How I Stay Productive When Working Remotely #digitalnomad #stayproductiveStaying productive when working remotely can be a real challenge for me at times.

Without a boss physically watching who’s going to prevent me from checking my friend’s updates on Facebook or travel pics on Pinterest for the next few hours?

While working remotely, it can be easy to lose focus, get side-tracked and find yourself pondering on where the day’s hours have gone. Organisation and time management can be an issue when working from the far corners of the planet.

Here are some tips I use on a regular basis to help keep me on the laptop and off the beach.

To-Do Lists

To avoid the entire day going down the pan, I find one of the best ways to stay organised is writing to-do lists.

To-do lists help me stay on track for the days and weeks ahead. They also help me keep organised when juggling more than one job at once. I keep one list for the following day and one list for the long term.

Short term: My short term to-do list for the following working day is written out at the end of the day. The list has all import points in regards to ongoing projects and intertwines with my long-term list. To avoid putting jobs off, I find it’s helpful to number the list about task significance and importance.

The short term list benefits me as all I need to do the following morning is sit down and follow the list, without having to decide what to work on first.

Long Term: The long-term to-do list runs in parallel to the short term list but covers the wider scheme. It has every project that is currently ongoing or coming up in the future, and what is essential to them.

It also has all the other side bits required for being productive when working remotely.

One thing I noticed is that l would put off the larger more complex tasks until later in the working day. As the day passed by I would begin to feel weary and would then skip these difficult tasks for hours, or even days. They would often mount up to the point of urgency, and naturally, I would stress trying to finish them.

Schedule these unpleasant tasks for the first job in the morning. That way you can get them done and dusted and leave the smaller easier tasks for later in the day.

Writing out your to-do list the day before benefits productivity because it leaves you to focus on what’s most important and not what you ‘feel’ like doing the following day.

How I Stay Productive When Working Remotely #digitalnomad #stayproductive
Short term and long term to-do lists are a must for being productive when working remotely

Time Sheets

While working a previous job, I was required to fill in time sheets at the request of the project manager. Realistically this was designed for the powers that be to monitor what I was working on and if I was on track to meet the deadline.

However, I found time sheets do have another use – keeping track of your day is essential if you’re freelancing and plan on charging by the hour.

Even if you don’t, it’s a sensible idea to monitor how long certain tasks and projects take to finish. Knowing how long tasks take, or what times of the day you perform best is vital when quoting accurately for future jobs.

Keeping time sheets can help being productive when working remotely as they direct to when you waste time and where you’re killing it.

There are plenty of apps to help you out and Evernote seems to be one of the most popular online tools to use at the moment, but If filling a time sheet is a requirement then the client will usually specify you use their preferred program.

Manage Distractions

Working in an office environment is completely different to working for yourself.

After I had finished my last full-time job, it was a strange feeling having massive amounts of freedom. All of a sudden no boss or manager was pushing me. At 9 AM no one is here to care if I’m at the office. No one was calling up asking where the best employee they’ve ever had is!

Ok, maybe that last statement was a bit much 🙂

Without a driving force, the temptation to sleep until noon, or to fall off the rails completely is very real.

Unless you’re currently paid commission, as a full-time employee, you still get paid the same amount whether you work hard or not. Ok granted you might get pulled into the manager’s office for a ‘talk’ or even a warning, but keeping a low profile can mean getting away with below average performance.

When working for yourself, if you don’t turn on your laptop and start doing something you don’t get paid.

If Dave you met at the expat bar last night texts asking if you fancy a game of football, there’s no one around to make sure you stay behind the computer. If you plan on being a professional digital nomad while travelling, then it pays to set up a good work ethic.

I believe work should be fun because you spend a big part of your life doing it. Part of the reason why I’m travelling and working on the road as much as possible is that I enjoy the lifestyle. The odd distraction can even liven things up and break up the hours of slogging away.

However, when it’s time to to get stuff done, it’s just impossible to manage five tasks at and once.

