You don’t need an office to get things done. In fact, according to a new study from Stanford University, telecommuting can make you significantly more productive than spending a day at the corporate headquarters. And it’s not just about the 9 to 5 anymore. Flexible hours and more demanding schedules mean we need to be productive at any time, anywhere, and collaborate with people across multiple time zones.
Whether you’re at home, a hotel, a coffee shop, or an airport, great work requires great habits, and a reliable personal cloud of data and services when and where you work. In today’s world of flexible hours, mobility, and remote collaboration, staying effective requires smart productivity practices. That means keeping a clear head and staying focused by paying close attention to four spheres of productivity:
1) Right space
2) Right tools
3) Right habits
4) Right mindset
These four spheres build atop each other to enhance creativity and productivity, and keep you focused and efficient. Handle them correctly, and no one will ever need to know that you’re not sitting at your desk at the head office.
As a mobile worker or telecommuter, you can’t always control your workspace. However, there are a few key factors you can usually manage to help reduce distractions and improve productivity.
At home, it’s essential to designate a work-only space. Establishing a firm perimeter around your workspace helps foster a productive mindset. When you say to yourself, “This space is work-only,” you’re enabling a strictly-business mode of thinking.
Ideally, a dedicated room makes the best home office, with a door to shut out distractions and keep you from wandering off to more exciting things. But even in a minimally furnished shoebox apartment, you can designate a space exclusively for work. All it takes is a single clear surface and a firm commitment to use it only for work stuff.
When you’re traveling, apply the same philosophy. If your hotel room has a desk, put only your business tools on it. No media players, takeout menus, or playbills from the theater district. Keep that desk for business only, and you’ll be more focused and efficient when you sit there. Even at a coffee shop, you can use this rule. Just commit yourself to leaving everything but your laptop, relevant paperwork, and of course your coffee, off the table.
At an airport or coffee shop, try to find a spot away from major corridors or foot traffic. An out-of-the-way spot facing a wall is ideal, because the fewer people you have milling about your workspace, the less you’ll feel compelled to look up from your screen. You’ll know you’ve chosen well if you can concentrate for 25 minutes or more without losing focus.
Wherever you end up working, the right tools will make all the difference in your productivity. With a smart blend of well-selected devices, apps, and accessories, you can get almost any job done no matter where you are in the world.
Of course, you need the basics:
- Computer: Get the best compromise you can find between long battery life and high screen resolution. Studies show more screen pixels mean more productivity, but if your battery dies before you’re done working, all those pixels were for naught. If possible, carry a fully charged spare laptop battery.
- Tablet: When your laptop dies, or just isn’t convenient enough, a tablet makes an excellent stand-in. If you can swing one with built-in 4G Internet, it can save your bacon when Wi-Fi isn’t available.
- Smartphone: Worry less about the platform and more about the battery life. What matters is that you have the apps you need to access your personal cloud at a moment’s notice.
- Printer: At home, go for a compact multifunction printer/scanner that connects to your Wi-Fi network. These can be configured to scan documents straight to your network-attached hard drive, which is an awesome convenience. On the road, always know where the nearest FedexKinko’s is, and double-check the hours for your hotel’s business center when you check in.
- Networked Storage: More than any single device, your data is the key to your productivity. Store it on a dependable drive that you can access from anywhere, like the WD My Cloud. These high-capacity drives connect to your home Wi-Fi network so you can capture all your files from your PC, tablet, and smartphone. They also let you access your files from anywhere as part of your personal cloud, while connecting to public cloud services like Dropbox to let you access shared files from your colleagues, without exposing the rest of your data to the potential security risks associated with the public cloud. It’s the ideal way to take control of your digital world.
And you’ll need to stock up on apps:
Together with your core devices, make sure to choose flexible apps to maximize connectivity and collaboration. Don’t just email files around; it’s too easy to lose track of revisions, and important ideas get lost in the shuffle. Collaborate intelligently by sharing documents in cloud-based editors like Microsoft Office 365 or Google Docs, which enable real-time editing of a single document by multiple people. A good personal cloud storage device can also let you share files securely with select colleagues, without sacrificing control over the files themselves. Look for a drive the WD My Cloud, which includes its own secure apps for easy mobile access from anywhere.
Select apps that work together in your personal cloud. By choosing apps such as Dropbox, that connect to a common core storage solution back at the home office, like a My Cloud network-attached storage device, you’ll cut down time spent tracking down data.
Don’t sacrifice face time when you’re out of the office. When possible, stay in touch via video conferencing apps like Skype, Facetime, or Google Hangouts. The real-time exchange can dramatically cut down miscommunications.
With the right tools in place, and your workspace cleared for efficiency, it can be easy to maintain powerful work habits that keep you productive throughout the day. With mindful attention to these habits, you can stay on task even on the most stressful workday.
- Take breaks. It may seem counterintuitive to recommend breaks for productivity, but the science is clear: An exhausted mind is an unproductive mind, and it’s hard to focus when your eyes are strained. Optometrists recommend resting your eyes for five minutes out of every hour by looking away from your screen at something at least 20 feet away. Taking deliberate, planned breaks like this helps reinforce your attention to work.
- A popular productivity system known as the Pomodoro Technique embraces this idea by breaking work time down into 25-minute chunks of pure focus, with five minutes in between, which means there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, while you clear your mind of distractions for short, highly productive periods. Try setting a timer to stay on schedule with this technique.
- Tame inbox overload. Commit to emptying your inbox every day. When you don’t have that little notifier saying there are 5,971 unread emails sitting in your inbox, you won’t have to wonder if any of them are important. Look at each email as it comes in. If it’s unimportant, delete it. If it’s important, act on it. It sounds simple, but this will cut untold stress from your life.
- Capture everything. Everything in your life that requires your attention needs a home in your world. Productivity and brain science experts agree that the best home for that stuff is somewhere outside your brain. Whether you use paper, a scanner, a tablet, a voice note on your smartphone, a camera, or your laptop keyboard, capture every important idea in a central place, so you always know where to look. Store all those important files in your personal cloud, and keep them handy whenever you need to retrieve them. With a private cloud device like the WD MyCloud, you can keep several terabytes of documents, photos, videos, audio recordings and miscellaneous files for easy retrieval from any device. You can even stream them to your TV if you want to.
- Automate everything. Don’t spend your precious waking hours on housekeeping tasks. If you find yourself constantly replying to the same question over and over again via email, create a canned response that you can send out without thinking about it. Set your backups and virus scans to happen automatically in the background during off hours. Set your various devices to automatically sync their data to a central location so you don’t have to waste time looking for them. Technology is your friend, because it doesn’t mind taking the drudgery off your hands. Take advantage of that whenever and wherever you can, and keep your mind clear for the important stuff that really deserves your attention.
By devoting a small amount of time and attention to your space, your tools, and your habits, you set yourself up for a truly productive state of mind. In this state, you’re free from distractions and irrelevant concerns, and able to let your ideas flow as you steep your consciousness in the task at hand.
To keep this mindset working for you, always be mindful to capture new inputs as they come at you, saving them in a central place as part of your personal cloud. Treat this personal cloud as an extension of your mind, and save your actual brain cycles for what’s happening right here and now. As author David Rock observes in his productivity-focused book Your Brain at Work, your attention is a limited resource. Everything you have to remember takes a bite out of your productivity and mental effectiveness. The more you can offload to devices, apps, and hard drives, the better your work will be.
This story, "Work From Anywhere Like a Pro" was originally published by BrandPost.