There’s no end of research that shows that remote workers are as, if not more, productive than in-office employees. A report by Global Workplace Analytics showed that organisations including Best Buy, British Telecom and Dow Chemical said that employee productivity was up by 40%, while a FlexJobs survey found that 95% of employees surveyed say they maintained or increased productivity while working remotely. So the evidence is in from both sides of the aisle - productivity is up, and it's remote work that’s doing the heavy lifting.
So, being productive is one thing. But how do you maintain it? Distractions, life and ever-increasing workloads can take their toll, so how do you achieve a flow-state with remote work? And more importantly, once you’re in the zone, how do you stay there?
Allocate blocks of time
Perhaps the single greatest contributor to getting in the zone of focused work is time management. Managing your time efficiently and effectively can be the difference between a healthy life/work balance (for which we are massive advocates) and a drawn out, patchy or staggered work/life balance. Remote work is essentially about freedom, and being organised will aid you in your quest.
Your calendar is your best friend in terms of getting in the zone. Explore calendar coordinator tools like Clearword’s to account for the available work hours in your day. Check your to-do list, prioritise your tasks and then plug in chunks of time to dedicate to those urgent tasks in your calendar. Focus on only one thing at a time; attempting to multitask will get you out of the much sought-after “zone”, disrupting your workflow and stealing precious time from that particular task.
There are so many theories from the worlds of social science, project and time management about the best ways to block your time. Try out the following strategies and see which suits you best; Pomodoro technique, timeboxing, 52/17
Optimise your workspace
One of the best ways to get in the zone is to have an actual zone. This might sound obvious, considering most of us have become experts at kitting out our WFH zones from over the past two years.
But not all workspaces are created equally. For example, Dr. Andrew Huberman explains in his podcast about maximising productivity that neuroscience indicates we are more alert, and therefore more attentive and focused, when our eyes are directed upwards (i.e. looking at a computer at or above eye level) as opposed to downwards (i.e. sitting down looking at a computer). This data would suggest that working from a standing position makes us less likely to feel tired and more able to concentrate on a task at hand.
Assess your workstation, and see if there are ways it could be improved to help you maintain concentration once you achieve it. Don’t underestimate the power of the right set-up; the physical implications of a bad chair, incorrect laptop positioning, or lack of daylight can have severe implications on both our physical and mental health in the short and long runs. Check out this video by an ergonomist on how to correctly set up your workstation.
Take intentional breaks
According to a survey of almost 2,000 office workers in the UK, the average employee is actively productive for a grand total of 2hrs and 23mins. Interestingly, the remaining 5hrs and 37mins were not taken up with allotted breaks, but instead were spent on a whole host of other activities, from smoking to texting to chatting with colleagues.
Effective breaks are intentional. Otherwise, it’s just distraction. Taking the right kind of break not only makes you more focused when you’re actually working, but empowers you when you’re not. It also fosters creativity, as outlined in the Harvard Business Review.
Marta Brzosko at Better Humans says that the best breaks are ones that are taken deliberately, involve a change of situation or circumstance, and have a pleasurable purpose. In practice, this means physically getting away from your workspace, and doing something that makes you happy that’s totally unrelated to work. Maybe you put on your favourite song and dance around the kitchen, read a chapter of your book, or play with your dog.
Plan your free time
Having something to look forward to is key to breaking up the monotony of work, even if you are thriving in the remote lifestyle you have created for yourself. As Amanda Collins writing for Open Colleges says, you should schedule your free time “so it actually happens!”
Look at your free time. How much of it do you have, and what do you want to do with it? The biggest peril of remote working is the blurry boundary between work and life, so it’s really important to take control of the “life” side of things, so it doesn’t slip away unaccounted for.
Schedule your free time. It might sound restrictive, but along with time management, being organised ultimately gives you greater freedom. If you want to do a yoga class, put it into your calendar. If you fancy a coffee with a friend, plug it in there too. Just wanna chill in the evening? Block out that time. Having your free time planned will make you see it as just as important an investment as any work meeting, and allow you to prioritise it in the same way you would work. It will also help you stay focused during work hours, as you will know that you have something personal scheduled later that requires you to finish work on time.