I’ve been working remotely or completely solo on projects (some WordPress, some not) for about seven years now. With seven years in total working in either a remote role or with no supervision whatsoever. I’ve learned that it’s hard to stay focused when working remotely.
Difficulty Getting Focused
I won’t lie. When I first started, I found it very difficult to stay focused on what I needed to get done. There were days that I would open my laptop and have no idea what I needed to work on first. Other days I’d let my inbox dictate what got first priority. There was no structure on a typical day, and it was utter chaos at times. Unless I had a meeting planned or was in the middle of a project that spanned several days I was winging it 9 times out of 10.
Things like Facebook or Twitter would distract me, and cause large chunks of my day to be wasted scrolling through a timeline of nonsense.
I’d finally get into a groove by mid-afternoon, and only have a couple of hours to actually focus on what I was working on.
I tried several methods of keeping myself on track over the years. There were apps and other techy solutions that never worked. They made me feel like I was staying focused, but I ended up spending more time tweaking the app than it was worth.
Recently I came across an article on the Ivy Lee Method, which is highly recommended by productivity experts. The best part is it’s stupid simple. Seriously, a monkey can manage this.
The Ivy Lee Method Comes Along
The Ivy Lee Method has a longer history than I’m going to share. Click the article that I linked to above for more info.
The important thing about it is in its simplicity. Here’s how it works:
- At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to work on tomorrow.
- Prioritize those six items in order of their importance.
- When you get into the office tomorrow, focus on the first task only. Work until that first task is finished, then move on to the second.
- Rinse and repeat for the remaining tasks on your list.
- At the end of the day, see step #1. If there are any unfinished tasks on today’s list, move them to tomorrow’s list.
Now, I don’t know how important it is to have exactly six things on your list. I think the point is to not put every little thing on the list. Otherwise, there will be so much that you feel overwhelmed. For example, you’re not going to put 1) Turn on your laptop. 2) Open email…22) Bathroom break, etc. We’re talking about the top priority things you need to do.
How Do I Stay Focused When Working Remotely?
Using the Ivy Lee Method, I’m able to accomplish the things I really need to focus on each day. I’m not a slave to my inbox or my social media accounts. That’s not to say social media and email are never thrown into the list every once in a while. I usually also leave some time available to respond to support tickets and other time sensitive tasks. Those are things that really shouldn’t wait several days, but can’t be planned for either.
If I’m responding to a customer’s support ticket, I’ll add any feature requests worth implementing to a Trello board. Then make a note that I should add working on that feature to my list as soon as there are no other higher priority tasks to take care of.
If someone wants to discuss something with me over a chat or phone call, I’ll try to schedule a time with them if it’s more than a 5-minute conversation. Then I’ll add that call to my list on whatever day we decided on.
I often times will curate links to post on social media, but I don’t do any of this randomly during the day. If I do it at all, I’ll add social media to my list and give myself a 30-minute window to schedule out posts for the week. After 30 minutes passes, I’m done. Cross it off the list and move on to the next thing.
The best part is this method is all low-tech. I know, strange for someone who earns his living with a computer. I literally have a small notebook on my desk that I use only for this purpose. There is even a label on the notebook so no one else uses it for anything else. A $2 notebook – simple.
Why does the Ivy Lee method work?
This method isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t require that you have any special technology. The method is just simple enough to be effective.
There will be emergencies or unexpected circumstances that pop up during the day. Ignore them, or schedule them for another day like the phone calls I mentioned earlier. Handle the urgent (can’t wait for tomorrow) issues quickly and get back to your list.
There is a sense of accomplishment that you get by crossing something off of a list too. Similar to what I talked about in my Pressnomics lightning talk. When you feel like you’ve accomplished something you become motivated to keep accomplishing things.
This method also forces you to commit to a small number of tasks and to only focus on one at a time.
One of my “dad quotes”, when all three of my kids are asking me for something, is:
I can only do one thing at a time. Let me finish this and I’ll get to you in a minute.
If that is true with my kids, why is my work any different? We get fewer things accomplished when we try to multitask than if we just focused on one thing at a time. This method forces you to focus on just one thing at a time.
Give it a try. Working solo can be difficult, and this method may help keep you on track and become more productive.
What methods have you used to stay focused when working remotely?