7 Discipline-builders for Remote Workers

29 Comments

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.

29 Comments

compassioninpolitics

Great list! I might add 2 to the list:

1) Put down the social networks if they are a distraction.

2) Try to have lunch with a real person. (this builds your business & perhaps helps maintain work/life balance)

Again, fantastic.

Andre

“If you fail to plan, plan to fail….” That is advice that I learned in high school, and up until recently – when I was laid off – I didn’t pay much heed too. But reading this article (and living a pretty chaotic life while I’ve been job hunting) has helped me to re-focus on just what I need to do to get back to being successful.

Kirsten B

I find that if I allow myself to work when I am feeling most productive I can get more done. For example – forcing myself to write an email or document can take all day if I’m not in the right mindset- when I’m feeling it It’ll take me an hour or two… So some days I work from 5 am to 1PM and get more done than most people do in a week – other days I’m not really there until 2pm and then I just work until evening. Either way I find that forcing myself to work 9-5 or 8-4 just simply isn’t always realistic even though it is often the schedule that I use.

Dawn Baird

Chunking out my time works for me, during period of working from home. Chunks can be nmoved, sometimes even to the next day.

And, a datable tasklist, with follow-on tasks is a must for keeping a visual record of progress on client projects.

Jessica Bosari

I agree. I get annoyed when people say things like that. They’ve never tried it, so how can they know? It’s as if they are throwing away the opportunity to live a real life with real meaning. Discipline is a means to an end. A way to get what you want out of life. If you have to stay focused to work from home at your own pace in your own hours, then so be it. You do whatever it takes.

mark allen roberts

Great advice,
I too hear how “hard it is to work from home” and I will share your content.

the other advice I would share is make sure being an entrepreneur is right for you. I wrote a free eBook titled the 50 ugly truths of starting your own business and if your readers want a copy they can download it on my blog at http://www.nosmokeandmirrors.com .

thanks again,

Mark Allen Roberts

avdi

Great list; I particularly like the suggestion to make small commitments.

Along the same lines, I try to maintain a discipline of consistently updating my team with what I’m working on at the moment. I’ve even integrated my personal organization system with my team’s Campfire chat room, so that when I clock into a new task or complete a task it updates the team.

ottlite

Thanks for this practical advice! The hardest part on this list is doing something for me.(rewards). After working all day in a job I really do love, then taking care of my family as a single mom with no help, I’m too exhausted to give myself a break. I just go to bed as soon as I possibly can. I look forward to the next day, and give thanks for being able to do something I really love.

Clare Spiegel

Loving what you do is one of the biggest focus tools one can have. This is a great article. My blog, “Unstoppable Reality”, will be up soon and I will share it with my readers. Thanks, Clare Spiegel

Dr. Edward Wallington

As always, being reminded of the basics gives us a jolt to slap ourselves on the wrist becasue we have fallen into bad habits. Being home based has huge advantages, but folk must follwo a ‘work pattern’. The tactics listed in the post are invaluable!

Gareth Kane

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…

Simon Mackie

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.

Mark Gavoor

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.

Michael T.

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!

Kristen

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.

Tobin Lehman

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.

Liam Dempsey

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.

Virtual Subcontract Team

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.

Dirk

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.

Julian Carroll

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.

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