How to be More Productive When Working Alone

Work better with yourself.
Some people are most productive when working alone, but the struggle to set boundaries with checking social media, saying “no” to plans with friends or slacking off on the internet is very real, especially when you’re outside of the office.
Just ask Vicky Popat, a Florida native who quit her corporate job at a fortune 500 company to work on her own business at home. Going from the hyper-social culture of having lunch meetings and happy hours with co-workers to working hours on end by herself when starting her gardening company Plant-O-Gram was a drastic lifestyle change, and a little lonely, she admits.
“I was used to constantly being immersed in a social environment both during office hours as well as after hours. After work I would consistently meet up with coworkers for dinners or drinks,” Popat told Moneyish, of having trouble concentrating when she started working solo.
“Several months in, I started to feel the strain,” she admitted, of her mind “constantly wandering” while trying to get work done. “Just when I would be in my zone, phone calls, email and social media notifications, would all compete for my attention and ultimately lowered my productivity,” she added.
So she decided to change up her workspace a bit to focus better. “I like to have a change of scenery and a quite work environment. So when doing work that requires me using a computer — like sending emails or [doing] research — I take my laptop outdoors and find a nice shady tree to sit underneath,” she said, of combating brain drain on the job.
The ability to work solo is becoming more and more common place with digital office rental spaces, free conference call systems and Facetime, prompting employees to work on their own. According to a recent study, 70% of professionals work remotely at least once a week, while 53% work remotely for at least half of the week. And a report by market research firm Gallup found that the number of employees working remotely rose to 43% in 2016 from 39% in 2012.
What’s more, solitary workers may be faster and more efficient than those who work in groups or among others, if they are able to actually get their work done, according to research from the University of Calgary. The study found that people given a specific tasks are slowed down when in the presence of others performing different assignments or projects nearby, suggesting that isolation might actually increase productivity.
But in our ultra-connected world where notifications for “likes,” emails and calendar invites are constant, concentrating on one task and being productive is becoming harder than ever. According to the American Psychological Association, dealing with digital distractions is making us more distant and even emotionally drained.
Here are ways to be more productive on your own.
Minimize distractions.
Hard work can be time consuming, and willing to minimize your social media intake is often necessary when meeting intense deadlines. It can also mean enduring FOMO when you have to work late and miss a work happy hour.
“Invitations to happy hours, events, and other social activities will always be around, so it’s wise to do what you can to temporarily limit your exposure,” said time management expert Rashelle Isip.
If you can’t stop checking your various newsfeeds, Isip suggests removing yourself from personal networking groups (namely, social media apps like Facebook and Instagram); or disabling popup alerts on your phone by enabling the “do not disturb” setting to mute your group chat, and checking back in with friends after work is done.
“If you’re feeling tempted, you can use a productivity app to temporarily block your access time-sucking websites, social media apps, and forums,” Isip recommended.
Helpful productivity apps like Google Keep let you set virtual sticky notes (like Post-Its) on your digital devices to flag ideas, reminders, or “to-dos” you don’t want to forget. Others, like Blink, let you create quick memos to jot down during a conference call. And if you really want to track your progress, the app Taskful is a bar that keeps track of your to-do list and moves forward as you continue to check off the tasks you have throughout the day so you can get a visual sense of accomplishment. The app even sends you encouraging messages throughout the day to keep users motivated.
Set small goals throughout the day.
Setting aside time to work solo is one thing, but actually being productive can be a challenge. Breaking down your assignments into smaller tasks is key, Isip said.
“You can jot down a simple to-do list of tasks to cover over the next hour or couple of hours, or if you’re working on a series of repetitive tasks, you can create a small work chart or grid that lists out each task vertically, on the horizontal axis, you can detail each step that needs to be completed,” Isip said, adding: “This will allow you to easily focus on what needs to be done at any given point and time. Plus, you’ll see you are making solid progress in your work, which can be incredibly motivating when working alone,”
Take breaks.
Taking a brief respite from your work, whether it’s grabbing a snack or taking a walk, can work wonders for solo productivity.
Research shows that humans experience fatigue every 90 minutes causing them to lose energy and focus, so taking short breaks every now and then could be yield to being more productive later on in the day.
“Build regular breaks into your work sessions. You’ll work more efficiently if you give your mind and body a rest every now and then,” Isip said, advising solo workers to take coffee breaks, go for a short walk or have a meal. “Having a perpetually cloudy mind, or making a series of simple mistakes may mean it’s time for a long-overdue break.”
Eliminate repetitive tasks.
If your line of work involves writing reports or contracts, try to eliminate repetitive and mundane tasks by writing up a template with a format to follow for each project rathering than re-typing the same thing out over and over again.
“Having a template or set of templates on hand can make your work go much more quickly – you won’t waste time figuring out how to construct a report, write an email to a vendor or customer, or update an image or graphic,” Isip said adding: “You do need to invest some time in creating a template at first, but once you get past that point, your work will be streamlined and you’ll save time and energy in future.”
Overcome loneliness.
Working long hours by yourself without any social contact can get lonely. So consider joining a co-working space like WeWork, a subscription-based office sharing space immersed with comfy furniture, conference rooms and fellow solo workers (a refreshing change of pace from working over your living room table with a laptop).
And if you miss the comordiray of working among people, consider joining the remote workers forum on Meetup.com, an international network that connects remote workers.
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