As a remote worker, you've probably never heard this from anybody ...
“Oh, I don’t know how you have the discipline for that!”
It IS difficult! Discipline takes, well, discipline. Certain people might be naturally more disciplined than others, but discipline can be an evolved skill. In an office environment, expectations are set. You know when your day is supposed to start and end. Put another way, you know after what arrival time your manager will raise her eyebrows, and you know before what departure time your boss will pull you aside and say, “Exactly where is it you have to be?” During the workday, the eyes of your colleagues and your manager keep you on task and mostly in your seat, unless you’re in a meeting, on your way to a meeting, or on your way back from a meeting. When you're remote, all bets are off. You can start when you want. Finish when you want. Go for a walk when you want. Chances are, your manager and peers won’t notice. And that’s okay! In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you get your job done, and your own discipline is the way that’ll happen without anyone raising their eyebrows.
Since you’re in charge of your day, start with the block of time that you’ll work. Stick to a reliable start and end time and respect those boundaries. You might decide to never check work email before work, and/or after hours. Having reliable start and end times also helps your family and friends plan around your schedule, too.
You should enjoy that midday break we call lunch, too. Try blocking a full hour out in your work calendar each day for lunch. That way, those times are not filled by last-minute meetings. Take time to smell the roses, whatever they may be for you. Sure, there will be some days where you have to shorten your lunch, or some days when you meet a friend for a longer lunch. It’s important to schedule that time for yourself and safeguard it to the extent possible.
It’s up to you to structure your day most effectively. If you know you focus better in the morning, prioritize the work that requires focus for that time. Whenever those times of day are for you, screen out distractions and be productive.
And, oh, those distractions will come! That’s guaranteed, and that’s what those well-intentioned friends mean when they say they wouldn’t have the discipline to work from home. Laundry. Dishes. Floors. Cleaning. Groceries. The list goes on! If you’re not careful, every day could look like a weekend. Having a dedicated space where you can be away from the visual reminders that “things need doing” can help. Having a process can help, too. For example, you could adopt a recurring rotation of “things that need doing.” When a chore’s day comes up, do it and then stop. There truly is a day for each thing to be completed, and then you won't be tempted to rush ahead. Plus, if you do one of these during a break in your day, or before it begins, you'll feel that sense of accomplishment for keeping the house up and can re-focus your efforts on the workday.
Discipline isn’t just about avoiding the things that suck time and productivity from your day. It’s also about ensuring you do the things that enrich your life and bring you joy! It may be fitness, something social to keep those connections happy, or a hobby you're actively feeding. Make the time and be disciplined about it.
Much has been written about task management. Having a to-do list or a task management system in place can work wonders for your discipline, too. Knowing what you committed to do, and when you committed to do it, is important. Even if you're only being accountable to yourself. There are tons of techniques and tools, but pick one ... and stick with it. You can spend so much time looking for a more perfect tool, but it’s more important to find one that works for you and start using it. You’re unique and your workflow is distinctly yours. Once you find something that fits the bill, go for it.