Covid-19 made remote work a reality for a lot of people, but for me, it was business as usual. I haven’t worked in a physical office in a long time. In fact, for several years, I’ve worked from anywhere but a physical office. Across three continents and a few employers (including myself), I’ve dragged my workplace with me, and along the way I’ve managed to stay on top of things despite the many distractions that have popped up to challenge my productivity. Here are just a few things I do to stay organized and make remote work a workable option for me.
Have a Designated Work Space That Is Not Where You Sleep
There’s an old saying that beds should be used for just two things. Work is not one of those things. Your sleeping space should be a sanctuary, a place of relaxing and unwinding, and if you’re spending your days propped up against pillows with your laptop, you’re not relaxing. In fact, you’re teaching yourself that the bed is a busy and possibly stressful space.
Instead, designate a work area that is entirely separate. It doesn’t have to be a whole office or even a desk. When I first worked from home, I would often sit on my couch or floor and work from the coffee table. I don’t necessarily recommend that—it didn’t do great things for my back—but it maintained the needed distance between my bed and my business space. That distance kept me focused on my work, and at the end of the day, when I crawled under the covers of my bed, it was much easier to leave those work thoughts behind.
If you want to go a step further, do what a friend of mine does when he works from home: He wakes up at the same time every day, takes a shower, and then dresses in business casual clothes before sitting down at his computer. He says the process of getting dressed in work-type clothes, rather than rolling out of bed and going to work in his pajamas, helps him maintain a hard barrier between his job and home life. He is entirely focused on work when he’s in “work mode,” and he stays productive all day.
Use Apps and Other Tools to Stay Connected
One big complaint many people have about remote work is the isolation. Some people miss socializing at the office, talking across desks to coworkers, even having break-room birthday parties. I’m a raging introvert and don’t miss any of that, but I understand the lack of connection. Feeling isolated can mean feeling scattered, unproductive, and unorganized. To remedy this, take advantage of the apps your workplace provides for connectivity.
When I worked in a corporate setting, we used Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoTo Meeting, and other tools for text chat, group calls, and video conferencing. (I cringed every time we had a “cameras on” meeting, but that’s just me.) While working for myself, I leaned heavily on Discord for connecting with people all over the world. It was comforting to know I could reach out to different people at different times for help, advice, or even a casual check-in.
Need a file for a task? Want feedback on something you’re working on? Confused about whether a project is still on track? Messaging tools are key. Being remote doesn’t have to mean being isolated. When we work to maintain connection across platforms, we communicate better, stay more organized and on task, and feel a lot less alone. You can even have break-room birthday parties, as long as you don’t mind getting your own cake for the occasion. Besides, if you really miss being around other people all doing their own business, you could always head to a library or coffee shop.
Make Lists. So Many Lists.
I’m a compulsive list-maker by nature, so this one is easy for me, but speaking to other remote workers, this seems to be a key element of their organization, too. One of the hardest things to do while working remotely is staying on top of your tasks. Not everyone is great at keeping track of their own workload, and with no manager on site, it might be a challenge not to let anything fall through the cracks. To that end, maintain ongoing lists of tasks and prioritize them as needed.
When I say lists, I mean any format that works for you. In my case, I have a notebook with a master to-do list, color-coded Post-It notes with smaller lists of more immediate tasks, a Notes app on my phone that catches the things I might otherwise forget, and a master calendar on my computer for all deadlines. I also keep a spreadsheet of past tasks and completion dates so I can go back later and see where various projects stand. You may prefer to use Trello or a similar app for organizing tasks. I’ve had some success with those as well. Use what feels best to you, or what your workplace recommends for ease across the company.