By Wayne Turmel

None of us lacks for good advice. Everyone from gurus to our mothers tells us how to get more work done, stay focused on important tasks, and fight gum disease. That doesn’t mean we actually do any of those things, or change what we do every day to get the results we get. A lack of good advice is generally not our problem.

The problem is actually taking action on the advice on offer. For example “try answering email only twice a day” sounds easy, but really most of us would be in danger of our skulls exploding if we simply tried to follow that advice. That being said, here are some simple productivity tips that you can actually do while keeping cranium shrapnel to a minimum:

  • Turn off the auditory announcements on your email and IM when you’re trying to concentrate. Studies show that when we hear the little “ding” of an incoming message, our attention is immediately diverted to the new message and away from whatever we’re doing. You can still keep the visual reminders and icons if you have to, we don’t seem to pay as much attention to those.
  • Block out several short time periods for high-focus tasks, rather than all day. When working on tasks like analysis or writing that will take focus and attention, try blocking several short bursts versus a whole day. Most of us can only maintain true high-focus activities for less than 30 minutes at a time. After that our brains scream for a break and we find ourselves distracted. Trying to force ourselves to focus is actually counter-productive. Try blocking 30-45 minutes of high focus activity (it’s also about how long the email addicted can go without freaking out), then take a 15-30 minute period to return messages, get little things off your to-do list and free your mind to get back to concentrating.
  • Use specific status updates and honor them. If your messaging system allows customized status updates, take advantage of them. Do you know what happens when you get a message from someone and they are told you’ll get back to them by 2 pm? They don’t expect an answer until 2 PM. The real problem is that if you tell them that, and then respond immediately, the message you’re sending is that status updates don’t really mean anything and they can be ignored. You’re basically teaching people to bother you any time, any where. It takes between 2 and 10 seconds to set a status update on most collaboration platforms. You have the time.
  • Bunch “busy-work.” Most of the tasks on our plate are high-activity/low-productivity tasks. Yet our brains tell us they are at least as important as other things we need to do. Clean your brain out several times a day. Not only will you be able to get a number of things done at the same time, but our brains see those as “wins”. It actually sets off the reward centers in our brains and makes us feel good. Let those good feelings wash over you and ride the wave through the next unpleasant but important task.
  • Put your personal phone out of reach. Most of us check our phones over 100 times a day. Place it out of arm’s length (in a bottom drawer, or on a shelf) where you actually have to leave your chair to get to it. Just that little extra effort gives you time to decide if you really need to check your messages, or you’re just behaving as programmed.

These little hacks are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) and will actually show immediate results. As your tolerance for resisting temptation increases, you can go for longer periods of time between emails or checking your phone.

For more information on being a productive teleworker, or managing people who work away from the office, check out Maximizing Productivity for Teleworkers where we help you to get control of your day, life and career. You’ll learn tips for eliminating distractions and improving your focus, how to manage your calendar so that you’re working during your most productive times and so much more! Learn all about it here.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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  1. These practical productivity tips are not only good for teleworkers, but all employees. I use several of these in a workshop, “Surviving Priorities, Time Crunches and Deadlines”.

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