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Summary:

Working remotely with success takes more than a good playlist: it requires real discipline. The kind of discipline that keeps you at your desk when no one will know if you’re not. The kind of discipline that keeps the television off, and your brain switched on.

If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me they don’t know how I work at home with “all those distractions”, I’d buy a few albums by bands that I know help me concentrate.

Of course, we all know that working remotely with success takes more than a good playlist: it requires real discipline. The kind of discipline that keeps you at your desk when no one will know if you’re not. The kind of discipline that keeps the television off, and your brain switched on.

I’ve heard people say we’re born disciplined, or we’re not, but I don’t believe it. Anyone can learn to be disciplined in their work — disciplined enough even to work from home, with “all those distractions” (even though the only distractions I can see right now are dirty dishes and wet washing). Similarly, even the most disciplined of us have days when we lack focus and struggle to get anything done.

If you’re looking to be more disciplined, here are some tactics that I’ve found to help.

1. Plan your day.

If you don’t know what you need to do, or what’s coming up, it can be difficult to maintain your discipline, since there’s no pressure.

A first step to being more disciplined is to set aside time in your diary for every task you need to do. Some of the time slots and tasks may change, but this plan will at least set your own expectations for what you need to achieve.

2. Plan your breaks.

That wet washing of mine really needs to be hung out to dry. These kinds of tasks often assail the home worker, and there’s no point trying to ignore them.

Instead, put them into your daily schedule too, along with “legitimate” work breaks, like lunchtime. Build them into “break” time around your other tasks, or slot them in at lunch. If you plan those tasks, you’ll know you’ll get them done, too, which will get them off your mind and allow you to focus on your work.

3. Chunk tasks and set time goals.

Look at each work job you need to do today, and think about what’s involved.

By breaking those large tasks down into smaller chunks, and estimating a timeframe for the completion of each, you give yourself mini-goals that are easy to achieve, and give you a continuous sense of progress. You ‘ll probably also get a bit of a kick out of beating your estimate now and again.

4. Develop a reward strategy.

Your reward strategy is a way to pat yourself on the back for your achievements during the day.

It might involve a coffee break, an exercise break, a break to hang the wet washing out, or five minutes to catch up on the news. Long-break rewards should be slotted into your schedule, so you can see them on the list and they can help motivate you to get through your tasks. But use your breaks strategically, so that you’re duly rewarded for your discipline at logical points through the day.

5. Let your chat client show when you’re away.

More than a few remote workers I’ve dealt with have set their chat client status to show that they’re always at their desks.

Not only is this annoying for colleagues trying to get in touch with you, but it provides you with a nice fluffy layer of protection from being accountable for the time you’re not at your desk. Set your chat client status to its default, so that it switches to an away message when you haven’t touched your computer for five or ten minutes. It’s bound to help you feel more immediately accountable for how you fill your work-from-home day.

6. Make delivery promises, and stick to them.

To build that sense of external accountability, start making unprompted promises to deliver work to your colleagues.

I’m not just talking about big-ticket deadlines; I’m talking about everyday tasks that contribute to your colleagues’ projects. Making a commitment to deliver to someone will almost certainly help you to be more disciplined about the way you work, and the way your prioritize what you have to do each day. Having someone else’s expectations to live up to is a great motivator.

7. Do something you enjoy.

I find that if I’m passionate about what I’m doing, I’m usually pretty disciplined about it.

Even if you’re having an off day, it’s much easier to be disciplined about your tasks if you believe in them. If you feel like the things you have to do are pointless, meaningless, or a waste of time, you’ll probably be more attracted to playing with the pooch or watching television than getting the job done.

What do you think supports a disciplined approach when you’re working from home?

Image by stock.xchng user danzo08.

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By Georgina Laidlaw

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  1. Plan Your Breaks For More Successful Telecommuting | Lifehacker Australia Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    [...] 7 Discipline-builders for Remote Workers [WebWorkerDaily] Tagged:focusproductivitytelecommutingwork at home [...]

  2. Julian Carroll Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Consider where you set-up your workspace to avoid distrac… Oooooh that Kangaroo has a joey! …Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sess…

    Factor in what your family are doing – maybe plan a break when the kids get home from school – a nice benefit of working from home.

    Don’t answer the home phone during work hours.

  3. Browsers ought to have user sessions like operating systems. That way, I can set up a work browser session vs a casual browser session and I won’t be distracted to check my Firefox RSS live-bookmark feeds when I’m working and lose 45 min doing nothing before I even realize it.

  4. Virtual Subcontract Team Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    This is so true. Until you start doing it it can be difficult to create a plan. There are a lot of online tools that you can use to accomplish goal setting and tracking your time as well.

  5. Having a home office, or a specific room reserved only for working from home, is a big help too. Working from the kitchen table or seated on the couch can be distracting as we mostly partake in non-work related activities at those places. If we have a home office, it is easier mentally to associate that particular room with work — and therefore it becomes easier to be more productive and focused on work in that room. Entering the home office room becomes like going into the ‘real’ office; we’re there to work.

  6. I agree with Liam. You have to have a set place to work from home or you are inviting distraction. Also, planning tasks as chunks of time, or events, is a great way to keep on task. If you know you are going to be doing a task for only 30 minutes, it makes it easier to stay focused, rather than jumping off to something else or responding to a non-urgent email. Planning out your whole day like this can really make you productive and give you a good record of the day’s tasks.

  7. I find having a schedule really helps and I love the reward idea — I use it on myself often. I also turn my email off when I have to write something because I get distracted easily when a new message comes in.

  8. Thanks for sharing these tips. As a home based business, I always can stand to be reminded that I am “in control” of my day and not the other way around!

  9. Thanks for the well written and concise advice. I kind of knew this but constantly need to be reminded.

    Knowing what to do and then doing it… two very things.

  10. This is great advice – none of the ‘wear a business suit’ nonsense that is normally given out on this topic. You could argue that they all apply to non-remote workers as well…

    1. That’s true, Gareth, they all apply in an office environment. Having a boss looking over your shoulder is a motivation for discipline, but doesn’t automatically instil it.

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