May 22, 2020 Ripple Effect

Take Control: A Productivity Guest Blog from Natalie Mazur

Natalie Mazur is a Communications Specialist with Ripple Effect who supports our clients with graphic and UX design and content development. Natalie joined Ripple Effect in 2019 through the Military Spouse Fellowship Program sponsored by Hiring Our Heroes. She’s a seasoned remote worker, having freelanced and moved around frequently over the years, and since joining Ripple Effect, Natalie has helped each of us work smarter by sharing some of her best  productivity hacks.

The flexibility of remote work is wonderful, but comes with its own set of unique challenges like staying focused, avoiding distractions, communicating with your coworkers, and keeping track of your time. In this blog, she shares some tips to help make remote work truly work for you.


Start Your Day the Right Way

Getting in the right mindset is key to productive remote work, and that starts from the moment you wake up. Here’s how I establish a morning routine and some of the habits and practices that motivate me to do my best work throughout the rest of the day.

(A brief disclaimer: I try to do much of what follows on a daily basis, but I sometimes fail. And that’s ok! A great routine is about consistency and progress, not perfection. Test some of these strategies out, see what works for you, and if something doesn’t, move on.)


Establish a Morning Routine

The first few hours of your morning can be the most productive part of your day, but without a simple, disciplined routine to follow, they can easily become the most hectic. Establish a routine that reflects the day you want to have: a set procedure that eliminates distractions, gets you working faster, and starts your day on a positive note. Here are parts of my morning routine that you can incorporate, too:

  • Get up at the same time every day. (Don’t hit snooze! Set the alarm 15 minutes earlier if you must.)
  • Drink 1-2 glasses of water! (You’re dehydrated from your sleep cycle, so replenish your energy.)
  • Get moving! An easy morning stretch, a yoga practice, light weightlifting, or a jog will get your blood flowing and wake up your brain and body.
  • Read a few pages of a book, or practice a few moments of mindfulness to quiet your mind and focus your intentions for the day.
  • Grab a journal and write down your thoughts! Let your creativity flow with a free write, or simply list out your to-dos for the day.

Brace yourself for this next one, but try taking a cold shower. Just give it a try, I promise there are a bunch of benefits! Even if it’s just for a few seconds at the end of your hot shower, slowly turn the faucet colder until it’s cold enough to make you laugh, cry, and smile all at the same time.


Designate a Workspace

It doesn’t matter where you work. Whether you carve out a small corner of your kitchen table, have your own private office, or even a seat at your favorite coffee shop (in the best of times), what matters is the consistency and ease of accessing your workspace. A designated workspace eliminates extra time and effort of finding a new spot each day, and it’s an easy way to program your brain to enter work mode. Once you sit down in your designated space, your brain already knows it’s time to get started.

That said, a designated workspace won’t magically make your productivity flow. You need to create a space that works for you—one that you enjoy. Here are a few ways I organize my workspace that you can use for inspiration:

  • Keep your workspace clean and organized. This helps minimize distractions, and limits stress when you’re searching for something you need, like those earbuds buried underneath papers. Keep a clean workspace to keep yourself from wasting time with organization, when you could be working instead.
  • Make it fun! Surround yourself with things that make you smile, or remind you why you do what you do. Maybe it’s your family photos, flowers, the view out of your window, art pieces, or even your sleeping cat in the corner. Make it personal!
  • Claim your workspace! Let your family, housemates, or friends know that when you’re at your workspace, you’re working—not socializing. If you work best in a loud, buzzing environment, then by all means, work there. But if you need peace and quiet, isolate yourself.
  • Come up with a system that works for you (and others.) Maybe it’s a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging on a door near your space, scheduled quiet hours in the household, or a no-talking rule when you’re in your workspace. If you have kids at home, here’s a fun idea: break out the craft supplies and make your very own “traffic light” work signal.
    • Red = Do not disturb
    • Yellow = Knock first before interrupting
    • Green = Come on in, I’m available


Manage Your Time and Stay Focused

How you spend your workday is just as important as where you work. Remote work is great, but has its own challenges, especially when it comes to focus and tracking your time. Make the most of your time by finding a time tracking method that works for you. Whether it’s scratch paper or a digital app, there are proven methods to help you. Here are a few of my favorites that I’d recommend:

  1. The Time Blocking Method: This is a simple method of scheduling out your day in advance. Build in “active” blocks of time to focus on specific projects and tasks you need to complete, and “passive” blocks of time left open for calls, meeting, and checking email. (Try color coding your calendar blocks!) This helps map out your day with clear tasks and timeframes, and plan out your daily and weekly workloads on your calendar.
  2. The Most Important Task (MIT) Method: Instead of creating a long to-do list of every project and task, because they can run on forever, focus instead on the essentials by making a daily to-do list with only your most essential one, two, or three tasks. No more! Your rule should be to only move on to other work once you’ve completed your three MITs. This is an easy method to embrace using paper or sticky notes, To-Do list apps, or even a whiteboard. Here’s a list of great apps that could work well for you.
  3. The Pomodoro Technique: This is a simple time tracking technique that helps you break down large tasks into manageable intervals, each called a “Pomodoro” (Italian for “tomato.” More on that in a minute.) The technique involves organizing and tracking your time by 25-minute sprints of extreme productivity followed by a brief break of 5 minutes. That’s a Pomodoro. After you complete four Pomodoros, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes, then start the process all over again. The key here is to estimate how many Pomodoros your task will take, and to avoid interruptions during your sprint cycle. For this technique, all you need is a kitchen timer, preferably an old tomato twist timer, or one of the many Pomodoro apps.
  4. Gantt Charts: A Gantt chart helps you visualize a project’s overall scope, from estimated timelines to individual workloads, next steps and task owners. At Ripple Effect, we use Asana, a project management software with a wonderful Timeline view to map out projects, built on the classic Gantt chart view. Create your own Gantt chart or use an app to organize your workflow.


Reward Yourself!

This is the best part :). When you’ve accomplished a goal, completed a project, or hit a milestone, don’t forget to reward yourself. It might seem silly, but give yourself a little extra motivation by giving yourself something tangible to look forward to. Here are a few “light at the end of the tunnel” plans I use as motivation:

  • A mouth-watering snack. Sweet treats are especially sweet when you truly deserve them.
  • Scroll through my feeds. Social media tempts all of us, but it’s much healthier to earn the reward of scrolling, liking, and commenting.
  • Dance like nobody is watching. That’s right—if I’ve completed everything I need to, I’m going to put on my favorite song and celebrate my mini-victory. Highly recommend this.
  • Get up, stretch, and move. If you say, “I will complete my work by 5:30 and take the dog for a walk at 5:31,” you will be surprised at just how motivated you are to achieve that goal.


And that’s it!

Everyone has their own style, and no single technique or method is guaranteed to make you more productive. If I leave you with one piece of advice, it’s this: Take control! You’re not helpless when it comes to planning your work. A set routine, disciplined time management and tracking, and a well-deserved reward are all completely in your control. I hope this handful of techniques and methods is helpful, and inspires you to make remote work truly work for you.



Share your secrets!

What methods, techniques, and hacks do you use to stay productive while remote? (Or, what’s your favorite way to reward yourself for a job well done?) Leave a comment below!



Work Smarter. Perform Better.®

CMMI logo

Ripple Effect Communications, Inc.®

9600 Blackwell Rd., Suite 210,
Rockville, MD 20850