Remote work is kind of the dream, isn’t it? Sitting at home in your pajamas, doing your work with no boss breathing down your neck, handling all your tasks at your own pace, and sleeping late?
Well, that’s only partly true. I am writing this wearing Star Wars pajama pants, zombies-eating-my-feet slippers, and a shirt two sizes too big. I. Am. Comfy.
But I am also productive, which is something I’ve had to learn how to be while this unbelievably comfortable (read: unbelievably lucky). I’ve been doing remote work for about the last year and a half, and it was only within the last few months that I really got a grasp on how to function as efficiently and as well as I did in an office setting.
Lucky for me, I had a couple of great mentors who helped me along the way. Not only did they give me rules to help me, but they also laid out a list of resources that I have been able to really boil down into what is essentially the starter kit for succeeding at remote work.
Really. You need pants. It’s the first thing on the list because more than anything else, you need to wear pants. At least for a while. Sure, I said I’m writing this in Star Wars jammies, but that’s not my typical attire.
Just like dressing out in gym class, dressing in real clothes puts your mind in going-to-work mode. It’s far too easy to lounge around in zombie slippers and not get any work done because you’ve done nothing to transition from at-home you to at-work you. Even if you don’t wear slacks and loafers or a pencil skirt, putting on whatever “work clothes” you have will absolutely change your frame of mind.
For me, the clothes change isn’t drastic, and it’s still mega-comfy. I tend to throw on a pair of jeans, a nerdy t-shirt of some kind, a hoodie, and a pair of Converse. I’m really a cliche when it comes to that. Sometimes I even work with my hood up and headphones in like a hacker in a movie because it makes me feel way cooler than I really am.
It doesn’t have to be much, but as long as you’re able to move from one mode to the other, you’re going to be more productive. And one of the simplest methods of transitioning is simply putting on pants. Try it.
2. Primary and Secondary Work Spaces
Like wearing pants, having a space for your remote work is imperative to your success. You gotta work somewhere, and believe me…that somewhere ain’t the couch. When I started remote work, I thought I would be able to lounge on the couch with my laptop, pounding out code like I was Mr. Robot himself.
Instead I fell asleep. Every. Single. Day.
So I moved into the home office I had partially set up, spent a little time arranging it the way I wanted, and my productivity skyrocketed. Nowadays, I rarely even have the desire to work on the couch–which Past B.J. would find simply absurd. (Like wearing PJs all day, couch-working is a reward I give myself occasionally.)
Unfortunately, working alone in a home office 5 days week can be pretty stifling. It’s lonely. The scenery never changes, and there are long stretches where–despite putting on pants–you may not leave your house. You may not leave for days or weeks depending on how social you are. That’s not healthy.
Which is why you need a secondary work space in your starter kit, too. I tend to work at the public library when I need to get out of the house. I am incredibly lucky that ours is a beautiful, welcoming space. Working there is a delight. I also work at Starbucks sometimes, and I go full-on, hoodie-and-headphones cliche when I do, too.
Where you go doesn’t matter. Not hesitating to leave when you need to does. By having choosing specific locations head of time, you can just get up and go without any extra thought. It will be just another, occasional part of your routine.
Additionally, you can find a co-working space nearby, so you don’t have to rent and furnish a full office all by and for yourself. Most of them even offer day passes, or cheaper part-time memberships so you can work there only when you need to. That way you will have a space that’s more-or-less yours, even though it’s shared.
3. A Work-Only Computer
Another aspect of having a designated work space is also the tools you use. My mentor told me to make sure I only use my work computer for work. No games, no surfing, nothing else. Just work (and side projects, but that’s work, too). I listened, and that alone has made a big difference in my productivity.
When I am on my laptop, I am working. That’s it. That’s all. However, when I do try to work on my PC (there are reasons to work on Windows over Mac occasionally), I find myself getting distracted by Steam or Battle.net far more often than I want to admit. So when it’s my working hours (and yes, I do have pretty set working hours), I am on my laptop.
I have no games installed on it, and I only pull it out when I work. By separating my computer into a tertiary work space, I have trained myself that Macbook time = work time. It is 100% a mental thing, and it only took a couple of weeks for the conditioning to set in.
If there is one single resource you need for remote work, this is it. You can do it pantsless on the couch if you have to, but make sure you have a designated work computer.
4. A Fantastic Planner
I use a physical planner for project management these days. I’ve tried everything from Basecamp to Trello to Google Sheets to Evernote, and what really works best is a good, old-fashioned day planner.
Well, maybe not an old-fashioned one. Gone are the days when a simple task list or hour-by-hour breakdown will cut it. Balancing your work, life, and overall wellness should also be a part of your remote work organization plan. Being mindful is kind of a buzzword these days, but when it comes to making sure you are living the best life you can professionally and personally, being mindful is necessary.
The tool I personally use is the Freedom Mastery Law of Attraction Planner, and our own content manager Nathan B. Weller has actually used InDesign to create his own. What sets these planners apart–and why they’re so good for remote work–is because you can not only plan out your work, but you can plan out your life in that same space.
By additionally offering reflection on professional and personal progress and goals, you can very easily manage and plan out the two halves of your life so they don’t bleed together–which is incredibly easy for them to do if you’re not paying attention. (Or being mindful of it, in other words).
Just having that awesome planner isn’t going to do you any good if you don’t use it. So another one of the most important tools you can have in your starter kit is discipline. Again, I know this may sound like a cliche, but over the years, I have learned that the difference between success and failure has nothing to do with talent, has a little to do with luck, but has most to do with simply sitting down and putting your butt in a chair.
This is the intangible item in your remote work starter kit. Succeeding at this takes effort. It takes training. It takes discipline. You have to actually use that planner and fill it out. You have to be able to calendar out your days and hours and projects. When you wake up in the morning, you need the discipline to change your clothes, to move off the couch, and to actually get to work instead of getting in that extra episode of The Good Place.
And like almost everything else, being disciplined in your remote work is a skill you have to learn. For me, it’s still a work in progress. As it is for many of you, too. I still find myself distracted by Twitter or Steam or something else shiny. I go weeks without using the reflection and mindful sections of my planner.
But I do use them. I do turn off my PC and move back to my Mac. I do put on pants. Because I know that if I want to continue to have the struggle of whether to put on pants or not, I need the discipline to make the right choice more often than not. Like any other skill or tool, that takes work and time and training.
But don’t forget that all the work spaces, computers, planners, and pants in the world will make you a fantastic remote worker if you don’t have the wherewithal to actually get the work done.
Is Remote Work Right for You?
Just remember, as awesome as it is, remote work is still work. It takes a specific kind of person to do it right, too. When I was teaching, I had a number of students avoid online classes because they knew their learning styles weren’t in line with how the courses were taught. The same is true of remote work–not everyone’s working habits and styles lend themselves to it.
But if you’re interested in giving it a shot, remember that it’s really easy to get distracted, suffer from burnout, and to feel isolated from people (especially if you’re coming from a traditional office space). However, if you fill up your toolbox with these resources and take a realistic approach to remote work (i.e. that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows all the time, even if it kind of is living the dream), you’re going to be a success.
What are some of the tools you think should be in everyone’s remote work starter kit?
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