E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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9 Ways To Increase Your Productivity While Working From Home

Gran Canaria - Meloneras in the WinterI have been working as a remote knowledge (Web) worker for the last 9 years in two different countries and four different business units in one single organisation and I guess that, at this point in time, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Specially, thanks, amongst several other reasons, to the flexibility and freedom of being in control of your own workflow.

I can imagine though there may well be people out there who question the validity of remote workers, mainly now that the trend seems to be leaning more towards that distributed, virtual global workforce I have been blogging about over here a couple of times already who are making heavy use of social software tools to keep in touch, collaborate and share their knowledge. Indeed, for most people working remotely, i.e. from home, while at a customer site, while on the road, etc. etc. it can be quite a challenge, even more if you have to justify it to your co-workers located at the traditional office. However, it *does* work! Mashable’s Nellie Akalp‘s piece on “9 Ways To Increase Your Productivity While Working From Home” is just another proof of how it can work out in setting up the right expectations for both remote knowledge workers and those co-located in the same traditional office to inspire that collaborative environment where everyone can benefit from it.

That’s why I thought I would spend a few minutes today talking about this particular topic and perhaps add some additional ways of how it’s worked for me as well over the course of those 9 years. The interesting thing is that Nellie’s smashing article on this subject surely is spot on. As a remote knowledge worker, I can relate to it myself, and I am sure if you are one as well, you would probably do, too! So in order to build further up on her article I thought I would add my ¢2 into the conversation describing how those very same ways are working out for me, and those around me, who are also distributed employees. Hopefully, we can add some further insights that may be helpful to others… So here we go, let’s do it!:

  1. Respect Your Own Time: This is probably one of the toughest challenges you are going to bump into as you initially move away from the traditional office into your own home office. I struggled with it myself back then, and for multiple various reasons, till I eventually had that ah-ha moment that if I wanted to make it work for me I would need to add discipline and flexibility into the mix. Transitioning from being measured by your sheer presence to being measured by the results you produce can be quite challenging, but if you allow for flexibility to kick in, along with a good dose of discipline it will work out time and time again. Being a bit stubborn and resilient would also be good traits to make it work, more than anything else, because if you don’t respect your own time, how can you expect others to do the same? Show them, educate them, help raise the right level of expectations and negotiate that mutual respectful agreement that should work both ways in equal terms. 
  2. Impose Time Limits on Specific Tasks: Oh, yes, ever since I have introduced The Pomodoro Technique to help me schedule time chunks on specific tasks, specially, rather complex ones, also even the time I spend on social networking tools, it’s made a huge difference for me. I have got a stronger sense of achievement at the end of the day by checking out the logs from those pomodoros to see what I have done for the day, and I can certainly recommend it to folks who may be wondering how their days are gone by without them hardly noticing. I use to have that very same feeling till I introduced this technique on my day to day workload. And I’m loving it! It’s like a bit of fresh air coming along in small time lapses that would allow you to transition from one task to another rather easily, without losing much of the control of your own productivity. Quite the opposite, actually! Priceless!

  3. Set Strict Deadlines: This is perhaps one of the hardest things to comply with, yet, one of the most rewarding, because, just as it happens with co-located knowledge workers in the traditional office, procrastination surely is not your best friend, as some people seem to claim time and time again. The best way to fight it off is to set those deadlines, even if you don’t really have to set them up. Still knowing there is a timeframe lurking around in the horizon waiting for you to accomplish something, somehow accelerates your sense of urgency and that seems to be really handy. At least, it works for me. That’s why I rely quite heavily on one of my favourite services within IBM Connections: Connections Activities

  4. Log Off for “Power Productivity” Hours: Indeed, most of you folks know I am a rather heavy user of social networking tools, whether internal and / or external, but you may have noticed how, every now and then, I suddenly go silent for a period of time; I lurk heavily, I learn from what others are sharing across and eventually it’s the time when my “Power Productivity” kicks in. Once again, The Pomodoro Technique is a superb way of helping you schedule those hours, so next time you see I have gone quiet, I am not really gone away, or gone into hiding; rather the opposite… When I come back, ask me what I was busy with during that power productivity time lapse and you will see what I have been up to, which, in a way, may eventually end up on this blog as well anyway hehe
  5. Delineate Your Workplace: This is a very important point. If you are working from your home office, as in working from your kitchen, or your bedroom, or your living room, or the front porch, the terrace or whatever else, you are certainly extending your virtual office to the point where there is no hide-out. You need to avoid that. You need to find a spot where you can escape work, specially after work hours. Having a home office will help you do that; not necessarily that you need to close the door time and time again, but certainly understand that even work has got a limit in your own home space, it’s a physical room, once you leave that door, that’s when your quality time will begin. Don’t neglect it; it’s the most precious time of your day. Every day. 
  6. Slowing Down? Change Your Environment: Now, I am not saying that working from those places can be rewarding every so often as a way to freshen up your working environment, specially, if you are putting long hours, but the thing is you should try not to make a habit out of it eventually. There is still a need to separate,  to some extent, your work life, from your personal life. Not because of you, per se, but because of them. Those who make you treasure the little things that matter. That quality time that’s worth while going for after a hard working day!

