First Published: March 18, 2020  | Last Updated:

The gist: working from home is the time to embrace working brighter and figuring out what works for your, not following all the traditional productivity rules. So these are the Work Brighter-approved remote work habits.

Woooo-weeee.

Do you smell that?

That is the stench of Hustle Culture and the cult of relentless productivity, and it freakin stinks. 💩

And right now, it’s at an all time high.

Idk when you’re reading this, but at the time of writing, I’m on day 8 of Indoor Time courtesy of COVID-19. At this point, the ish has gotten REAL and most workers who can work from home, are.

And Hustle Culture gurus came swooping in with BeSt PrAcTiCeS to make sure you work smarter and maximize your productivity while the world is on fire. 🔥

work smarter remote work habits

After all, didn’t you know you’re supposed to be coming up with the next King Lear or theory of gravity right now? 🙄

But one of the key differences between working smarter and working brighter is accepting that you can’t be productive all day, every day.

So I’m not gonna tolerate that mindset and pressure.

I know we still have bills to pay, but if a global pandemic isn’t the time to lay off the productivity guilt, when is?

That’s why I have a rebuttal, if you will.

Working brighter is all about doing MORE than just working smarter, and taking a bigger picture view of work, labor, and productivity.

Working Smarter vs Brighter for remote work habits

So here’s how you can do that while you work remotely, regardless of what else is going on.

(Some of these links are affiliate links. So if you decide to buy anything, I’ll receive a commission. Most creators say something like “100% of this goes back into the business,” but I’m not most creators. Some months it goes into the business, others it will be used to buy inappropriate amounts of chocolate. Remember, working brighter is about balance!​)

The Brighter Rules for Building Remote Work Habits

First, some ground rules for remote work in general…

Rule 1: Create structure

First of all, it’s crucial to create some structure or boundaries for yourself. I’m all about making decisions in advance to reduce mental friction in the future.

Leaning into our creature of habit natures and all that.

And the “create” part is important: you need to create this structure for yourself. For long-term remote work, at least, don’t just try to mimic the work day you had in your office.

Now is an opportunity to design the realistically-ideal-for-you work day.

Create your own workday structure – keeping it as compatible as needed with your coworkers’ and teams’ schedules, of course – instead of continuing with the norms you’d adopted without questioning in the office.

Rule 2: Stay flexible

So those boundaries I just mentioned? They should be made of soft rubber.

I like to say boundaries and structure are meant to be guardrails to help keep you on the race track. Or, to relate it to something I have more experience with, like putting bumpers on your bowling lane so you can’t bowl a gutter ball. 🎳

They’re meant to protect you, not restrain or restrict you.

That means if it’s ever better for you to bend a boundary a little bit now and then, it’s still serving its purpose of protecting you while you do so.

Rule 3: Experiment and personalize

Finally, working brighter is about personalizing productivity to work with and for you. Both in terms of your work, and in keeping your work compatible with the rest of your life.

All advice given without knowing you and your situation needs to be taken with a grain of salt, including the advice below. 😉

It takes some toying around to figure out what your version of working brighter in. To figure out the real time you should be waking up, the real time you should be doing deep work, when you need breaks, etc.

The only way to see if something works for you is by trying it. And if it doesn’t fit your…life puzzle…discard it and try another piece.

Now that you know the rules, let’s talk about the specific remote work habits I’ve found to be most helpful. And not just helpful to my productivity, but helpful to my

Remote Work Habits to Work Brighter, Not (Just) Smarter

(These habits are listed in the order I do them in a day, not how much I love them 😝)

1. Slow breakfast

One of the best habits I can recommend for anyone working remotely is NOT to just wake up and start immediately hustling.

You don’t realize how much negative space or “me” time a commute offers until you don’t have it anymore. (Seriously, I NEVER would have considered being bumped around on the subway negative space, but it was also great music listening time.)

To replicate the drive, ride, or walk to work you used to have, eat a slow breakfast before starting your day.

When I first started working for myself full-time, I decided my whole mornings would be “slow.”

But when I was still working remotely for an employer, I still made sure to wake up about an hour before I needed to start working.

And I would spend that time:

HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommended.

2. Changing from night PJs to day PJs

Okay, now to tackle that advice about “getting dressed for work” when you work from home.

A lot of the remote work advice recommends putting on business clothes, even if you’re not gonna be seen by anyone, because mindset and stuff. ¯\(ツ)

But here’s the thing: even when I worked in a business’s office, I didn’t wear “business clothes.”

