Thrivner ThoughtCast | How to Stay on Top of Tasks (When Working Remotely)


Purpose: To create a task management guide for hybrid and remote workers in the mid-and post-pandemic era.

The past year has been full of stress, anxiety, and unwelcome changes to the way we work and live. The global COVID-19 pandemic forced working remotely and telecommuting into overnight operational standards. Offices, restaurants, malls, gyms, schools, airports, sporting events, and entertainment venues went silent. Homes and apartments turned into isolated confines or hives of activities: one corner an office, another a work-out space, another a classroom, and some a quarantine area. In our virtual worlds, kids and pets made unannounced guest appearances during business meetings, and sweatpants replaced business suits. 

It has been a long winter, but spring has finally arrived along with the vaccine rollout offering good news and the hope of life returning to “normal.” As people look forward to resuming pre-pandemic traditions and activities, one segment of the world will not be returning to business-as-usual at the office. Although working remotely became the default method as COVID-19 spread swiftly throughout the country, it has just as quickly become the preferred method of many office workers. There are definite advantages to working remotely but the greatest challenge is staying on top of tasks and producing excellent work.

When you are in your personal space and not in your usual professional setting, distractions are more likely to disrupt your productivity. As chores (dirty dishes in the sink), children (asking if it is snack time), pets (dogs barking at UPS delivery), and partners (asking questions from another room) vie for your attention, you are likely to lose your train of thought multiple times a day. Adding in the cabin fever you are undoubtedly experiencing or the new Netflix series you HAVE to watch, how can you regain and retain the focus needed to accomplish the work that not only needs to get done but done well? By making a few minor revisions, you will be on your way to staying motivated, focused, and sane in creating a workplace and home life balance from the (solitary or chaotic) comfort of your own dwelling.

Your Space

How you physically surround yourself influences your behavior and frame of mind.

    • Create a permanent stress-free area where you can truly focus and concentrate. Regularly go to the same dedicated space, so your mind subconsciously associates the space with work. 
    • Choose a room with a door that can close (maybe not the bathroom) or space away from the main traffic area.
    • Anticipate and manage distractions. Stay off social media, suppress electronic notifications, and limit personal interruptions and intrusions during at-home working hours. Your physical location may have changed, but you still need the same level of privacy and concentration afforded you at the office.  
    • Listen to music. Studies show that a delicate blend of soft music combined with soothing nature sounds—such as waterfalls, raindrops, a rushing brook, or ocean waves—activates the calming part of your brain, helps you concentrate, and lowers heart rate and blood pressure.1 However, if loud music blaring gets your creativity flowing, then go for it.
    •  Add some green. Introduce some cheer and brighten your workspace with a  houseplant.
    • Do the best you can. Do not let your confined circumstances minimize your productivity, tranquility, and happiness. A positive attitude combined with your personal style can make you feel empowered and authentic.

Your Tools

Invest in comfortable furniture and quality equipment.

    • Furniture
      • Desk or table, ergonomic chair, bookshelves or cabinets, lockable file cabinet, window shades
    • Electronics
      • Computer, keyboard, monitor, tablet, phone, cords, chargers, mouse, printer
      • Lighting, extension cords, shredder
      • Software virus protection, security
      • Internet connection
        • Check availability, speed, and strength
        • Wireless router
      • Accessories
        • Use earbuds or headphones to block out excessive and ambient noise. Choose devices that provide comfortable day-in and day-out wear, deliver clear voice pick-up, and offer multiple connectivity options.
        • Office supplies (e.g., post-it notes, paper clips, mouse pad, pens, copy paper, envelopes, stamps, etc.)
      • Communication 
        • Virtual meeting platforms – “hallmark of remote work.”
        • e.g., Zoom, Skype, Google Meet 
      • Project management software or apps.
        • e.g., Basecamp, Trello, Monday

