by Wayne Turmel

motivational sticky notes "break bad habits" "build good habits"
It’s important for remote workers to establish healthy, productive habits.

Do you consciously think about every action you take at work every day? Probably not. We are so busy doing stuff that most of the time we rely on habit and repeated behavior so we can just get on with our day and not make ourselves crazy. Human beings are creatures of habit. Some of these habits help us be very productive and get our work done, but others can get in the way.

When we work at the office, we can pick up cues about what’s working and what’s not from other people. If your music is pleasant but distracting and you find yourself singing along instead of concentrating on your work, odds are someone will tell you. When we work from home, it’s harder to tell what’s working and what isn’t.

Constructive habits

We’ve all developed ways to be productive that work for us. When we ask people what their best “productivity” habits are, we hear things like:

  • Control the time we spend on email
  • Shower and dress professionally to signal the start of the workday
  • Place personal devices out of reach or turn them off
  • Start each day by manually creating a to-do list
  • Clean the desk and workspace off at the end of each day so that we’re ready to hit the ground running in the morning.

Less productive habits

People have also identified the things they do that get in the way of their productivity. Some of the most common include:

  • Constantly checking email at the expense of other work
  • Playing with the dog/cat/creature you cohabitate with
  • Spending too much time on the internet (YouTube, Google, Facebook or the rabbit hole of your choice)
  • Watching television while working

How we make or break habits

If we want to change behavior, it’s not as simple as just saying “okay, I won’t do that any more. If it were, nobody would smoke, drink too much, or answer every incoming email like one of Pavlov’s dogs. Habits are hard-wired into our brains over time. Unless we are hyper-aware of what we’re doing at every moment we will fall into old patterns of behavior and may not notice unless we catch ourselves already doing that thing.

Here’s what does work:

  • Switch one behavior for another. A common example of this is chewing sugar-free gum instead of lighting up a cigarette. The point is that if we consciously do one behavior or action whenever we want to do the less productive one, over time the new behavior will become the habit.
  • Remind yourself A common bad habit of people who work from home is not taking sufficient breaks. Staring at a computer screen, sitting in a chair and eating at your desk sounds like you’re working hard, but it can actually increase stress and cause physical discomfort. Set a timer at appropriate intervals to remind you to get up, stretch, look out the window instead of at your monitor.
  • Reward your success Behavior specialists say that one of the biggest problems with breaking a habit is that we are rewarded (often in neuro-chemical ways) by doing the old behavior, and that the stress and discomfort of the new behavior don’t compensate—we actually feel worse for a while. Actively rewarding yourself for success is important-especially for those of us who tend to be hard on ourselves and concentrate on our failures.
  • Get the support and help of other people If you are trying to avoid having the TV on during the workday, have you told your spouse? If you are trying not to answer email after working hours, have you discussed that with  your boss, so that she supports the change?

What are your best work habits? Can they be even more successful?

What are the habits that get in the way? How can you address them and what help do you need?

Seeking feedback from others is a great way to start. Another way is our “Maximizing Productivity for Teleworkers” program. This is a valuable learning opportunity for anyone working remotely, whether you’re an employee or manage a remote team.



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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