I’ve always been a hoodie and jeggings (now leggings) at the office person, and for a legitimate reason, not because I’m “lazy.” As someone with ADHD and sensory issues, if I’m not comfortable, I’m not productive…I’m constantly fidgeting and adjusting.

So I’m most productive working remotely when I’m in clothes others would consider pajamas.

HOWEVERRRR.

I DO think that changing clothes right before you start working is a powerful indicator to signal to your brain, “it’s work time.”

But it’s about the ritual, not the outfit.

So I change from one comfy outfit to another right before I start work. 🙃

3. Morning mindset check

Okay, here’s where I will agree with the work smarter gurus: doing journaling and mindset work in the morning makes a BIG difference.

I might not spend 30 minutes meditating or make a list of 25 things I’m grateful for, but I do take a second to get my head right (well…as right as possible) before diving into productive stuff for the day.

After eating breakfast, I turn on my SAD lamp (see below), and spend about 10 minutes journaling the following:

  • Which goals do I need to be focused on today?
  • What reminders do I need someone to tell me today?
  • What are the top tasks to do today?

That third one not only helps with my mindset, but also helps me prioritize…there are a lot of things I want to do in any given day, but only a few I HAVE to.

4. SAD lamp

Another crucial part of my morning routine is my SAD lamp, and I know it’s something a lot of people are curious about (judging based on how many DMs I get whenever mine shows up in my Instastories).

I have complicated feelings about this, because the main question I get in those DMs is “does it work for your depression?”

And that answer is complicated, and depends on what you expect it to do.

It doesn’t “cure” my depression, and I don’t believe anything can. But it does make A LOT of the symptoms of depression a hell of a lot easier to deal with. And it makes remote work a lot less frustrating, too.

When I consistently use my SAD lamp for 15-30 minutes in the morning, I:

  • Get less extreme of an afternoon slump
  • Become alert more quickly
  • Get less headaches
  • Find it easier to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day

And most importantly for remote work in particular, the moment the lamp first shines on my face in the morning is a similar feeling to when you step outside into daylight for the first time each day. ☀️

So no, it doesn’t “cure” my clinical depression, but I still love it, and a small one like this one I have is great for remote work.

5. Designated stations for different types of work

This one is newer for me, but I can tell it’s going to be great. I’ve combined a tip from James Clear’s Atomic Habits (a Work Brighter Bookshelf staple) and the advice in this Twitter thread from Sam Dylan Finch, an amazing mental health writer, advocate, and editor at Healthline.

The common “work smarter” advice for remote work is to make sure you have a dedicated home office. But…hello from my 400-square-foot, 2-room box. Not happening.

So instead of having a dedicated room/office for work, I’ve just created different “stations” around my living room for different types of work.

Here are my different mini-workstations:

  • I keep all my journaling, reading, and mindset stuff in a box by the chair I do all of that stuff in, and try not to do anything else there. That’s where I start my day.
  • Then I move over to the couch & coffee table, where there’s a shelf thingy holding my iPad (which I have my project management dashboard open on during my workday) and my laptop. This is where I do my “admin” or shallow work (by Cal Newport’s categorization) like checking email and social media, research, and other stuff that requires less thinking and typing.
  • Finally, I have my favorite station: my desk. It’s the most fun, bright nook of the apartment, with mini disco balls, unicorn stuffed animals, and a Leslie Knope Funko Pop! doll inspiring me to do my best work. Plus, you know, actual content creation supplies like my good keyboard for writing, my mic for podcasting and livestreaming, and camera stuff for video. I take my laptop over there for the 3-4 hours of deep work each day.

Of course, if you have the space, creating stations is a lot easier, but it’s still possible if not.

6. Energy-first planning

If you’ve been in the Work Brighter community for any length of time, you could probably see this one coming.

Noticing and managing your energy throughout the day is my best recommendation for anyone, but it tends to be more difficult to do when you’re working in an office.

But once you’re working separately from your coworkers, it can be easier to create your own schedule that works with your natural energy instead of going with the flow of what the team is doing.

For example, at my first job, it was always quiet time in the office in the morning, but rowdier as the day went on. I normally prefer writing in the afternoon or night, but when I worked in that office, it was too distracting in the afternoon and I needed to finish my work by the time I left the office. So I was stuck with writing in the morning.

Shifting to remote work is a perfect chance to start making small tweaks to your schedule away from “office norms” and towards what’s best for you.

