Why do telecommuters work longer hours than office-goers? Though working from home can boost productivity, it’s hard to balance a remote job with home life. Consider these time management tips to help you clock out earlier and reduce work hours when telecommuting.
17 Ways to Reduce Work Hours When Telecommuting
Many people envision telecommuters with laptops on the beach, smiling in the sun, and sipping on Mai Tais while they work. In reality, most telecommuters work from home so that they can earn reliable income while managing other aspects of their lives, such as caring for elderly parents, raising children, or learning to live with a physical disability. Though the reality of remote work isn’t always glamorous, the perks usually outweigh the challenges.
However, not everyone’s convinced that working from home is the best route. Researchers from the University of Iowa and University of Texas found that telecommuters work about three more hours each week than office-goers. It seems there’s a disconnect between working from home and work-home balance. Telecommuters often feel like they need to prove themselves more, check and respond to email constantly, and be available all day so that bosses and managers don’t suspect that they’re slacking off.
If you’re an overworked telecommuter, it’s time to pump the brakes. Here are some tips to help you manage your time, keep your brain sharp, and streamline tasks so that you don’t work long hours.
1. Track Your Time
First and foremost, keep track of your time throughout the day. Determine how much time you spend checking email, attending meetings, shuffling papers, creating reports, browsing the internet, staring off into space, and other work and non-work-related tasks. When you know how you spend your time, you can identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and recurring tasks that can be automated.
There are lots of free and affordable time trackers out there, such as Toggle, Harvest, and TopTracker. Such tools help streamline time tracking efforts and create visual reports that make it easy to assess your daily routine.
2. Create a Work Schedule
Though many telecommuting jobs allow you to work whenever, “whenever” isn’t a day of the week. Create a work schedule by choosing specific days and times each week. You may even schedule particular tasks at the same time every day. For example, if you submit weekly reports every Friday, schedule time to prepare the reports every Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.
Balance career, personal, and family time by scheduling your work hours around your favorite yoga classes and the kids’ soccer games, but make sure you dedicate time solely for work. Otherwise, you won’t experience the benefits of a flexible schedule.
3. Work During Peak Brain Hours
If you don’t have to work during your employer’s business hours, then clock in when your brain is the sharpest. For example, if you’re a morning person, start your workday with the most complicated or brain-intensive tasks. If you’re a night owl, save the big tasks for sunset. Working according to your natural biorhythms helps you optimize your time and produce better quality outcomes.
4. Take Breaks
Do you try to drudge through the day without stopping? Plowing away might hinder your progress. In fact, 78% of Staples Workplace Survey respondents say that breaks boost their productivity. Try taking regular breaks to re-energize and refresh your thinking. If you work eight hours per day, take 30 to 60 minutes for lunch and 10 to 15 minutes in the morning and afternoon. Include breaks in your regular work schedule. Treat breaks as important tasks or meetings so that you don’t skip them.
5. Set Deadlines
If your job allows you to work as much or as little as you want, you need to set your own quotas and deadlines. First, determine your weekly or monthly income goal. Then, calculate how much work you need to complete to reach your goal. Next, estimate how much time it will take to do the work. Finally, schedule that time into your calendar and set firm deadlines so that you don’t fall behind.
6. Prioritize Your Tasks
Do you really need to read five industry-related blog articles before responding to customer requests? Get more work done by prioritizing your tasks. Take a look at your time tracking reports and make a list of all your work tasks. Categorize each task according to deadline and criticality. For example, tasks that need to be completed sooner get higher priority, and tasks that are more critical to your job output take precedence. Leave more menial or unessential tasks for slow periods or off-peak brain times.
7. Work in Chunks or Sprints
Some tasks are best worked in chunks or sprints. For example, set a timer for 50 minutes, then take a ten-minute break. Do four cycles in the morning and four in the afternoon. The idea is to work at maximum intensity for a defined time, then take a short break to reset your brain. It’s possible that you’ll get more done in less time, which means you get to clock out earlier in the day. It’s also healthy to look away from your computer screen regularly to protect your vision.