Win the Day

    • Arrange a morning routine and adhere to it.
      • Set your alarm, and do not hit snooze more than twice. Consider changing the alarm sound to a motivational, inspirational, or favorite song.
    • Do not start your workday in pajamas.
      • Wearing pj’s may be one perk of working from home, but it can kill productivity if it turns into a regular habit. Have breakfast, take a shower, and get “camera-ready” dressed to mentally and physically be ready to work.
    • Discover your high productivity periods.
      • Use your “prime time” to tackle your high-value tasks. One of the advantages of working from home is deciding what times work best for you. Early bird or night owl?
    • Determine specific work hours.
      • Setting regular work hours keeps you accountable to yourself and your boss. When you stick to your schedule, it makes it more likely to get all your work done and makes it easier for your colleagues and manager to get in touch with you.
    • Begin your workday by taking five minutes to review the plan of action you outlined from the previous day, make any necessary adjustments, and dive in. This habit will make the rest of your day much more intentional and productive.
    • Keep a realistic, structured schedule.
      • Plan time for routine work activity, essential tasks, and “the unexpected.”  
      • Avoid taking on more than you can handle.
      • A regular schedule brings a sense of stability, calmness, and normalcy to your mind.Using a paper or digital planner helps keep your projects, tasks, lists, meetings, deadlines, and schedule organized and easily accessible with daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly entries.
    • Stay organized.
      • Keep some semblance of order with your projects and tasks to ensure nothing gets misplaced or lost (which could increase your stress level). It does not matter what it looks like as long as you understand your system and it works.
    • Make use of tech options.
      • Sort projects into files and folders.
      • Scan items and cut down on hard copy storage. 
      • Sign up for a cloud storage service to back up documents.
    • End your workday by developing a plan of action for the next day with a prioritized list of tasks and goals. This action will help adjust your mind to closing the workday and transition to your personal life without nagging worries about your job to-do list.

Rule of Three Wins 2

  1. “What three wins do you want to accomplish today that would make for a good day’s work?” (Create a list of tasks that you would like to accomplish for the day. Prioritize the three most important tasks that need your focused  time, energy, and attention.)
  2. Say your tasks out loud and write the three wins down. (Verbalizing tasks gives you a sense of what is important or what is not. Writing the three wins helps to cement the tasks in your mind and intentionally guide you throughout the day.)
  3. Record and examine your results (Paying attention to your results will help improve estimating how long a task will take for completion or if you need to break a larger task down into smaller sections. )
  4. Feel good about your results. (Take note of your accomplishments at the end of the day. Physically crossing off your three wins is exceptionally satisfying.)

Note: Consult regularly with your manager and team to assess the level of priority for project assignments.

Apply the Rule of Three Wins to your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.

Healthy Work Habits

    • Breaks 
      • Our brains can only handle a certain mental load before it starts to slow down and seek relief, particularly when performing mentally draining work. Take frequent short breaks between blocks of focused work to increase concentration levels while reducing fatigue.
    • Set psychological boundaries: fight the urge against giving in to temptations (“Is there ice cream in the freezer?”), and completing unfinished personal tasks (“Did I fold the laundry?”). Compartmentalize to avoid “work creep,” allowing work thoughts to creep in during your personal time. Guide conversations away from work during personal time to give your brain a well-deserved break.
    • Set physical boundaries: establish your designated workspace as an off-limits area to others unless your attention is needed briefly or there is an emergency. Inhabit your designated workspace only when working (as if you actually had two physically distant spaces).
    • Seek feedback. 
      • Communicate regularly with your colleagues and manager to assess your work’s quality, consistency, and performance expectations.
    • Emails
      • Process your mail once a day and respond, archive, save for later, or delete immediately.
    • Team relationships
      • Make an effort to connect beyond the business relationship to share life stories. Check-in with colleagues frequently through video or phone communications. Assume positive intent when corresponding via email or text since tone can not be perceived correctly.

The Pomodoro Technique 3

A productivity method for staying focused and mentally fresh

  1. Get your to-do list and a timer.
  2. Set the timer for a 25-minute session (no longer than 60 minutes) and focus on a single task until the timer rings.
  3. When the session ends, cross the task off your to-do list. (If the task is incomplete, schedule another session for it.)
  4. Enjoy a five-minute break.
  5. After four sessions, take an extended, more restorative 15-30 minute break.

Note: Keep pen and paper handy to jot down any lateral thoughts that come to you during your session that have the potential to interfere with your intended focus.

    This technique works for both perfectionists and procrastinators.

Mental Health4

Pat yourself on the back just for showing up each day. How you cope with life and manage stress directly results from how much you nurture your mental health. 

