Work smarter, not harder - practical time management tips for remote work

This blogpost was made by interviewing Dr. Sampo Sammalisto, a best-selling author and popular business speaker. During the past 15 years he has held several business development and R&D roles in various government organizations as well as privately owned and Fortune 500 companies.

     His best-selling book “Work Smarter, Not Harder – 52 techniques for living a more productive and happier life” (In Finnish only) is a survival guide for the modern professional that has helped thousands to live a more productive, balanced and fulfilling life.

    How can we be more productive while working from home?

     For most people productivity increases dramatically when working from home because there are less interruptions compared to an open office environment. However, using a technique called timeboxing can increase productivity and improve work prioritizing drastically. In a nutshell timeboxing means that you schedule all your tasks on your calendar instead of to-do lists. Essentially, you schedule meetings with yourself to do work.

     To reduce interruptions, I suggest you turn off all audio and visual notifications of emails on all your devices, if you have not done this already. This simple procedure will reduce interruptions and improve your productivity massively. I suggest reading your emails twice a day, 1-2 hours after you start your workday and 1-2 hours before you want to finish your workday.

      Also pay attention to how you start your workdays, instead of opening your inbox open your calendar and spend five minutes on planning and prioritizing your day. Ask yourself, what is the most important deliverable of the day, which meetings need preparation and what has changed?

        What can you do to stay focused when working from home?

    If you are working on tasks that require sustained focus over longer periods of time I suggest trying out the Pomodoro technique.

        How do I make myself start working again after a break? 

   I suggest that before starting your break, decide which task you will tackle after the break and put it on your calendar. This is based on two of the most effective productivity techniques: implementation intention and timeboxing.

        How to divide work and free time while working remotely?

  Again timeboxing is highly effective in planning and prioritizing work, and also in keeping boundaries between work and free time. I also suggest having separate laptops for work and personal use. For me, closing the lid of my work computer marks the end of my workday. Additionally, if you use the same smartphone for work and personal use, make sure to turn off all email notifications and move the email app icon away from your start screen. Otherwise it might be very hard to stop thinking about work in your free time. Also make sure to use a separate calendar app for work and personal use.

        How to keep informal connections with colleagues while working from home? 

    I highly recommend having virtual morning or afternoon coffees (e.g. 8:30-9:00 or 14:00-14:30) with your team. There are three important rules for these: participation has to be entirely voluntary, team leaders must prioritize these by being present and they must be completely informal and devoid of agendas. Also some teams really like having a weekly virtual after work meeting (same rules apply).

        How should I prepare for a new position, if I have to start it remotely?  

     It may be harder to forge personal relationships if you are unable to have your first meeting with colleagues face to face. I suggest you schedule weekly one on one calls with your team leader to make sure you understand what is expected from you, and who are your closest teammates. I also suggest that you have one on one video calls with all your future colleagues during the first week or two. Try to add a personal touch to these meetings by sharing things about your studies, family, personal interests and where you grew up. 

 Sampo Sammalisto, author and blogger,

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