Remote employees have been found to be more productive (and happier and more likely to stay at their jobs) than their in-office counterparts. That’s all fine and good, but it doesn’t mean that there are no distractions when it comes to remote work. While you may feel more comfortable and less stressed working from a familiar home environment, that feeling of comfort can blur the lines between your professional and personal lives, possibly making it harder to get things done.

If you’re in a remote job and you’re finding it hard to organize your day and be consistently productive without the structure and supervision of a traditional office, the answer may simply lie in recognizing and perfecting habits that can boost your productivity if you practice them enough.

Working remotely is a privilege. If you’ve found a job that lets you do your job remotely, that means your employer trusts you to plan your workday and finish your projects on-time, though generally, you have a lot more control over how, where, and when you do that than you would in a traditional job.

Because managing your own time doesn’t always come easily, here are a few tips and tactics for navigating remote work and organizing your schedule so important tasks get done (and you stay sane).

First, Be Aware of Your Triggers

What’s pulling your focus away from the tasks at hand? Personal matters? Pets? Kids? Facebook? Whatever it is, you have to identify your triggers to confront or work around them. Everyone is different, so it’ll be a different experience as you discover what helps or hurts your productivity. You may want to try tracking your work for a few days or weeks to better pinpoint the moments, and the preceding the events, that caused you to lose focus.

1. Use Communication Tools Strategically

Having multiple communication methods presents a unique challenge. On the one hand, ample communication is a big part of making a remote team (or any team) work. On the other hand, the pings, beeps, and buzzes that accompany new messages and can surface at just about any time during the day can be downright distracting. So how do you remain connected and in-the-know without becoming distracted?

The key is discipline. If you have to, set aside no-interruption times when you can work without being distracted by an incoming notification. Prepare any team members or the people you manage if you need to, just so they know that 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Fridays, for example, is not a time that you want to be disturbed.

2. Minimize Multitasking

Busy is not synonymous with productive. Make that your mantra, write it on a sticky note, tattoo it on your arm if you have too. (Not that, but you get the idea.) Too much multi-tasking and being busy just for the sake of being busy not only makes you less effective at each task, but more likely to burn out. According to Stanford University research, multitasking can also reduce your cognitive control and your effectiveness at certain tasks.  

You might be wondering how you stop multitasking if it’s becoming almost second nature to you. Until you’ve trained yourself to focus more effectively, there are several tools, apps, and techniques that can help you along:

  • Tomato Timer: Based on the Pomodoro method (25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of rest), this simple web timer makes it easy to stick to a sustainable work/rest pattern.
  • SelfControl: Can’t keep from checking social media? Maybe you need more self control–or maybe you just need SelfControl, an app created to block time-wasting websites and keep you on track.
  • Asana: This one’s a great tool for organizing work and keeping your whole team in sync. It could also help you reduce the urge to multi-task, because it helps you clearly see the status of each project and delegate tasks with the click of a button.

3. Optimize Your Work Environment

Ok, so maybe you’ve worked in fancy startups your whole career, but most of us have had to deal with the horrors of fluorescent lighting and cubicles at some point or another. No longer is that the case when you work remotely. Your office can be any way (or anywhere) you want it to be, which means you’re free to design it in a way that best helps you focus. Here are a few things to consider when making your dream office a reality:

Music: Music can have a powerful effect on your productivity and focus, but not just any music. Try ambient, light electronic for sounds that are relaxing but not too distracting. Video game music and classical music are also productivity boosters. (Think about it: Video game music is composed with the mission of getting you to be more engaged with a game and play for longer.)

Lighting: When possible, get lots of natural light and start work early. Natural sunlight can help you ward off stress and exhaustion, both of which can lead to productivity issues.

Temperature: Cold offices can make you grumpier, but can they have an effect on how much work you get done? Some studies say yes. In one Cornell study, researchers found that a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit or less resulted in nearly 50% more mistakes than a higher, more fitting workplace temperature, which they concluded was 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Get Your Family On Board

Well-meaning though they may be, maybe you’re distracted by the requests, needs and actions of family members. Remote companies and jobs are new concept for many, and not everyone will understand that a position at a remote company is actually a real job and requires you to be focused on professional projects and tasks for roughly 40 hours a week, every week. While remote work may allow you to be more flexible with your time, make sure family members and friends understand that even though you’re at home, you’re still working. If you’re a parent, talk to your spouse and your employer about how to balance the demands of family and a career.

5. Prioritize Extracurricular Activities

Cultivating a strong ability to focus isn’t just something you work on during the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Focus is a skill that can apply to all areas of your life and can be built and improved in multiple extracurricular ways. Yoga, meditation, and exercise are just a few ways to become calmer and more focused all the time, not just when you’re working. According to one study, just 20 minutes of yoga is enough to increase brain function, improving your reaction time and accuracy. Getting ample sleep and maintaining a strong social network are other ways that you can maintain a less-stressed outlook on life. When you’re stressed, it’s hard to focus on the moment (stress usually comes from worries about the future or the past), which can ruin your ability to focus all your attention on important projects.

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A focused person is a happy person. A scattered person is a stressed person. Making small changes to your environment and habits can improve your focus and make you more satisfied with your job and life overall. Have you tried any of these tips? What else has worked for you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments or on Twitter @FormAssembly.

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