And to help you get started, you can download our free energy management tracker. ⚡️

7. Using TV as background noise

Okay, now for the one I know will be controversial: I use TV and Netflix as a productivity tool.

Earlier in this post, I mentioned intentional TV time vs. mindless bingewatching. The topic is one for a whole separate post, but just know that there’s a productive and an unproductive way to watch TV.

I choose to use it as a tool in my toolkit.

That means I have it as background noise when my brain finds silence too distracting. By putting on something light and familiar like Parks and Rec, and putting it on softly in a different room, it becomes less distracting to me than coworkers chatting by my desk ever were.

I also watch a show more actively during lunch, so let’s talk about that.

8. Taking lunch

This is something I’ve been yelling at my fiance for the past 4 days: TAKE A FREAKING LUNCH BREAK.

You’re doing difficult work that requires deep thinking, draining interactions, and more.

Don’t try to do that for 8+ straight hours per day.

Ideally, you’re taking more than one break per day. But if you only take one, give yourself half an hour for lunch.

Shut your laptop or walk out of your home office, turn on Netflix, and watch ONE episode. Turn off Netflix’s auto-continue or turn on your TV’s sleep timer so your tech will stop you after one episode.

THEN get back to work.

9. Taking dance breaks

So you’re taking a lunch break but want to break up your work sessions even more. Smart – the reason the Pomodoro technique is so popular is because there’s a point of diminishing return when it comes to focus.

Yes, you want to avoid switching tasks every 5 minutes, but focusing on the same thing for TOO long can be exhausting (there’s that energy management again).

Might I recommend a one-person dance party, if you’re able? 🕺

This is one of my favorite ways to break up the monotony of remote work.

My break time dance parties have become such a part of my routine that I quit my gym…I don’t need it.

Getting up from your work to dance for one song not only gets you a 5-ish-minute break, but it also solves the problem of how to stay active when you work remotely, which can be a challenge (especially in a small space like I’m in).

We even have a Work Brighter Bops playlist full of songs that work wonderfully for this. 🙃

10. Naps as needed

I’ve already recommended watching TV during the workday, but now I’m gonna get even more controversial: it’s okay to nap, too.

Take the day I’m writing this post, for example. This is a long post (2,316 words as of writing this sentence), and I didn’t sleep well last night, with only a few hours of tossing and turning.

So you know what I did around noon, once my calls for the day were done?

I went back to bed for an hour.

And believe me, that wasn’t an hour wasted. Because I’m better rested while writing this post, it’s going to save me AT LEAST as much time of frustrated content creation.

Let’s be real: none of us do great work when we’re tired. And that’s exponentially more true for anyone with chronic or mental illness.

Use your lunch break to take a nap when needed.

If you can adjust your hours, take a break in the middle of the day to nap, and then work later in the day instead.

It will be worth it.

11. Virtual coworking sessions

This one’s gonna be a favorite for you extroverts. I love you all, I’m grateful for you all, I just can’t relate to you all. At all. 😉

When you’re working remote, you’ve gotta set up ways to socialize virtually.

Maybe that’s video chatting a friend while you both eat lunch because you’re following habit #8. Maybe it’s a video chat happy hour so you have an appointment to give your work a “hard stop.”

But my personal favorite is virtual coworking. I’ve done them with strangers through Focusmate, with friends through Zoom appointments with each other, and host them myself every week in the Clubhouse.

(Pssst – In the Work Brighter Clubhouse, there are multiple virtual social events per week, from coworking to happy hours and group movie nights.)

12. Resetting the room

I think this one might be from Atomic Habits too, but I don’t remember for sure.

But this is a habit that makes your other habits easier, and I love that kind of meta stuff. 😝

This is the habit of “resetting” my different stations when I’m done with them, and taking a few minutes before I go to bed to make sure everything is prepped for the next day.

I’m not a naturally neat person, but I am a creature of habit, so small habits like these keep the place from getting too messy and cluttered while I’m in here 24/7.

When it comes to remote work habits, think brighter, think better. Don’t just think smarter.

Regardless of the circumstances under which you switch to remote work, you can’t treat it as a reason to expect 150% productivity from yourself.

You don’t HAVE 150%, especially during times of stress like right now.

Stop trying to just work smarter and productivity hack your way through it.

If you want to hone your remote work habits more, you might also like:

And don’t forget to pin it for later before you go:

12 Remote Work Habits to Work Brighter, Not Just Smarter

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