How Work Sprints Can Improve Your Effectiveness

March 25, 2017, 6:00 PM UTC
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The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What are your strategies for staying effective while working remotely?” is written by Rich Allen, author of The Ultimate Business Tune Up.

More and more businesses are allowing and encouraging their team members to work remotely. With the ever-increasing costs of office space and brick and mortar facilities and the explosion of new technologies to keep teams connected, it is often an advantage to work from home instead of commuting to the office.

But that doesn’t mean that there has been a relaxation in the expectations or demands placed on remote workers. In fact, it could be argued that with added flexibility, there is an expectation that more can be accomplished by those who work remotely. So how can someone maximize their efficiency and productivity while not feeling under the constant watchful eye of their employer? Here are three simple tips:

Schedule weekly check-ins

While there are real benefits to working remotely, there are also greater risks. One significant risk is the notion of being “out of sight, out of mind.” In many cases, your leader or boss won’t demand or expect you to check in regularly, but if you want to appear more engaged and truly be more engaged in the business, request and set up a weekly check-in routine.

I highly recommend that you make this a set day and time so that you can build your schedule around it. Don’t allow it to be flexible, or it is likely to be missed more often than held. You don’t want that to happen.

Requesting a weekly videoconference with your boss yields two specific benefits. First, you will be more tuned into any changes in strategy or shifts in priorities that occur in the business. By staying connected on a regular basis, you will be informed as if you were working in the office. Second, you will be able to demonstrate your value on an ongoing basis, setting yourself apart from those fellow coworkers who may not check in as often.

Take 60- to 90-minute work sprints

Working in segments is a powerful way to accomplish far more than you can imagine. Think about “sprinting” several times each day, rather than just slogging it out trying to get work done when you’re feeling lethargic.

Set a timer for 60 to 90 minutes, turn off your digital distractions, and work on one specific assignment for that sprint period. Don’t multitask—focus.

At the end of the sprint period, take a break. Get up from your work area and go for a walk. Get outdoors. Clear your head and spend 15 to 20 minutes not thinking about your work. Then if you do need to, check in on voicemails or emails, or attend to other urgent matters. But limit your time to 30 minutes or so. Once you’ve cleared the decks of urgent calls or messages, repeat the sprint process again.

I’ve found that by working this way, you can complete four or five sprint sessions each day. You’ll be amazed at the amount of work you can accomplish.


Tackle the biggest challenge first

Often we try to accomplish many of the smaller items on our do-to list, just so we have the sense of removing them from the list. But we avoid doing the bigger tasks until late in the day, when we just don’t have the motivation to get started. Because the assignment is so big, we tell ourselves we’ll get started tomorrow. But then tomorrow comes and we get seduced into knocking off several more small items to get some “quick wins.” And we fall into the same trap day after day.

Instead, start with the biggest, most difficult challenge early in the day, when you have the most determination and willpower. Our highest willpower time is normally in the morning, when we are fresh.

Start with these three tips and you’ll be on the path to being the most productive and efficient remote employee your boss has ever known.

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