    On the other hand, and as a side note I can tell you folks that, to me, whenever I need to change my working environment the device I have leaned on to relying the most, by far, has been my iPad, which allows me for that flexibility of taking work wherever I am and still have that sense of detachment from the computing environment. And even more notorious when I am travelling…

  7. Conduct a Time Audit: This is a rather interesting one, specially, to me, since I wasn’t aware of the many benefits of doing such time audit trail, but then again, subconsciously, I have been doing it all along thanks to the logs provided by the nifty application Pomodoro that I have been using for a good few months now. So every day, by the end of the day, I take a look at those time lapses specified in the Pomodoro logs to see not only what I have achieved during the course of the day, but at the same time the actual time that it takes me to achieve that; so in the social networking front I have come to the conclusion that unless meetings and conference calls collide I usually spend about 3 pomodoros of 25 minutes each throughout my work day to keep up with what’s happening out there on the internal and external Social Web. That seems to be the right measure for me as to how much time I spend using social software tools every day. Not too bad! Perhaps on future posts I will detail as well what other tasks / activities I get to embark on and share which ones are the biggest time sinks, although I can already give folks a hint on which one is coming up big time over and over again: presentations! (Grrr)
  8. Create Tasks Lists: I don’t know where our obsession, as human beings, comes from creating lists. They have always been there since the dawn of time and I guess we will still continue to create them for almost everything. Of course, I, too, use them quite a bit, both for public consumption, through Connections Activities, once again, and for private use, where I rely on a couple of iPad Apps Things being one of my old time favourites. They are the first thing I check in the morning and the last thing I check in the evening as they help me get a grasp of what I need to get done, and what I have done in the past. I keep up with them religiously as a way to help empower my own productivity, and that one of others, if I need to collaborate on a particular task with other peers, networks or communities.

    But perhaps the main reason why I heart Tasks Lists is because they help me get a grasp of my workload throughout the year, which I find rather convenient referring to whenever my yearly performance evaluation comes up by year end. Somehow, they have turned themselves into a tracking record of sorts that helps me manage how I interact in multiple projects, teams and initiatives. And I can honestly say that if you haven’t created your tasks lists just yet, you surely are missing out some big improvements in your efficiency. No doubt!

  9. Make your breaks count: Finally, this is probably one of the most important traits I can think of from working remotely. Make your breaks count, indeed! Over the course of the years one gets to learn, through the hard way, unfortunately, how important it is to have regular breaks while at work, more than anything else, because if you don’t take them yourself, no-one else will, in fact, no-one will even notice you need a break after those long hours of hard work. So the first person who should take care of taking those breaks should be yourself. Like I said, remember, if you don’t do it, no-one else will do it for you. 

    That’s why long time ago I resolved to take several breaks during the course of the day (Even when I am travelling) and to achieve that I have been making use of this relatively small, but rather powerful and nifty application called MacBreakZ 4 (For Macs), which allows me to stay healthy and watchful for my wrists by taking regular short breaks during the day. Then I also take extended breaks where I try to do some exercise, to help me keep fit. You know, sitting kills (A must-go-through and read infographic, if you haven’t done so already, by the way!), as so does standing, so I figured that striking the balance between both of them is going to be the key to make it work. 

    And, finally, another type of break I have learned to take rather consciously as well over the course of time is to schedule a one full hour for my lunch (Scheduled as in blocked in my diary for everyone!); again, based on the same principle as above, if I don’t take that break for lunch, I have learned, through the hard way, once more, no-one else would, and I won’t be able to rely on that regular and healthy habit of eating at the same time every day. So, whenever folks try to schedule a meeting or a conference call with yours truly, that time is blocked, marked as busy, in my diary. Already. And again, for everyone! Throughout the whole year! And I cannot relate well enough what a difference it’s made for me to stick to that schedule. Long gone are the days where I didn’t have lunch, or just a 10 minute lunch break, or just munching along through that conference call, while on mute. Now, I just walk away from the home office, shut the door, enjoy my one hour disconnect time from everything, get my energy levels back and ready to hit the rest of the day! Highly recommended, if you haven’t started doing that!