    • Thought habits
      • Take time to analyze how you process information. 
      • Challenge negative thoughts.
      • Take small steps to retrain your thinking habits with a shift towards focusing on the positive. 
      • Develop a mighty mantra. You create the reality in which you exist via the thoughts, habits, and actions you repeat over and over again.
      • Acknowledge the things you can not control and change the things you can control.
      • Accept your mistakes. Every mistake is a learning opportunity.
      • Ask yourself: “Does this really matter for my future?” This question can make problems or challenges seem smaller and give you the peace you need to maintain your positive mindset.
    • Self-care: A healthy body is essential for a healthy mind. 
      • Diet: Eat healthy meals and snacks and stay hydrated.
      • Exercise: Schedule fitness in your daily routine, even if it is only a 15 minute morning stretch. 
      • Sleep: A good night’s sleep allows your body and mind to recharge. 
      • Note: Neglect in any of these areas result in irritability, lethargy, and increased stress.
    • Mood-boosting activities
      • Engage in hobbies: movies, reading, cooking, gardening, puzzling, solitaire, knitting, drawing, etc. 
      • Cuddle with your pet: Pets offer unconditional affection and companionship. Interacting with your pet releases “feel good” hormones that positively affect your overall health and, in particular, your general level of happiness. 
      • Care for your plants: Plants not only add life and a “zen” quality to a room, but they are also credited for easing anxiety symptoms, lowering blood pressure, and cleaning the air of carbon dioxide toxins.
      • Step outside or open a window: Mounting research shows that spending time in nature lowers stress, helps you relax, and clears your mind.5
      • Practice meditation, yoga, journaling, or prayer. 
      • Create a vision board. An actual or virtual “dream” board is your unique design to bring to life anything that motivates or inspires you. The collective imagery defines the specific intentions and goals you want in your life to allow growth, transformation, and joy.
      • Laugh.
    • Practice gratitude. Look for the good things in your life. Savor, absorb and pay close attention to those good things. The physical benefits include lowering stress levels, improving sleep, and acting as a natural antidepressant. The mental benefits include building self-esteem and compassion, strengthening resilience, and improving decision-making processes.  
    • Surround yourself with positive people. Distance yourself from toxic people and continuous complainers. Make video dates with family, friends, and people you care about, especially those that can elevate your mood.
    • Create a reward system. Break down big goals into less intimidating milestones. Treat yourself whenever you reach a milestone, as long as the reward does not sabotage your efforts in reaching your goal (e.g., instead of a regular coffee at home, reward yourself with a fancy coffee from a café).
    • Virtual fatigue. Although not a formal diagnosis, virtual fatigue is an actual condition of feeling apathetic and exhausted, resulting in reduced work performance due to video conferencing communication’s increased cognitive demands. When possible, pass on select meetings or if it is not mandatory, turn off your video.

Note: This past year has been filled with varying degrees of loss, but this dark period’s dawn is approaching. Everyone experiences bad days or “feeling blue”, but if you or a loved one are overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety or depression, please reach out and seek professional care.  

 “When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” 

Tuli Kupferberg

In just one year, the world has undergone unprecedented changes, leading to a challenging series of adjustments. Now is the time to critically evaluate the remote working routines you established this past year to determine if working remotely is working for you. In the end, if you choose to continue working from home, you have to do what is wise and reasonable in staying on top of the tasks that will keep you on track toward achieving your work and life goals.

“The world witnessed a historic shift in the 2020 job market due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While some companies used to offer the ability to work from home as a perk, it has now become the norm for most businesses. By 2025, an estimated 70% of the workforce will be working remotely at least five days a month.” 6

Gradually, cheering crowds will fill sports stadiums, theatre marquees will glow, graduation invitations will be mailed, and conferences and family reunions will be attended, but remote working is here to stay. 


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  2. Director of Innovation at Microsoft | Digital Transformation | Change Leadership | Agile Program ManagementLike79Comment5ShareLinkedInFacebookTwitter0, J. (2019, September 09). How to use the rule of three to master productivity. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from,chaotic%20things%20are%20around%20you
  3. Scroggs, L. (n.d.). The pomodoro technique – why it works & how to do it. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from
  4. Positive thinking in the workplace: Benefits and tips. (2019, December 12). Retrieved March 23, 2021, from,clearly%20to%20improve%20your%20focus
  5. Robinson, B., Ph.D. (2020, May 09). 9 tips to be productive when working at home During COVID-19. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from
  6. Castrillon, C. (2021, January 11). This is the future of remote work in 2021. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from