If I’m juggling more than one task at a time, it will take forever for them to get completed. A big part of me being productive when working remotely involves concentrating one task at a time, blocking out everything else, and focusing 100% on it.

Only once the job is finished is it time for a reward and some distractions.

Start Strong

When it comes to work ethics, it can be different strokes for different folks.

At one point, I was sharing a beachfront apartment with a flatmate who used to wake up mid-afternoon and work until sunlight.

Unless a client specifies I need to be available at gone midnight, then this routine would be a recipe for disaster for me. Early mornings helped to improve my A game. A morning routine typically will mean waking up at around 5 AM. Once hydrated then I will head outside for a morning run or gym session, grab some breakfast, before heading back for a shower and getting ready to work.

Being productive when working remotely means it doesn’t matter if I’m working from an apartment, hotel room, coffee shop, or library. It revolves around being up, awake and behind my laptop at breakfast time anywhere in the world.

How I Stay Productive When Working Remotely #digitalnomad #stayproductive
Camera phone shot of me doing some light work at Sognsvann Lake, Norway

Regular Hours

Working around normal business hours is a must if you want a healthy relationship with your partner or making plans with friends.

Like most who work remotely, I am known to work from early morning until sunset on a regular basis. Weekends do not guarantee safety either. From time to time, this is a necessary evil for an upcoming deadline.

However, putting jobs off until the evening or weekends is just another way avoid harder tasks until they mount up. Being productive revolves around having a stable social life and working semi-normal hours with days off.

Setting a limit to leave the laptop at 5 pm can help the incentive to smash out a job.

Yes, there may be a rush or urgent job that require working all-nighter every now and again, but these should be the exception, not the rule.

Harsh Goals

We have all been there, messing around so much that that job appears to go on forever.

To try and counter messing around often make up an artificial deadline. For example, I will make a note in my planner the task must be completed by the end of the following day.

Setting harsh goals if one of my greatest weapons for being extra productive when working remotely.

By imagining the client is expecting the job to be finalised, you have no choice to knuckle down and get it done and dusted by the imaginary deadline. Even if the customer isn’t key player or the task isn’t so important, imagine they are!

Creating harsh goals can work wonders for freeing up time when working on multiple jobs. Ok, you might have a few stressed out days until you get used to working to these tight deadlines. But trust me when I say it’s an effective method for getting low hanging fruit picked and money in the bank.

Good luck!

How I Stay Productive When Working Remotely #digitalnomad #stayproductive
The goals can be harsh, but the plus side is to experience views like this – my old stomping ground, Burleigh Heads, Australia


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  • Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net)
    Posted September 26, 2016

    Hey Barry – Good thoughts and tips. I find the hardest thing about working remotely – once I get myself focused – is making sure everyone else understands that I’m working! And sometimes it really is harder to put a project down than to pick it up in the first place. But I do enjoy the freedom to work hours that I feel most productive. Makes it much easier to hammer projects out.

  • Travel Lexx
    Posted September 16, 2016

    Very interesting stuff – I am looking into options around working on the road but not many people tell you how (or, indeed, what) they do which makes it difficult to compare situations. Thanks for the useful tips!

    • Barry Sproston
      Posted September 25, 2016

      Yeah, it’s a tough one to call Lexx. I’ve met lots of people on my travels who work on the road and what they do for a living varies. Some work for themselves, some freelance, and others work remotely full time and have managed to convince the powers that be to let them work from anywhere in the world. Of all these, the first ones I mentioned are naturally the most secretive of what they actually do. Like most small business owners they keep their cards close to their chest – mainly because they simply don’t one anyone stealing their thunder!

  • Nazzar
    Posted September 7, 2016

    Nice! This whole travelling and freelancing think is kinda new to me so just absorbing it now. Sounds like the perfect way to travel the world while still getting paid. Thanks for sharing

    • Barry Sproston
      Posted September 14, 2016

      Sometimes I think travelling and not working would less stressful, but yeah freelancing is a good trade off. It allows you to get paid while still being able to travel the world.

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