And that’s it, folks! That’s my ¢2 worth of comments on that wonderful piece put together by Nellie Akalp on “9 Ways To Increase Your Productivity While Working From Home“. However, and before I let you all go, I thought I would share one more way to increase your productivity, the #10, which would work as well for both remote workers and their co-located peers in the traditional office. And it’s probably one that you would be least expecting it, since I doubt most folks would associate it with that trait to help you improve your efficiency and effectiveness at work. Of course, I’m talking about sleep, or getting *enough* good sleep! Gran Canaria - Charca de Maspalomas in the Winter

Yes, something so relatively simple as that! Sleeping enough hours day in day out will surely help you increase your alertness, focus, attention, motivation, speed of execution, etc. etc. And the magic here is to figure out how many hours would be good for you to help you function properly, but once you hit that, stick to it. For good! In my own case, and after trial and error over the course of the years it looks like 7 hours is good enough for me, although I have seen and read plenty of research suggesting to go for the 8 or 8.5 hour mark of daily sleep. That would probably include power naps as well, which seem to gain plenty of popularity as of late. But the important thing is to strive for that good night sleep that can help you function properly the day after. Now, I do realise about that saying that “Sleep is for the weak“; well, it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s the weak the ones who don’t get enough sleep in the first place! 😉

Jessica Stillman, over at GigaOm’s WebWorkerDaily wrote, not long ago, “Why the Web Worker Lifestyle Is Good for Your Health” and I can highly recommend its read. Very insightful and powerful piece at the same time, specially the additional resources included. After going through it, and after reflecting on the 9 years I have been a remote knowledge (Web) worker, I tend to agree with its overall sentiment that, perhaps, indeed, our web workers lifestyles might be good for our health as employees after all; it feels like that to me. At least, I am happy with how its flexibility and freedom, amongst several other things, have been working out for me so far.

And you know what they say about happy employees and employee engagement, right? 😀

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  1. ¡¡muy buen apunte, compañero!!
    Estos consejos vienen de un practicante con credibilidad, un home-based worker “que se lo monta bien” asi que los he leido con suma atención. Coincido en casi todos los puntos. Aunque la oficina la tengo en el Parque Tecnológico, y ahí esta la mayoría de la gente, yo suelo trabajar en casa porque allí soy mucho mas productivo.
    ¡¡gracias por compartir!!

    1. ¡Hola Amalio! Muchas gracias por los comentarios y por validar el artículo también con tu experiencia. Me parece interesante el constatar cómo seguimos, los trabajadores a distancia, confirmando que somos más productivos trabajando desde la “ofi en casa” que desde la “ofi” tradicional y aunque ya he empezado a ver una tendencia a convencer a los trabajadores a volver a la empresa espero que sea parajero, porque, para mí, eso sí que sería una pérdida de tiempo si tuviera que ir a trabajar donde están mis compañeros en Carolina del Norte.

      En fin, que todas estas herramientas sociales demuestran que es posible ser productivo trabajando desde dónde más cómodo te sientas sin tener que justificar tu presencia o no con lo que haces. Quizá la mayor ventaja del mundo laboral de hoy en día 🙂

      Gracias de nuevo, Amalio, y espero que nos podamos volver a ver y coincidir en algún que otro viaje jeje

  2. Also designing your home office is fun at the same time it can boost your productivity. Having a cool and clean station is a big factor in working also chairs and desk must be quality for the sake of your employees convenience.

  3. I could totally relate to this article, Luis.
    Personally, the main ingredient for productivity when working from home is discipline. There are a lot of distractions that are found at home and on the internet. Setting goals everyday and focusing to finish it before the day ends sounds like a great plan but we have to admit it’s very hard to accomplish.
    Remembering those techniques above and a little bit of help using some productivity tools make a way for success, help us to stay motivated and lessen procrastination.

    1. Hi Conor! Thanks a lot for dropping by and for the feedback comments! Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂 I couldn’t have agreed more with you about the main ingredient being *discipline*. It’s spot on and perhaps one of the main reasons why a whole bunch of knowledge workers do not enjoy working remotely that well, because they have a tendency to lack such discipline, so heading to the office environment seems to bring it back, apparently.

      Agree 100% on setting up daily goals to achieve by the end of the day. It’s something that I used to do myself and, as expected, I failed time and time again. So the little trick that I am currently working on is set up all of those various different goals, lots of them, and then help me achieve those that I feel are the most worthy getting them done. Something along the lines of pick and choose from a wide range of choices and stick around with those I think would bring bigger impact altogether. Seems to be working all right so far…

      RE: Procrastination, there used to be a time where I thought that it was rather negative to suffer from it time and time again, but recent readings that I have done over here, then here and then over at HBR have demonstrated how procrastinating every now and then is not too bad. In fact, it has got its own benefits, too! 🙂

      Thanks again for the feedback and for dropping by! Good stuff!

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