4 things the gym has taught me about remote work

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

Raise your hand if you’ve ever signed up to the gym in January.

In 2019, I did.

After a few months of gruelling work, it seemed like a great time to start working out again. But as I settled into my new routine, I found that my gym routine was doing more than keeping me healthy and giving me an excuse to leave my house every day.

I was having some of my best ideas for my business on the treadmill. And when I got home after a workout, I felt stronger, more motivated and focused.

So it occurred to me that the gym was also teaching me a few valuable lessons about becoming a better, more efficient remote worker.

Let’s go over some of the lessons going to the gym has taught me about remote work.

Be consistent

Showing up to the gym just when you feel like it won’t do. You’ll need to make a schedule and stick to it, even when you’re tired, when Netflix and ice cream in bed seem more appealing. Consistency is key to get the results you want — lose weight, bulk up, gain strength or resistance.

Similarly, in a remote position you need to be consistent, get work done on time and be there for your team.

Inconsistency is one of the main concerns companies have about remote workers. Just imagine — you trust someone on the other side of the world to do a job and they turn out to be flaky.

Granted, someone can bail a regular 9-to-5 job, too. But working with someone who’s not even located in the same city (or country) adds more uncertainty to the process.

So, if you want to wow a recruiter or shine at your new remote job, prove your reliability. Use references from previous employers or clients, and don’t forget to mention long-term projects that required commitment.

Consistency is an important trait for a remote worker. Making sure you are consistent will reassure your client or employer about the quality of your work and foster your professional development.

Reinvent work

If you think remote work is easier than a regular 9-to-5, think again. It can make life easier, but it also makes you reconsider the meaning of work, how you manage your time and how you get along with other people.

Many freelancers and remote workers have difficulties with setting boundaries, communicating and collaborating with teammates, feeling lonely, establishing healthy routines, managing their work-life balance, and avoiding distractions.

So, if you want to be a successful remote worker, you’ll need to take the time to reflect about what helps you work better and what takes away from your productivity.

One way of finding out what works and what doesn’t is to use a time tracker app. After a few weeks, you’ll see patterns on how you use your time. For example, if you’re not a morning person, you might find you’re not particularly productive in the mornings. Or if your job is repetitive you could find that you get distracted and check your phone a lot out of boredom.

Once you have more insights on how you use your time, you can find alternatives to help you cut distractions.

For example, I’ve been using the app Boosted to track all of my personal tasks and professional projects. After a few days of tracking my time, I found a few interesting patterns. For one, I realised that distractions come up more frequently when I’m tired or bored. Therefore, it took me more time than expected to finish some tasks.

Now that I know this, I can take a few extra steps to make sure I get my work done on time, as well as some rest between tasks to prevent boredom. I’m using another app, StayOnTask, to keep me focused on my 25-minute work sprints. After that, I get up and take a short 5-to-10-minute break.

Also, I’ve noticed I do my best work in the afternoons. It takes me ages to feel awake early in the mornings, and in the evenings I’m usually tired and prone to get distracted. So I plan my schedule to do more repetitive tasks first thing in the morning or in the evenings and the creative tasks in the afternoons, when I’m more focused.

For many of us, remote work has changed our way of thinking about productivity and life/work balance. It’s important for each person to find a routine that helps them feel productive, happy and fulfilled.

Take breaks

Photo by Anthony Mapp on Unsplash

Your mind needs to recover from work the same way your body needs rest after exercise. But if you work from home, sometimes the line between home time and work becomes blurred. Without enough space to disconnect, you take the risk of burning out.

Believe it or not, remote workers often end up putting in more hours. After all, it’s easy to finish that report from bed late at night or to check Slack or your work email quickly on a holiday. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re more committed to your work than someone who takes breaks. In fact, it can have a negative effect.

Even though it isn’t a medical diagnosis, burnout is a term used to explain the effects of prolonged work-related stress. With symptoms altering your mood, energy levels, and even the way you relate to your colleagues and your own work, it’s definitely something you’d want to avoid.

One thing you can do is setting clear boundaries and expectations at work. Learn to say ‘no’ to some tasks and ask for help, if needed. Refusing extra work can be especially difficult if you need the money or come from a culture where this might seem as a challenge to authority. However, many remote companies have less strict hierarchies and tend to be more accepting of openness and flexibility, so it’s likely you’ll be able to work something out.

Also, it’s crucial to spend time doing things outside work. Start by setting up a home office to use only during business hours. For example, when I was back home I used to work from my backyard. It’s a space I’d only use to work, and the natural light helped improve my mood and energy levels.

It’s impossible to work at top performance without getting regular breaks. By pacing yourself the same way you’d pace your workout sessions at the gym, you make sure you’re keeping yourself happy with your work and ready to be your most productive.

Admit defeat

It’s not a bad thing, I promise.

Have you ever tried something that’s supposed to be good for you but you can never bring yourself to enjoy it? The benefits are almost not worth putting up with that yoga class you hated or that cross fit session that almost put you off working out forever.

Luckily, there are plenty of things that can bring you the same benefits without putting you through an ordeal. If yoga bores the hell out of you, try a faster-paced, low-impact workout. If cross fit scarred you for life, look into other types of physical activity –like dancing– that don’t feel like a workout

Likewise, just because remote work gives some people flexibility to travel or set their own schedule it doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. It might not be for you, and that’s okay. Maybe you like working face to face with people and working form home would make you feel lonely. Or perhaps you enjoy having a fixed schedule, standing out in the meeting room, or being able to form friendships with your coworkers.

So before you start working remotely, you need to ask yourself a few questions. From your personality, work style and culture, to how you see yourself in the future, examining how remote work aligns with your circumstances and your goals can save you a lot of time and effort. And find out it isn’t for you after weeks or months after you started working remotely, there’s no shame in going back to a regular office job.

A great way of finding out if remote work is viable for you is to get insights from freelancers and digital nomads. Why did they start working like this? How has it made their lives easier? What are their biggest challenges? Is there something they’d do differently?

Personally, remote work is the most appealing way of work for plenty of reasons. I enjoy working on my own but still be part of a team. I’m comfortable with technology and love keeping up with new trends in remote work tools. I value the independence and flexibility that remote work has given me, and I appreciate being able to work with people from all over the world.

On the other hand, I have friends and family who would not be able to work from home. They enjoy dealing with people in person. They like having to move around to visit clients, and value the stability of having an office waiting for them every day and the connections they can make with coworkers and clients.

In the end, remote work requires the same focus, discipline, and dedication as a traditional job. But with some effort, you can discover ways to do your best work while taking care of yourself.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

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