How To Hack Productivity While Working Remote — With 8 Helpful Tips

Lori Li
11 min read
May 25, 2020

productivity hacks

Viktor E. Frankl once said that when we’re no longer able to change a situation, we’re challenged to change ourselves. 

This statement rings true during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The virus isn’t something that we can change by ourselves, so we need to see how we can adapt to the new realities. 

And the biggest way we can do that is by staying productive even when the going gets tough. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. 

COVID-19 has already changed the way we approach work and has disrupted almost all industries. But industries aren’t the only things being forced to embrace drastic change.

Every employee has experienced a profound shift in their work and private life that has affected everything from how many hours they’re able to put in to how much they can get done to how motivated they are to do it. And it’s up to managers to figure out how to best adapt to the current situation and get out on top. 

First of all, it’s about acknowledging that the world has changed. Some of that change is good and will benefit workers—like the lack of commute and the ability to spend more time with family, exercising, and relaxing.

On the other hand, some things have become more challenging, such as team coordination, meeting efficiency, and employee productivity. 

Since most employees now work remotely and things aren’t likely to change in the immediate future, it’s important to learn how to approach workers during these times to keep them productive. 

It’s possible to become even more productive during these times and here are the eight best productivity hacks for remote workers that you can use to help out your team.  

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1. Define when your working day starts and finishes 

The best thing about working remotely is also the worst thing about working remotely: a flexible schedule. 

Flexibility can be really great since it allows you to work at the most convenient times. But that can also be a challenge because you don’t have dedicated working hours.

A team’s productivity depends on every person becoming high-performing individuals—and keeping things that way. Not everyone can perform at optimal levels at the same times. Some of your employees will work afternoons and nights while others will prefer mornings, for example. 

The important thing here is to keep everyone on the team informed of when everyone works so that there aren’t any hiccups in the communication flow to stifle productivity. 

The best way that you can help your team transition to remote work and stay productive is by letting them design their workday—when their working day starts and when it finishes. You can do this by making sure that your team members play on their strengths—not their weaknesses.

For the best results, schedules should be consistent. Even though employees can create their own schedules and can keep them flexible, it’s wise to keep it the same day in and day out. That’s how you create and keep a work-life balance—and how your team becomes productive. 

When it comes to the current pandemic, there are certain factors and concerns that you, as a manager, need to address.Our recent study revealed that these five takeaways can have the biggest impact: 

  • Communicate frequently
  • Proactively address company impact and job security
  • Provide a safe channel for employee feedback
  • Highlight safety at work and set employees up for remote working success
  • Be positive

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2. Stop using to-do lists—have a daily priority

When you use a to-do list, you won’t ever get to the end of it. If this sounds familiar, stop using to-do lists and have a daily priority instead.

A daily priority is different from a to-do list because it tells you what the single most important thing you need to do to be successful is each day. So, when a day comes to an end, that one priority will be the difference as to whether that day felt like a successful or unsuccessful one. 

Your team’s success will depend on the ability of every employee to achieve their daily priority. Keep in mind that having a daily priority doesn’t mean that you ignore what needs to be done. Rather, it means that you focus on a single thing each day while keeping the bigger picture in mind. 

It’s like an eagle and a worm’s perspective. 

The eagle’s perspective is high and wide. In an office setting, it’s what needs to be done for the entirety of the project—all the tasks, assignments, and steps. 

When it’s time to execute, you switch to the worm’s perspective. A worm can only see what’s in front of it. And that’s exactly what you do when it’s time to execute: You only focus on the daily priority and nothing else.

In other words, you need to combine both perspectives to be productive. As a manager, you need to sense when your members need more of one or the other of the perspectives and push them in that direction to stay productive. 

Keep in mind that a daily priority doesn’t have to be a task. It can be something bigger. For the best results, employees should communicate their daily priorities with everyone on the team so that workers are aligned for the day. 

A great way you can do this is by having a daily e-huddle just so everyone can communicate their daily priorities and get on the same page. 

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3. Create a workplace at home

Just because you’re working at home doesn’t mean you should work in bed—despite how tempting it might seem. While it might look comfortable, it completely destroys your routine and habits. 

Working from bed for a long time sends mixed signals to your brain when you actually go to bed. You might have a hard time falling asleep. Your brain then thinks that it’s time for work and puts you in a state of work instead of one for bed. 

The way you fix this is by setting up an office that you use for work and nothing else. That way, you signal to your brain when it’s time to work, eat, exercise, and sleep. Believe it or not, you can lose up to two weeks of productivity each year if you mess with your sleep pattern.

“This creates a mental shift which helps you transition into ‘work mode’, where you have a sense of routine, reduce the potential distractions around you and provide comfort for working. This can significantly increase your productivity.” — Simon Loong, founder and CEO of WeLab, on the importance of setting up a home office environment

Also, imagine what kind of a message you will send to your team if you show up at an online meeting in your office or in your bed. One shows seriousness, productivity, and focus-orientation. The other, well, doesn’t. 

If you have a small living space, put on your work clothes and sit at a table to work and you will get the same effect.

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4. Change should be the only constant in your routine—what got you here, won’t get you there

A routine is great—if it leads you to your goals. 

But problems happen when people think that a routine they had a couple of weeks ago is still adequate for the goals they have right now. 

There is an old rule that says that what got you here, won’t get you there. So don’t be a slave to your routine. While it might have worked in the past, it might not work that well today. 

