Self-knowledge: The secret ingredient for successful remote work


When Stanford scientists went to China to test the benefits of telecommuting recently, they measured the expected upticks in productivity remote work policies often provide. But they also found that many of the study participants, once the research was completed, “decided that they’d had enough, preferring the hours in commute in exchange for the human interaction of office life and a fixed beginning and end to each work day. The home office isn’t for everyone.”

Working from home has obvious benefits, but it has equally glaring and hard to fix drawbacks: the loneliness, the endless supply of interesting links and the tendency for work to seep into more and more of your personal life. So what’s to be done to make working from home, well work? Fast Company’s Kevin Purdy, a veteran remote worker himself, recently polled fellow web workers about their best tips.

The exercise turned up commonplace but utterly correct advice such as changing out of your pajamas and explicitly planning time for face-to-face human interaction, and is well worth a read in full to those new to the world of remote work or just looking for a well written post to buck them up and improve their work habits. But one bit of advice may be more of a jolt, even to those experienced at resisting the pull of one more cute cat link:

Realize when the problem is motivation, not space. Distractions, temptations, and kids can all legitimately get in the way of doing work at home. But sometimes you have to step back and look at other reasons why you’re avoiding the work that needs doing. Is it really because you don’t want to do it?

This is perhaps the hardest part of working from home. At an office, you are very likely to be found out and penalized if you spend all day checking Facebook or replaying Portal 2, so you at least make a stab at moving forward on even the most painful tasks. At home, it’s up to you to stay motivated, and the things toward the very bottom of the Awesome Challenging Fun list might never get done.

With the web awash in posts suggesting every imaginable variation on the to-do list and providing a seemingly endless parade of gadgets and pointers to be more productive, it’s refreshing to see someone acknowledge that the problem may actually be the content of your work rather than your system for accomplishing it. In that case, no number of colored flags or minute-by-minute scheduling will fully solve your issue. In fact, it’ll probably distract from the true solution, which is finding a way to begin to do more of what you enjoy and less of those truly soul-sapping tasks. Even if that means a career shift of some kind.

Do you ever obsess about tweaks to your productivity routine as a way to avoid acknowledging that the true, underlying problem of simply not liking your work?

Image courtesy of Flickr user edoardocosta.


Ben Nash

Sitting beside the keyboard is a sketchpad and pen that keep my day moving forward.


I have a remote internship, and I can see a lack of motivation leading to the realization that you do not enjoy your work. But I would not say that this is the case every time.

Sometimes, I will put off a work related task simply because other things to do come up, and in that case it is just a priority issue. I absolutely love the work that I do, so I know my lack of motivation isn’t a secret distaste for what I’ve been doing. I would just say that when you a responsible for getting things done for a job remotely, you need to definitely be good with time management and knowing when you really need to focus. While nobody would really know that you took a two hour lunch break, that reflects when you provide what you’ve accomplished for the day.


Last week I began a new schedule at work where I come into the office four days a week and work from home for the fifth. It really was a strange mesh, in that I got a lot accomplished in the run of the day (thanks largely in part to no phones or co-workers or distractions) but I really found it hard to concentrate for long periods of time. At the office I can sit at my desk and work straight through, sometimes forgetting to go for lunch or take a break. At home, I found a multitude of reasons to get up and walk around and look outside and check out what was on TV. I really had no desire to focus on the work on the screen, and the only thing that made me get the work done was the fear that someone from my office would figure out that I had slacked off, and I felt like I needed to have something produced to show that I was, in fact, working. It’s definitely going to take some practice to learn how to work from home and self-motivate and focus on what needs to be done rather than checking Twitter every fifteen minutes.

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