Remote work offers a multitude of benefits. In addition to improving job satisfaction, it allows for a better work-life balance, enables people to pursue dreams other than those related to their careers, and it could even be a way to increase efficiency. Nonetheless, there is a tendency among remote workers to dedicate too much time to their job.

It’s not uncommon, especially for those who have a home office (versus a coworking space or office) to spend more than the average 40 hours per week working. And although, in theory, this sounds like a great way to get more done, it can actually decrease productivity. Furthermore, it can increase the chances of experiencing burnout. So, the question arises whether doing less could improve results.

Well, it appears that cutting down on the hours spent at the computer could lead to better outcomes. However, subtractive productivity isn’t just about sufficient rest (though that’s important as well). It’s about eliminating harmful habits and activities and working on improving workflow. This way, every action is optimized to yield results, with the least input of effort and energy.

If you’re interested in doing less to get more done, here are the top aspects of your work routine to focus on.

Prioritize & break down to keep productivity high

According to Psychology Today, the way to prevent procrastination and ensure high levels of output is to identify priorities, do meaningful work, and create a schedule or routine. Moreover, breaking big goals into smaller tasks can also help prevent stress, which is known to hinder efficiency.

What this means is that, other than internal or external motivation, our habits and routines can influence our work performance. So can certain biological limitations. According to psychologists, humans are capable of focusing on complex tasks for 90 to 120 minutes. But, to do good work, this isn’t necessarily the best possible course of action.

Pomodoro Technique: The power of taking breaks

Scientists have found that short periods of rest increase productivity. This is why on-off workflow techniques like Pomodoro yield results for many people. The principle is rather simple: by breaking up complex tasks, we’re introducing new stimuli to the brain, thus preventing it from losing sensitivity to the work we’re doing. Though it seems counterintuitive, it’s actually an effective way of stopping ourselves from becoming “immune” to our work.

Implementing a work-rest routine isn’t too complicated. The Pomodoro Technique promotes 25 minutes of work, followed by five minutes of rest. But, you can also extend the amount of focused work you do. More recent research suggests that the most productive individuals do 52 minutes of work and rest for 17 minutes.

This doesn’t mean that remote workers need to choose one of these techniques. Instead, they should make it a point to incorporate regular breaks into their workdays to prevent fatigue and task desensitization.

A datebook to boost productivity.

Schedule hacking

In addition to making room for rest, it’s also not a bad idea to take a more proactive approach to task scheduling. Regardless whether you’ll do this with a digital calendar tool or the good old pen and paper, it could be a great strategy to ensure you stick to your plans.

Time blocking is a technique that stems from the assumption that a task will take up any time you have available to do it. So, to prevent it from stretching out, you should try to allot a timeframe and stick to it. This means entering all priority to-dos into your calendar (be they professional or personal), which will give you a motivational and productivity boost in the form of attainable deadlines.

Some entrepreneurs even go so far as to schedule every single moment of their day, including periods of rest. While this may work for some, do keep in mind that you don’t have to take time blocking to the extreme. That is, of course, as long as you stick to your calendar and don’t sacrifice personal time for work.

If, however, you’re prone to becoming distracted, then look for ways to eliminate your biggest distractions from your workspace. 

For example, on average, people spend 4 hours per day on their phones – which is a lot of time scrolling through social media instead of working, resting, or socializing. A simple hack would be to practice digital avoidance. This means limiting screen time by removing your biggest distraction from your workspace. Whether that’s by putting your phone in Do Not Disturb mode or leaving it in your bedroom, you might find that it’s a great way of allowing yourself to focus on what actually matters (and stop wasting precious time).

How self-care plays into productivity

We’ve established that for great results, working smarter instead of harder is the way to go. However, we can’t underestimate the role that biology plays in our ability to focus and complete tasks efficiently.

There’s plenty of research clearly showing how important self-care is in allowing our brains to perform at peak capacity. For example, sleep directly influences creative thinking. Getting enough deep, dreamful sleep allows your brain to evaluate your experiences, consolidate memories and regulate stress.

Similarly, exercise has tremendous effects on all thinking processes. For one, aerobic exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function. Furthermore, yoga, meditation, and breathwork can positively influence our ability to focus on a single task. Research even suggests that we could optimize attention levels by consciously altering the way we breathe.

Then, of course, there’s nutrition. While we’re aware of the health risks of the Western diet, new findings suggest that a diet based on carbohydrates and unhealthy fats could also negatively impact cognitive function. That’s because these types of foods cause your body to produce serotonin and tryptophan, making you want to take a nap, instead of finishing up your day’s work.

Of course, many productivity shortcuts provide the brain and body with a temporary energy boost. Coffee is definitely the most popular one. However, it’s safe to say that without the foundations of proper self-care (sleep, exercise, nutrition, and stress management), there’s simply no way to ensure effective results over a long period.

A desk at a flexible office space.

Streamlining the workday

Ultimately, real productivity boils down to knowing exactly how to utilize the resources you have and making the absolute most of them. It’s not about working more until you’re driven to the point of exhaustion. Rather, it’s about learning how to pace yourself and finding ways to make your job easier, wherever possible. And the truth is, this isn’t that difficult to do.

For one, you can use tech and automation. There are numerous mobile and desktop productivity apps available for download. When used to their maximum potential, they are a great tool in your arsenal. So is, of course, a notebook that you could set up in the form of a bullet journal. The reason why these tools work is that they encourage you to actively think about your tasks, time, priorities, and desires.

Another area to focus on is skill-building. While it does take time and effort, it also holds the potential of allowing you to do your job more efficiently. So, for example, you could train yourself to speed read. Or you could learn basic coding and create your own applets on platforms such as IFTTT.

Finally, don’t forget to use your tech to its maximum capacity. Become familiar with keyboard shortcuts and trackpad gestures. Experiment with utilities and extensions that could help streamline your work process. By knowing your equipment, and taking full charge of it, you’ll be saving small amounts of time. In the long run, this may add up to hours gained over a week or month.

Taking control

Even though it seems like the stuff of fairytales, doing less to get more done is absolutely possible. But for a lot of freelancers, remote workers, and entrepreneurs, it will require a shift in mindset.

We often feel like we’re overburdened by our jobs when, in fact, we’re the ones in charge of creating a healthy work-life balance for ourselves. Implementing regular breaks (short as well as long ones), keeping priorities in check, and taking good care of our bodies are all crucial steps towards achieving better focus and productivity.

The great thing is that they’re easy to get started with. Even a couple of small changes can yield visibly better results, both professionally and privately. So don’t hesitate to re-evaluate your habits and give new ones a try. Who knows, you might just find them to be game-changing.