Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, part of a distributed team or a freelancer working out of a home office, being a remote worker can be difficult. Not that the arrangement has no benefits – in fact, as I enter my third year of working remotely full-time, I can’t imagine ever returning to office-based employment.
However, when you work remotely, it’s you vs. your task list and all the distractions of home (or the coffee shop, or wherever your ad hoc office may be for the day). Your supportive colleagues are less accessible, there’s no workplace energy to feed on, and your boss is sitting in Slack instead of making rounds through the office. All of which is to say: The remote worker’s biggest challenge might just be getting into a productive flow.
Thankfully, remote workers don’t have to rely on sheer willpower to overcome this particular hurdle. The following five tech tools can help any remote employee get productive and stay productive more easily:
If you’re anything like me, the single biggest threat to your productivity is the very thing enabling you to be a remote worker in the first place: the internet. Luckily, there’s an app for that.
KeepMeOut is a browser-based tool that keeps you from visiting distracting websites too often during the day. You can set custom bookmarks for your biggest weaknesses – that would be Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit for me – and KeepMeOut will warn you if you visit one of those sites too many times in a certain time frame. (You can customize the time frames, too.)
Take it from me: When your browser starts scolding you for visiting Reddit more than once every three hours, you’ll learn pretty quickly to walk away from temptation.
Perhaps the most insidious time-waster of all is your inbox. You need to be connected to email during the workday to stay in touch with clients and coworkers, but it’s all too easy to get caught in the cycle of read-reply-repeat. Again, I speak from firsthand experience: I once spent an entire eight-hour workday simply catching up on email.
SaneBox is a “smart filter” that analyzes your email habits to determine which messages are actually important and which ones can wait. Only important emails get sent to your inbox; the others get shunted into a special folder reserved for less-pressing messages. This way, during any given workday, you can spend your time only on emails that actually matter.
If task management poses a challenge, you’ll want to check out Todoist. Many readers are probably familiar with the app already, but for those who aren’t, it is essentially the most functional to-do list ever conceived.
Todoist allows you to keep track of tasks, subtasks, projects, subprojects, due dates, recurring obligations, priorities, reminders – basically, your entire workload. What’s best is that tasks are accessible from any platform – laptop, phone, desktop, tablet, etc. – making it perfect for even the most nomadic of remote workers. Todoist also supports collaborative tasks shared between users.
Cloud-based document management solutions are exceedingly popular, but with so many to choose from, syncing up for collaborative work can quickly become a hassle. Say, for example, you’re using Google Drive, but a coworker prefers Dropbox, and your biggest client is always using OneDrive. Where do your documents go? How do you all get on the same page?
TopDox helps address this situation by allowing you to access and edit documents stored across a variety of platforms all from one central location. No more hopping from tab to tab to try to locate that proposal you were working on: Just log in to TopDox.
It would be unforgivable to conclude any list of productivity-boosting apps without mentioning Evernote. Collect important emails, web clippings, documents, notes, to-do lists, and reminders all in one cloud-based location, then access them from any device.
While other apps have much of the same functionality, the addition of Skitch really helps Evernote stand out. Skitch allows users to annotate documents with text, shapes, and sketches, adding a vibrant visual element to both your own personal notes and collaborative documents shared between teammates.
Ultimately, the specific arrangement of tech tools you’ll need to boost your productivity as a remote worker will be unique to you. Only you can say for certain what your particular weaknesses are. Take these five tools as jumping-off points for your own productivity plan. Use the ones that meet your needs, ditch the ones that don’t, and always be on the lookout for new options.
Matthew Kosinski is managing editor of Recruiter Today.