With the increase in remote work and shifting working habits, now is a favourable time to learn and experiment how we can maximise productivity under new circumstances. An analysis of 225 million hours of work time showed that participants ranging from students to software developers and larger organisations who work with information (i.e. writer, developer, designer or manager) had an actual productivity of 12.5 hours a week. That’s almost 28 hours of non-productive time! Unfortunately, there exists a huge gap between the number of hours workers believe that they are productive versus the actual hours that they are productive.
What are the challenges we face when we try to maximise work productivity remotely, and more importantly, what are some best practices we can employ to make the most out of our workday? This post will offer a few suggestions.
Overcoming the Optimism Bias in Remote Work
Most people are overly optimistic when deciding how many tasks they can complete in a day. They neglect to take into consideration the amount of planning, communication and distractions that are part and parcel of any task. Psychologists have actually coined this thinking, the Planning Fallacy, which affects every type of planning from vacations to real estate projects. Programmers in particular have a similar law, Hofstadter’s law, which states that people have great difficulty accurately measuring the amount of time it takes to finish complex tasks.
There are a few ways to overcome this optimism bias. First, tasks must be broken down into smaller chunks, estimating how much time each smaller task will take. For example, if your goal for the week is to finish writing an ebook of 5,000 words, you should consider first how long research and the completion of an outline will take. To make your work even more productive, have a plan in place for when there is a distraction or a setback. For instance, if the research for your ebook takes twice as long as you thought, you’ll need to eliminate a meeting discussing the project. Researchers have found that having a plan in place for completing projects ahead of time discourages procrastination and inspires them to get started as soon as possible.
Eliminating Distractions and Put a System in Place
Beyond being too optimistic, many workers don’t maximise their work hours. Emails, phone calls, text messages, and chats with co-workers are only a few of the many distractions remote workers, digital nomads and solopreneurs will face on any given day. It can take a lot of concentration and willpower to fully eliminate these distractions and focus on the task at hand.
In response to this dilemma many workers face, the Pomodoro Technique was developed as a time management method, which has workers focus for a full, uninterrupted 25 minutes on any given task. Any thoughts of future or additional tasks should be written down quickly on a piece of paper, allowing the worker to continue on the task at hand. After the Pomodoro session is completed, the worker takes a break; after 4 sessions a longer break is encouraged. The exercise can increase the time spent focused on tasks, allowing you to complete more during a Pomodoro and a more accurate estimate of how long future tasks will take.
Here are a few additional tips for maximising productivity:
- Schedule your day to use peak productivity hours to tackle the most challenging tasks.
- Silent your phone and don’t look at emails during focused work periods. Call back anyone who calls during that time period.
- If you are a startup founder that is collaborating with many team members, be sure to use a productivity platform such as Trello and Funky Time to stay organised.
- Be sure to take breaks. Taking a walk, stretching, going for sports or even watching a short video can clear your mind and increase efficiency after a period of very focused work.
Measuring Productivity to Achieve and Surpass Your Remote Work Goal
If you want to increase your work productivity, start tracking how you organise your week digitally or on paper. Do this for 3-4 weeks; the result will be a real eye-opener. From the time that you have tracked, decide what tasks you would need to accomplish in order to be productive in those 12.5 hours of actual productive work hours. Make sure you are realistic about what you can achieve in that timeframe, scheduling time for tasks such as networking, travel time, administrative duties, and of course taking care of your overall well-being.
Once you review your goals, start tracking again and do you best to achieve those goals. And when you do, be sure to celebrate your success!