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Ask HN: What are some productivity hacks for remote employees?
15 points by introvertmac on Oct 25, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 13 comments
I'm working remotely since last year. There's a major productivity issue, some days I don't feel like working. Acquiring new skills are hard, with so many distractions around how do you guys manage to work from home/remote?

Hey, my friend and I run a remote company called 'The Remote Trip' and we were dealing with the same productivity challenges while she was working from Costa Rica and I from Thailand. We found 7 tools that helped us boost our productivity as a remote worker and shared them on our blog, check it out if you're interested:


It helps to have a location in your home or elsewhere that is only for working. A separate room that serves as your office can help.

If you're in a city, you might try working out of a co-working space a few days a week. It would also give you a chance to socialize with other developers when you need a break from working. This can be a good thing, as long as your don't spend the whole day socializing. :)

If you live in a house and have a decently sized property, you could try building a 'Shedquarters' (Google it, there are some pretty amazing examples out there). Alternatively, you could park a camping trailer on your property and work from there.

At the end of the day, nothing will be a substitute for good work habits. And make no mistake, staying focused and on task is a skill you can develop and improve over time. Getting started is the hardest part.

In the past, I've found it helpful to ban myself from using the internet after my work hours are done for the day. Pick up some good books, and spend a couple of weeks worth of evenings just reading non-stop. It'll be hard at first, and you'll be tempted to go online. Keep on reading regardless, even if you really don't feel lie it. I've found that after a week or two, the urges to go waste time diminish. And interestingly, the strength to avoid distraction and keep plowing forward even when I don't feel like it carries carries over to the work day. I realize that this might only work for me and nobody else. But it might be worth a try if you're looking for a starting point.

I live in a countryside small town, so no co-working space available. Will definitely try that offline habit.


First, discipline is critical to what you mentioned. Figuring out how to develop habits that avoid procrastination or other problems with your productivity are wildly different for each individual. Some people work well with a TV on, while others are completely distracted by it, and up paying attention to the TV instead of being productive. Some people take 15-20 minute naps and wake up ready to rock. Others, fall asleep for long periods of time, don't reboot and waste a day. You have to know which one you are and tailor your routine around you.

Having a routine is important.

Additionally, here are a couple of things that you might consider hacks that have worked for me:

1) Front-load your day - I start my day at 4am and I start work immediately. This has a couple of benefits. For me I know I am most productive the first half of my day. Starting early eliminates a long list of distractions and interruptions simply because no one else is up to bother me. Plus, if I find myself dragging between 4pm and 6pm I don't feel guilty about cutting out because I have already put in a pretty solid day overall. This is something I read not to long ago that validated what I was already doing: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12346307

2) Walk - Any time I am feeling distracted or stressed I take a walk outside. It reboots my mind and I come back refreshed. If something was eluding me before the walk it typically reveals itself quickly after returning from the walk.

3) Diet - This is from my response to this post (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12684180): "In order of volume and priority...Coffee, leafy greens(in all forms, especially cabbage - all types, kale, napa, green, etc.) and protein in all forms, diversity is important, animal and vegetable sources. I mix in other fruits and vegetables for flavoring and variety. Also, I eliminated salt and that relieved my stress in a significant, noticeable way. I start my day at 4am, if I eat heavier, carb-based items, I notice a crash somewhere around 3 or 4 pm and the last few hours of my day are a struggle. If I stick to what I listed above, I power through the afternoon and feel more balanced when I end my day."

I've found that a 'fake commute' works well to make me feel like I want to work; travel to your nearest coffee shop and enjoy a morning hot drink and head to work.

I work from coffee shops a lot too. For me the better ones to work from are generally quiet or have consistent background noise.

If this is something you do regularly, you want to try the free app Work Hard Anywhere [1] which lets you find the best nearby to work from. I use it every week.

[1]: http://workhardanywhere.com

Added to my to-do list.

I found the Pomodoro technique to be even more effective when working remotely. It forces me to work hard at manageable stretches as well as to write down what constitutes a 30 minute chunk of work. I'll write out a list of items that fit within these chunks at the end of my day including items from my backlog. These can even be learning new skills.

Distractions are usually a consequence of being burnt out. That means you need to take more _effective_ breaks and/or work out your discipline muscle, meaning you can go longer and more effectively.

Taking a break and going outside for a short walk. Having a short conversation. Jason Fried and DHH discussed this more in Remote [1], and I really think isolation is the biggest challenge of fully remote work.

(Then again, my "problem" is the opposite and I think it's something a lot of remote workers experience — you work even more hours and even harder than in a typical office environment.)

[1]: https://37signals.com/remote

Open a videochat window, shrink it down, put it in a corner, and ask your buddy to ignore you unless you're goofing off, in which case administer moral support. Also, https://google.com/search?q=virtual-coworking is a thing.

Take 15-30 minutes before starting your day to meditate. I don't work remotely, but really any series of tasks that involves effort I've found tends to be easier to transition into and focus on if I've meditated beforehand.

What sort of meditation do you practice? (Are there different types)

What is the general idea behind it - and how would one get started at this practice?

Vipassana Meditation is the one I initially looked at and believe it's what I'm currently practicing, check out this meddit recommendation thread:


It's really as simple as sitting down in front of an empty wall, closing your eyes (or not), and counting each breath 10 times (I like to count one full breath as "one count" rather than counting an inhale as one and exhale as two), then repeating back to the beginning. Whenever your thoughts go elsewhere you remind yourself to focus on the current number you're on. Really helps clear the mind and can even occasionally experience a state of euphoria in the process.

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