Lack of Structure
By lack of structure, we mean not having a fixed schedule (e.g., regular 9-5 work hours) and struggling to create and/or stick to work routines. If this sounds familiar, you might already be witnessing negative effects on your productivity, work performance, and work-life balance.
The less productive you are, the more time you’ll need to spend on your job tasks, meaning you’ll have less time for your private life.
Now, before we give you some ideas on how to address this issue, it’s important to note that there’s no one specific way to do it. How you go about adding structure to your day will depend on the type of person you are, the conditions you work in, and the job you’re performing.
With that said, here are some things that you could try to implement:
- Create a to-do list – The purpose of to-do lists is to give you a clear overview of your daily tasks and nudge you into finishing all of them in a timely manner.
- Set up a schedule that mimics working from a regular office – Create a work schedule that recreates the feeling and mindset of a structured work day, similar to working from an office. Set up your fixed work hours and time for breaks to mimic the work dynamic you would have at your (ideal) office.
- Use time-tracking software – Although not intrinsically created for the purpose of improving self-discipline and personal work structure, time-tracking software can be utilized to achieve just that. You can use it to track task duration, thus managing your productivity and ensuring you send your deliverables within allocated deadlines. Also, with time-tracking software, you’ll get a deeper insight into your work habits, which can further improve your ability to self-manage your work schedule and keep it structured.
Distractions at the Home Front
Unlike working in a regular office, remote work has its own share of unique distractions, which can sometimes impede and completely uproar your ability to manage time, as well as your entire work schedule.
The most common types of distractions when talking about remote work are:
- Social media – With no colleagues or managers around to reprimand you, it’s much easier to slip into the rabbit hole of social media sites. Try to turn off notifications or keep your phone in a separate room to avoid being distracted by social media apps.
- Family members and housemates – Some remote workers might get interrupted in their work or distracted by the people they live with. If you have kids, it’s going to be difficult to explain the intricacies of remote work and why you can’t play with them just now. When it comes to grown-ups, the best solution is to talk to them and explain that even if you’re physically in the house, you’re still working, and they should respect your at-home work routine.
- Noisy neighbors – If it’s a one-day thing, try talking to your neighbors and explaining your situation. If problems persist, contact your building manager, landlord, or an authority figure responsible for dealing with these issues. And as a last resort, contact the police and make a noise complaint if the problem persists and/or worsens.
- House chores – There’s nothing worse than starting your remote work day while thinking about the pile of dishes in the kitchen or the laundry. Those intrusive thoughts can negatively affect your productivity, especially if you spend too much time thinking about them. The best solution here is to do your house chores when taking breaks from work or before you even start working. Why not use the time you save on commuting to do some extra housework?
One of the easiest ways of dealing with the distractions mentioned above is to have a work space that’s separate from your living/personal one, i.e., to create your own home office. This will make it much easier for you to separate work and private life.
If having a distinct work space in your home is not an option (e.g., the space you inhabit is not big enough to allow for such distancing), it might be a good idea to check out some co-working spaces in your region that are close by and not that expensive.
Part of effective time management is knowing when to take a break. The problem with remote work is that a lot of people tend to ignore or simply forget about break time.
In an office, there will always be someone to remind you to take a break and, most of the time, even ask you to join them. At home, it’s typically up to you.
Not taking a break from work can actually lead to lowered productivity and can ultimately cause burnout. In this vein, taking regular breaks can positively affect your energy levels, allow you to revamp and reset your brain and mindset, improve your creativity, promote healthy habits, and more.
Here are a couple of things you could try to prevent yourself from overworking:
- Set break reminders – Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take a break. Depending on the nature of your work, your break time can vary, but ideally, you should aim for a 5-minute break every hour or so.
- Take walks – Use your breaks to take short walks. It doesn’t matter if it’s just 10-15 minutes, a walk will help you clear your mind and reset so you can come back to work invigorated and ready to perform. If you have a pet, take them with you. They’ll love you for it!
- Create physical boundaries between work and living spaces – Even if it’s just a curtain separating your home office from your living space, creating a distance is important. This type of barrier will help you train yourself to stop thinking about work once you leave that workspace.
- Turn off work notifications – When you finish your work input for the day, that’s it. Turn off all of your notifications that are in any way, shape, or form related to work. After work, you should solely focus on your personal dealings and building the “life” part of work-life balance.
Despite all the perks of working from home, remote work might not be to everyone's liking. Some people may struggle with the challenges that come with remote working environments, which, if not addressed properly and in a timely fashion, can lead to employees underperforming.
If you are experiencing this problem, here are a couple of things that you can do:
- Stay ahead of it – If you realize you’re having productivity issues, try to address them as soon as possible. Talk to your managers before it becomes a bigger issue. If they have experience managing remote workers, they should be knowledgeable enough to give you some pointers on how to improve your performance.
- Utilize time tracking software – The data from time tracking software can give you details about the estimated duration of your tasks and how long it took you to complete them. You can analyze this information and determine the root cause behind your low performance. Maybe there are specific types of tasks that are causing you issues. If that’s the case, try talking to your managers about switching up your work obligations or ask your colleagues to give you tips on how to get better at them.
- Create incentives – Create rewards or rewards systems for finishing tasks or certain work obligations. Similarly to gamification, this will help you keep a positive mindset regarding your work and help you feel more engaged.
Remote workers should be ready to complete all their tasks and work obligations on time and with the expected level of quality, despite the lack of direct managerial oversight. This is an example of accountability, i.e., accepting full responsibility for your actions and job performance.
Here are some helpful ideas on how to become more personally accountable:
- Set goals – Setting clear and distinct goals for yourself and then achieving them is a good way to make yourself more accountable. You could use the S.M.A.R.T. method to set your goals (both short and long-term ones).
- Clear and open communication – Remote teams often don’t communicate enough. And, even when they do, that communication is not always sufficient and clear to get everybody on the same page. One solution to this is to utilize modern tools, such as Zoom or similar, as a way to facilitate honest interactions between your remote team members.
- Keep tabs on productivity – There are various tools and digital solutions that allow you to keep track of work productivity. This can help ensure you are performing to expected standards and are accountable for the work you produce. There are various project management tools or time-tracking apps that can help you with this endeavor.
- Take ownership of your work – One of the core pillars of becoming more accountable is to stand behind your work, good or bad. If you don’t do well, you’ll likely get some constructive criticism and feedback on improving and adjusting your workflow.
Tips on How to Create Your Remote Work Schedule
People and their general work habits are different, and this goes without saying when talking about remote work. Everybody has their own way of doing things, and trying to mess with that for the sake of establishing a singular remote work schedule template is sure to backfire.
Instead, in this section of the article, we’re going to focus on some general tips that can help you improve the structure of your work day, stay on top of your productivity, improve your time management skills, and complete your tasks within set deadlines.