Even as businesses try to figure out how to bring their employees back to the office I think it’s pretty safe–at this point–to say that remote work isn’t going anywhere. It’s not just that millions of people have spent the better part of two and a half years working remotely, it’s that they were as productive, if not more so, than they were in an office building.
At the same time, remote work certainly has its challenges, not the least of which is managing your schedule amid all of the distractions that come with life. There’s no question that there are some days it’s a lot harder to get things done when life gets in the way.
Still, with an intentional effort, working remotely can help you be more productive, give you more control over how and where you work, and give you flexibility in your schedule. With that in mind, here are the three rules that can make working remotely even more productive than working in the office.
1. Have a Place to Land
One of the biggest benefits of working remotely is that you aren’t tied to a desk. You can work from, well, anywhere. That’s great when you need a change of scenery to inspire you–or if you just need to get away from all the distractions.
Of course, as great as that flexibility can be, if you’re going to work from home on a regular basis, you can’t always be bouncing between the couch or the kitchen table.
Even if you enjoy working in different environments, you need a place to land–away from the distractions of life.
Ideally, it should include a desk setup with all technology and resources that will help you get your job done. Maybe that means you have an external monitor and a webcam for Zoom meetings. Or, it might just mean you have a place to spread out whatever you’re working on, without having to worry about putting everything away so your family can all eat together at the table.
2. Shut the Door
I get that not every work from home setup includes a private office, but if possible, it should have a door you can shut. For many people, the biggest challenge working from home is that there’s little separation between work and the rest of life. On the other hand, nothing says separation like a shut door.
When you go into your office and shut the door, it signals to everyone (including yourself) that you’re working. That helps you focus on what you need to do without the many distractions that come from looking out into another room where your kids might be watching Disney+.
It also signals to the people who might also be home with you that it’s not the best time to demand your attention. It’s not that you don’t love them, but if your door is open, there’s a good chance they’ll walk in and talk to you, or ask you to come and play. Those aren’t bad things, but there’s a time for everything. On the other hand, if they see the door is closed, it lets them know you need some distraction-free time, but will be excited to play later.
By the way, even if you don’t have a physical door, there are other ways you can accomplish a similar effect. For example, you can let your family know that when you’re wearing headphones, it’s work time.
3. Keep a Schedule
Finally, if you’re going to ask the people in your life not to interrupt you, or distract you while you’re working, you owe it to them to have a schedule and keep it. At the end of the day, as much as possible, walk away from the work and engage with your family or your friends, or your pets, or anything but work.
To help, I recommend you plan when to quit. At the beginning of the day, set out what it is you have to do, when you plan to do it, and when you plan to stop. I make a plan that no matter what is left on the todo list, I’m going to stop working at a specific time each day.
Let’s be honest, if you’re not intentional about when you stop working, you probably won’t. There will always be one more email, or Slack message, or super-important-thing-that-just-can’t-wait. Except, it can wait.
At some point, you just have to say “no” to whatever it is that grabs your attention. In fact, if you find yourself having a hard time walking away from work, maybe you should shut your door on the way out as well, and let that be a signal to you that work is over.