countries, reach more people, and impact more lives. On a personal level, it meant me and my co-founder could work remotely, anywhere in the world. I could work from my couch or on a beach if I wanted to. More importantly, I managed my own time. I wasn’t bound by the usual nine to five or tethered to a cubicle.
All I needed was the motivation to be productive.
We live in a world obsessed with productivity. There’s no shortage of tips to read on how to get things done as we strive for shorter work hours and days. But let me tell you, when you have the option to stay in bed instead of opening a laptop, or enjoying a sunny day by the shore with a good book instead of answering emails, getting things done can be a lot harder than when you’re stuck in a cubicle.
The problem, I realized, was that working remotely removed the structure that held my work days together. Had I been working in an actual, physical office, I would know that I had to clock in at nine am, start my day reading through emails, finish critical tasks before noon, stop for lunch, go back to work, stop for a coffee break at three, and wrap up before six. When you work remotely, the hours can get away from you. You wake up, think you have the option to stay in bed a little longer and before you know it, it’s already lunchtime and you’re still in pyjamas.
It also dawned on me that the pitfalls of working remotely are very hard to overcome and it can affect even the most basic things that help keep you motivated to get the job done. To that end, I have learned by experience that these three things were so critical to my productivity–
1. Setting my work hours following my body clock
Working remotely give you an opportunity to work during your best, most productive hours. I’m a morning person, and working from home meant I’m usually raring to get started as soon as I woke up. But I still make it a point to set an exact time each day so I can take advantage of my peak productivity hours when I’m most focused and alert.
2. Putting real boundaries for my workday
You don’t realize how quickly time can get away from you when you’re working remotely. And it’s not just about procrastinating either. When you don’t set boundaries for your workday, you don’t realize how many hours you’re actually pulling in, making you even more prone to burnout. The feeling of restlessness and exhaustion may not hit you the same way it would if you were clocking-in in a physical office day in and day out; but make no mistake, it will creep up on you. By the time you notice, you’ll be too burnt out to do something about it.
So set an alarm to remind you of when your day ends and be disciplined enough to follow it. When your routine becomes second nature, it will be easier to compartmentalize your work and personal life even when you’re working from home.
3. Remembering the real reason behind why I want to finish a task
Let’s say you have a to-do list that’s about a mile long. But you also work from home so the pressure to finish your tasks doesn’t feel very real. More often than not, you end up delaying your work. Not because you didn’t want to be productive, but because you didn’t have the motivation to get it done. So always remind yourself of why you’re doing the task. What’s the big end game? How is it interesting? Why is it meaningful? Pay more attention to what makes you excited to get this job done, think about who will benefit from it—you’ll soon find that there’s a lot of things about that tedious to-do list that will motivate you to start and finish it.
Working remotely means you have no boss to breathe down your neck to tell you what you should prioritize. Whether you realize it at this point, that’s a good thing and a bad thing. A lot of the pitfalls a remote employee experiences boils down to their level of self-discipline. Learning to understand your own boundaries and limitations as well as finding ways to stay focused is key to staying productive.