8. Plan Your Week
Once you figure out a schedule that works best, take a few minutes every week to plan your work and personal life. Review your priorities, put everything in the calendar, and make sure you have enough time to work and relax with your family. Be firm with your plan, but leave some room for the unexpected. Life gets messy, so you’ll need to be adaptable.
9. Stay Hydrated
Coffee is delicious, but it dehydrates you and can cause serious brain crashes. Resist the urge to sip on java all day long and keep a jug of water at your desk instead. Water keeps your brain working and helps you feel energized. Also, avoid drinking sugary and other caffeinated beverages all day. Sodas and energy drinks might pick you up, but they let you down hard when your body finishes processing them.
10. Fuel Your Noggin
In addition to water, your brain needs nutrients to function properly. Complex carbs, omega-3 fats, and B vitamins are known for their brain-boosting powers. Instead of quick sugars that give you a jolt, go for sustained energy by eating nutrient-dense food. BBC Good Food recommends adding whole grains, oily fish, blueberries, eggs, and nuts to help your brain work as it should.
11. Get Enough Rest
Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep every night. This is often easier said than done. However, when you’re consistently tired, you’re more likely to drag your feet, reach for quick energy fixes, and choose shortcuts instead of doing your very best work.
12. Automate Tasks
Do you send the same emails over and over? Do you create the same invoices every month? Take advantage of automation tools to streamline your day. Use templates as much as possible, set up automatic bill pay, and install bookkeeping and proofreading software on your computer. Use the cloud to back up your files and store documents so that your work is accessible anywhere on any device.
13. Set Up an Efficient Workspace
Organize your workspace for success. Remove clutter from your desk, and create a logical filing system for hardcopy documents. Keep bookmarks on your browser and shortcuts on your desktop to access websites and programs quickly. If there’s information you need to keep handy while you work, create a binder or notebook with instructions and procedures that make sense to you.
14. Remove Distractions
Some people work best in total silence, while others need some commotion in the background. To minimize distractions, close the door, play white noise or soft music, shut the window, turn off your phone ringer, and silence all desktop notifications. Check email and messages as infrequently as possible. Remove as many distractions as possible during your peak work hours so that your attention isn’t easily diverted.
15. Itemize Your Inbox
Take advantage of folders, labels, and filters in your email inbox. Set automatic rules so that you’re notified about important emails, while unimportant emails are filtered into a folder to read later. Spend a few minutes every day to go through filtered emails and fish out anything that’s actually important. If your job is email intensive, then you may need to keep desktop notifications turned on. Otherwise, schedule email as a task in your work schedule and avoid checking your inbox constantly throughout the day.
16. Master Meetings
How much time do you spend in phone or video meetings? Is it possible that some of the discussion items could be more efficiently communicated over a quick email or instant message?
Here are a few tips on how to make team meetings more efficient:
- Decide whether a meeting is necessary or if information can be shared over email, text, or chat.
- Send an email to the team and ask if they have anything to discuss.
- Create a meeting agenda and adhere to it firmly. Additional comments or questions can be addressed at the next meeting or in the minutes.
- Start the meeting on time.
- Assign someone to take meeting minutes. Keep a list of action items and due dates so that you can schedule tasks and assign team members accordingly.
- Conversations or questions that don’t affect the whole team should be addressed outside of the team meeting. Make a note in the minutes to ensure that contact was made and questions were answered.
- If a subsequent meeting is necessary, schedule the next meeting day and time as the last item of business.
- End the meeting on time.
- Post the meeting minutes or disperse to the team as soon as possible after the meeting.
Standing meetings are helpful for managing remote teams; just make sure they are useful and don’t eat away at everyone’s precious time.
17. Have Somewhere Else to Be
Put activities like working out, walking the dog, calling a friend, or cooking dinner on your daily calendar. If other activities besides work demand your time, you might work more efficiently during your scheduled hours.
It’s Time to Clock Out
Telecommuting is tough when you don’t manage your time and separate work from home. To help balance your remote career and personal life, schedule work hours, prioritize tasks, take good care of your brain, and continuously find ways to work more efficiently. Resist the urge to make yourself available all day. Set a definite end time and completely clock out from work so that you can take full advantage of the telecommuting lifestyle.
Photo Credits: 1. iStock.com/BrianAJackson; 2. iStock.com/maselkoo99
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