4 secrets to being productive no matter what your schedule

Elle Kaplan, Contributor
Courtney Keating | Getty Images

A flexible schedule — sounds easy, right? When you work on your own hours, as opposed to a fixed hourly schedule, a certain number of daily work difficulties are kept to a minimum.

However, you may not initially realize that with greater flexibility comes a higher likelihood of distraction and an even greater need for discipline. It is not always as easy as it seems to get work done under these circumstances.

Flexibility requires you to manage yourself well. You must remember to set and meet your own deadlines and to hold yourself accountable, since no one else will.

In a flexible work environment, how do you succeed?

1. Maintain a daily routine

Humans are naturally creatures of habit — we like regular, easily recognizable patterns. Familiarity is comforting and allows you set a daily rhythm. Start off your day with a consistent pattern and routine, even if your work duties vary throughout the week. Forming and maintaining a solid daily routine is the foundation of your productivity and sets you up for long-term success.

According to psychologist Wendy Wood, "We find patterns of behavior that allow us to reach goals."

For example, if the first thing you do every morning is to check and respond to all of your e-mails, you can make it your morning goal to finish doing that — and possibly more — before lunch. Allot time for each task and allow it to dictate how you do your work. This is a first step to setting your own deadlines.

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2. Respect the workday

Even with a varying schedule, you should still treat each day like any other structured work day. In the morning, get out of bed and get ready for your day as you would any other. If you usually shower before you go to work, make sure to continue to do so. By ensuring you are dressed for the office or your typical workspace, you let your brain know that your work day has begun.

Studies show that being properly dressed for your day can make all the difference, as it enhances your cognitive processing. Seemingly small habits like these reinforce the right mindset.

Also, just as you would leave a conventional work space at the end of the day, you should know when to put your work down when you are on a flexible schedule. When you're working remotely, particularly if you are self-employed, it can be hard to know when to stop working. You may get so carried away with your tasks that they interfere or overflow into your personal life. If you catch yourself having trouble with this, set a daily alarm on your phone. Once the alarm goes off, wrap up what you're doing within the next few minutes and leave the rest for tomorrow.

3. Communicate 

As expected, when you work on a flexible schedule, you see your boss, employees and co-workers less frequently, but your physical presence doesn't have to affect your productivity.

To compensate for the lack of in-person discussion with others, you should maintain regular communication. Phone calls, e-mails, or texts with regular updates will help immensely to keep everyone on the same page. Your boss and co-workers will know that you haven't spent your hours on Netflix. They will also find out what you have and have not gotten to yet, which is key to avoiding redundancy and inefficiency.

Should an emergency arise, make sure to inform the relevant parties ahead of time, just as you would in person. Even if they do not need to contact you during your time away, that knowledge will help to establish trust.

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4. Remember your goals

When working on your own schedule without fixed hours, it's easy to procrastinate and feel as though you can do everything later. If you catch yourself thinking, "Why don't I do this over the weekend instead?" remind yourself of why you chose a flexible schedule and know the consequences if you don't meet expectations.

Procrastination at work always has long-term consequences. The Procrastination Research Group calls putting work off until later "self-defeating behavior" and studies show that about 90 percent of us do it at least once a day. The level of discipline needed to set your deadlines and stick to them will require you to honestly evaluate how you want to spend your time in both your personal and work lives.

It won't always be easy but learning to make these judgment calls, as well as figuring out and implementing the right approach, will be well worth your time.

Elle Kaplan is the founder and CEO of LexION Capital, a fiduciary wealth management firm in New York City serving high-net-worth individuals. She is also the Chief Investment Officer at LexION Alpha, her systematic hedge fund. It is one of the only women-owned and run hedge funds in the nation.

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