Before the 2020 lockdown, 70% of workers worldwide worked remotely at least one day per week. Remote work shows no signs of slowing down, at least in the Western hemisphere, with the pandemic raging on.

While it has its detractors, many came to realize it is indeed possible to run your business with remote staff. There are some solid benefits.

No more work commute. You get to interact less with annoying co-workers and more with the cool ones. And your dress code, at least the bottom half, is pretty flexible (if you know what you’re doing).

But there’s a big downside to remote work, whether you’re working for yourself, running a business, or holding down your job. That downside is productivity. It’s not like we were productive and focused at the office in the first place. Statistics show that the average person does 4 hours of focused work. Now, we have additional issues and distractions to deal with.

Some of us have kids we need to manage while we still try to get stuff done. We need to help them with their ‘asynchronous learning’ where we end up being their teachers because, like us, we can’t leave them to their own devices. And we don’t want to feel like horrible parents sticking them in front of screens the whole day. So there’s that.

We also have instant access to our couch, Netflix, or a PS5 (if you’re lucky) during work hours. Our fridge keeps wanting to have idle conversations with us. And we don’t have to quickly close off those shopping tabs on our computer when our boss walks by.

We have control.

The problem is we don’t know what to do with it or how to use it.

Ironically, people are saying that they are working more hours remotely, compared to at the office. Part of it is not having the strength to tell our bosses to chill out when working hours are done.

The second part is we are so distracted and unproductive, we end up stretching what was a few hours of work over 10 or 12 hours.

To make the most of our remote work, we have to become more productive. Productivity is especially important for freelancers as you can lose money every hour you spend dicking around on your phone. Trust me, I beat myself up for it more than I’d like to admit.

But there are some ways we can improve our productivity. It will take some systems and a little bit a discipline, but we can do it. These are the steps I follow when I have the most productive days of the week.

Get clear on what you need to do

You can’t be productive if you don’t know what you need to focus on. Setting early morning goals is vital to productivity. Whether you have an entry-level job, freelancing, or run a team as an entrepreneur.

If you don’t know what you’ll be working on for the day, how long it will take, and why you need to work on those particular tasks, you’ll find yourself lacking productivity.

You can’t just wing it.

Put a list together and figure out what is the big-ticket item on that list. If you can, tackle it first since it will take the most energy and effort. Completing that task alone can make you feel more productive. Get everything on a notepad or productivity software like Notion, then start crossing things off your list.

Commit to working a set number of hours every day

If you work for someone else, they’ll expect you to work for 8 or 9 hours a day. And ff you’re a freelancer or business owner, you place no limits on the time you do work. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted, so you’ll naturally try to fill up your 8-hour workday, which can turn into a 10 hour day. What if you can commit to getting everything done in 5 hours instead? What would you need to do? What will you have to eliminate? Set a timer for each hour and get focused.

Set up a dedicated working space

The space you work in can’t be the space you sleep or relax. It’s unfair to give your body the assignment of being able to tell the difference. Like magic, you’ll switch the TV on, or take a half-hour nap and not know how you got there.

Your working space does not need to be a thousand-dollar WFH setup that’s YouTube-worthy. It could be a comfortable space on the floor, near a window, or a used desk and chair tucked in the corner. Having a workspace can get you in work mode, which can do wonders for your productivity.

Put your phone away. Far, far, away

I know the days I’m productive. I wake up, get ready to work, write my list, and start banging away on my computer. My phone buzzes along to get my attention but I ignore it, turn it over and leave it on the dining table.

I also know the days when I’m not productive. I wake up and check on yesterday’s NBA/NFL/Premier League results. Then I scroll through Instagram and maybe Twitter. Delete some email from people I should have unsubscribed from months ago, then I get ready to work. In the day, I’ll answer WhatsApp messages from clients or family members.

Needless to say, those days aren’t my greatest. What you do in the first hour of your day can kill your productivity and chances are it involves your phone. During the day, your phone is equally distracting. If you can remove the one thing designed to keep your attention, you’ll have no choice but to put your time to good use.

Learn to say NO to meetings and limit your email

Avoid as many Zoom meetings as possible. If your boss says you need to go to them, have a discussion about how you can be excused. Receive the cliff notes via email or read the minutes if someone’s taking them. It’s hard to get anything done when people want to use up 30 minutes of your time talking about something that could have come to your inbox. When it comes to email, limit your checks to 1–2 times a day. Avoid the temptation of opening and answering them immediately.

Deal more effectively with mental blocks

At some point, you will struggle to figure something out, especially if you write, design, or do some other creative work. Mental blocks happen and you’ll probably need to walk away from the work to recharge. You can easily go to a YouTube video or scroll through your phone in the name of “rest” or “looking for inspiration.” Even if the video or social media content is helpful, you can still fall down a rabbit hole that derails your day (recommended videos are the equivalent of upsells). Deal with creative or mental blocks by:

  • Reading a few pages of a book on an unrelated topic.
  • Rip a blank page and write whatever comes to mind, no matter how foolish.
  • Taking a walk around the block.
  • Clean up your space, or move to a different one for an hour or so.
  • Explore what will happen if you eliminate the task altogether.
  • Stimulate other senses with candles, music, or a stress ball.

You can improve your productivity by learning to work through challenges the old school way.

Consider fasting during most of your working hours

The idea of not eating turns many people off.

Fasting, however, could transform the way you work and feel.

In the past, our hunter-gatherer ancestors did not eat until they found or killed their meal. Our slave ancestors had no choice.

In both cases, precious hours were not lost thinking about what we’re going to eat, ordering food, and stopping to enjoy the meal. They also did not have to deal with the fatigue that comes with eating.

Digestion is an intensive process.

Hormones like glucagon need to be released.

Our insulin and blood sugar spike. It’s heavy stuff when you add work on top of it.

Some researchers also believe that we produce more serotonin after meals. This happens especially with some proteins, eggs, cheese, and milk.

With fasting, you will have the energy to put into your work. The hunger pangs will hit you hard at first, but in time, you’ll learn to live with them. Your body will start to process fat for fuel, a more efficient energy source.

Set your eating schedule up so you have a meal after work. You can significantly improve your productivity levels due to the increased mental focus and overall health benefits.

Let go of your neuroses during work hours

Sweeping the floor. Washing the dishes. Folding clothes. They’re important to you and can grate at your nerves as you work with them in your face. But they are not urgent and hurt your productivity. Get them done before work or commit to doing them afterward. Do not stop to get these tasks done, just in the name of getting your obsessive-compulsive itch scratched. Speaking from experience here.

Get buy-in from your family and friends

Working from home comes with home obligations and distractions. You can’t avoid them, so you’ll need to find a way to work together. It’s the only way you can be productive. Let your family and partner know what time you’ll need to work and what you’ll need to be productive.

Come to an agreement with the kids about when you could be disturbed and for what reasons. Set things up so they can be a little more self-sufficient.

You’ll also need to build in some repercussions and accountability for not following the rules. If you accommodate them during your work time, your requests won’t hold any weight, and it becomes a slippery slope that impacts your productivity.

Final Thoughts

Working from home can be productive but there are different steps that must be put in place to make it happen. Over time, increased productivity will lead to more opportunities, money, and mental health. Note that you won’t be productive every day. You’ll have personal issues to attend to or just wake up in a crappy mood.

Don’t beat yourself up.

Tomorrow you start from zero. String as many productive days together as possible and you’ll be successful.