The key is to keep yourself alert by measuring your routine to your goals and daily priorities. There are two ways you can go about this and we recommend both. 

The first way is to have a weekly check of your routine. You go over everything your routine consists of in that week and, over the course of 30 minutes, analyze what was good and needs to continue, what was bad and needs to be discarded, and what is still missing that needs to be added in the future. The best time to do this is at the end of the week. 

The second way, something you will use more often, are the daily checks of your routine.

A daily check happens at the end of every day where you see if you accomplished your goals for that day. If you did, your routine is still good. If you didn’t, then something needs to change. You should aim at around 80 percent effectiveness of your routine since there will always be things you can improve regarding productivity. There will also always be things that stop working and need to be replaced.

This can be a great team activity especially during this transition to remote work, because many things will be different and the daily routines of your workers will be shifting significantly.

There’s one thing to remember: Don’t start your daily routine with an email check. Email is a massive time-waster and it’s a notorious productivity killer—especially in the morning. 

Cal Newport, the author of Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You, makes sure to have a dedicated block of time when he checks his email. It’s never in the morning.

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5. Learn how to say ‘no’

There are so many distractions and we haven’t learned how to say no to many of them. Distractions are everywhere we look, and it’s especially problematic for remote workers. 

It’s really hard for a lot of people to say no for a variety of reasons:

  • It might be perceived as a sign of weakness
  • You don’t want to let anyone down
  • You want to return a favor
  • You want to prove your worth
  • Saying no might stir up negative emotions
  • Fear of conflict

“We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’”
Warren Buffett

Bluntly saying no to someone might be counterproductive. So, instead, you might try out “the “next-day yes” to communicate your priorities. In other words, whenever you’re getting an ask for a favor or a task, don’t say yes immediately. Instead, say “let me get back to you in 24 hours after I’ve done xyz.” 

That will leave you with enough time to assess the scope of work for the task in question and figure out whether you have enough time to do it. What usually happens  is that the person who asked you just needed someone to do it fast so they asked someone else. This task didn’t require your special skills. All it needed was someone to jump up and do it. With this approach, there are no hard feelings and the task still gets done.

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6. Run, walk, train, or exercise—keep moving yourself

One of the best ways you can stay productive is by making sure that your physical health is on a high enough level to sustain the effort. 

You need to have some physical activity in your daily routine—especially if your entire job revolves around you sitting in front of your laptop at home

Being productive doesn’t mean working non-stop. It requires a lot of different components— one of which is exercise (training). So, take a moment to breathe and soak in the sun. Believe it or not, it’ll help you be a better worker.

One of the benefits of taking a breathing moment for yourself is to adjust your course and change directions if necessary. Taking a deep breath enables you to look at your work and see if you’re staying in the right direction or if you need to change.

Great Leadership

It’s important to show this to your team by leading by example. The way that you will get your workers to become productive isn’t just by teaching them how to work but by teaching them how to rest. And this is where they will follow your lead the most.

A great way to relax is by taking a quick walk around the neighborhood to refresh your mind.  You can also include some stronger strains on your body either via the gym or a home workout session

7. Eat the biggest frog first

Mark Twain once said that if it’s “your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.”

Eating the biggest frog first means doing the most important and the most difficult task of the day first thing in the morning. It’s not about postponing it for later since your energy levels will just drop and you won’t do that great of a job. 

So do the hardest task first thing in the morning. Not only will you feel accomplished during the day, but that will also help you do better on other tasks for that day. 

And how to actually do that? 

Do a 15-minute trial run which warms you up for working. And during that time of warming up, you should slowly start working on your hardest task for the day. That way, as soon as the 15-minute warm-up is done, you’re ready to go with the most amount of energy, a clear head, and a clear focus. 

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8. One recognition a day keeps employee turnover away 

We saved the best for last. 

Don’t forget to reward yourself and your team at the end of the day (and the week!) for a job well done. There will certainly be times when your team won’t meet your standards. Maybe they miss deadlines or maybe they don’t accomplish their daily priority, for example.

But that’s more of an exception than a rule. When we asked employees whether they thought they had the right people on their team, a staggering 81% said yes! So, your team members are valuable to both their colleagues and the organization, and they bring results and a positive change.

And all of this only emphasizes the importance of the days when they manage to do everything right. When that happens, you can’t forget to reward them for the job well done.

It will make working on the team and for the team easier because, if they do well, a reward is waiting for them at the end of the day. Who doesn’t want that? Plus, recognition is more important than ever in these turbulent times, and you want to keep your team members motivated instead of having to constantly bring new blood into the mix.

This isn’t just for your team, mind you. You also need to reward yourself as well for a job well done. Being productive isn’t just about working. It’s about resting properly and motivating yourself in a way that would make you feel good about achieving tasks and accomplishing daily priorities. 

At the end of the day, people work for money. But they go the extra mile for recognition, praise, and rewards. 

Surprising Effects of Employee Recognition

The future is remote work

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way much of the world works. But just because many of us are being forced to figure out new routines and habits doesn’t mean we can’t still get a lot of work done every day.

These eight hacks can help you and your team increase productivity—perhaps to the point you’re getting even more done while working remotely than you did when you were all in the office.

As COVID-19 has taught us too well, the future of work is all about the ability to adapt to situations quickly, including remote work. By being self-motivated, keeping your wits about you, learning how to prioritize, finding a great place to work, and doing what you can to stay healthy, you can turn into a productivity beast—much to the delight of your teammates, your organizations, and your customers.

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