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How to stay productive while working remotely

Remote work has seen phenomenal growth over the last decade. But maintaining productivity while working remotely can be a challenge. Staying productive while working remotely requires a balance of setting boundaries, creating a routine, taking self-responsibility, and utilizing technology effectively.

In a recent interview with Future Startup, AHM Modasser Billah, a senior backend developer at Doist, the company behind popular productivity and work apps Todoist and Twist, and a long-time remote worker and remote work enthusiast, shared his experience of working remotely. What follows is a set of tips and strategies Mr. Modasser shared in the interview about how to stay productive while working remotely. 

This is an excerpt from our interview with Mr. Modasser, you can read the full interview here.

Become a manager of oneself

Remote work doesn't work well for everyone. I've seen a lot of people struggle. I've struggled myself. To start, one of the things that stuck with me is something from Basecamp, a piece of hiring advice. They said when you hire, hire a manager of one, someone who manages himself well. You give them open-ended tasks and an objective, and you let them decide how best to get that thing done. 

Micromanaging doesn't work well. When you hire, you hire people who are responsible, and who care about their commitment. Even when they can't deliver on time, they communicate as early as possible. Managing expectations is also important. Something that I learned the hard way. After reading that article, I started trying to manage myself better. You actively need to manage yourself. 

Basically, it starts first with taking responsibility. If you are committed to holding yourself to a higher standard or if you're committed to getting your work done, you get it done or you take responsibility for getting it done even if it means delays, and you have to work a little longer. You take it upon yourself, other than blaming or coming up with excuses. 

The first thing is don't give excuses. It doesn't make sense in the real world. For whatever reason, if you miss an exam, you have missed that exam. You could have had an accident, or you could have been in a traffic jam, but the result doesn't change. You need to stop giving excuses to yourself first. 

Set boundaries

I set clear boundaries between work hours and non-work hours. You can feel like work just by opening your laptop because that's your office. There's no boundary. But to function well, you have to create a boundary. What I do is I have set up, as I said, a small office on the rooftop where I work. Right now I'm talking to you from my home. But I have a different setup, where I go to work. I also work from here sometimes, but this is also a separate space where I sit for work. This kind of mental and physical separation is helpful to get in the mood to work. 

As I said, Todoist is my daily driver. I use Todoist to track my tasks both in my personal life and professional life. I generally run my life from the Today View, if you're using it. I tag my tasks with the schedule, and then I just do things from there. I think it's also important to have a shutdown ritual. Otherwise, you don't shut down in your head. You may have come back home, but you're still thinking about work or what you want to do. Eventually, this causes burnout. At the end of the day, what I do is set out what I want to tackle tomorrow, the big things. If I'm in the middle of something, then what are the next steps, I just write down the steps. It's kind of a ritual to bring closure to the day. I think this is very helpful. 

Having separate boundaries for work hours and nonwork hours, having a separate place to work if possible, and if you use Todoist that's the best thing I'd say. If you don't, you should. You need to track what you want to work on, and it shouldn't have a lot of things, but a few things. You should define what success looks like each day. That helps me a lot in terms of setting goals and staying productive. 

Pay attention to your work-life balance

Then there's the issue with work-life balance and things like that. As you said, when you're working remotely, you don't have colleagues around you, there is no professional network. It's important to have an actual life outside of work. I think that's something that remote work also encourages you. Doist encourages us to live where we want to live with the people we want to live with. You're not moving to a different country just for work and leaving everyone you want to live with behind. Generally, all my colleagues have very vibrant lives. Me, not so much. But still, I have friends here and I go and meet them. It's the best thing to go out and blow off steam with your friends. I have kids, I can spend more time with my kids. As I said, I like reading and writing stuff as well sometimes. I get to enjoy my life. 

Work is something that I do and that everyone needs to do. But that's not the only thing in my life. That's how I look at work. The frame of thinking where you view work as everything, I find it a pretty sad one. If someone's building something impactful, and passionate about it, I can understand that. But still, the impact is usually on other people. I don't think that's the right way of looking at work. 

Use a task manager as your second brain

I think using a task manager isn't that mainstream yet. Not in Bangladesh. Even worldwide, I don't think a lot of people use a task manager. Using Todoist, or any task manager for that matter effectively is something that I would say helps a lot. 

People think they will remember but they don't. A task manager is like a second brain. You take everything that comes to your mind, put it in your app, and forget about it. It has improved the quality of my life. We all have many different types of work. We juggle many different things. It's hard to remember everything and now with social media and constant notifications, people are more forgetful. Using a task manager to dump whatever comes to your mind that you need to do helps a lot. As I said, I run my life from the 'Today view' of the Todoist app. I have recurring tasks for utility bills, and shopping, I have shared projects with my wife, and so on. It clears up a lot of mental space, so you can focus on work. Todoist has a positive impact on my life, and I'd like to see more people do that.

Ask for help

Asking for help is also very important. A lot of people sit on problems and feel shy to ask for help worrying about what would other people think. 

Software engineering teaches you humility. There's so much new tech coming up, you just can't keep up with everything. There's always someone who knows more than you and has more experience than you, you are forced to be humble. That has worked well for me because I accepted that. So ask for help. Seek out mentors if possible. That also helps. 

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Ayrin Saleha Ria works at Future Startup as a full-time Research Associate. She has a background in Applied Sociology. Before joining the FS team, she worked and volunteered with a number of social organizations. As someone who comes from a social science background, she takes a deep interest in research around important social-economic challenges in our society. A voracious reader, Ayrin is passionate about working for the betterment of society, takes a deep interest in human society and behavioral science, and loves books.

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