7 Tips to Stay Productive When Working Remotely (+ 20 Free Productivity Apps)

Ines Alvergne • Apr 03, 2020


At first glance, working from home might sound great. You can start your day in sweatpants, scrolling through emails while eating a giant bowl of cereal. And best of it all, you don’t have to spend countless hours commuting to the office. 

But for many of us, it can quickly turn into a productivity challenge. 

First, the weight of the digital haze keeps distracting you from doing important tasks. Plus, if you live with your family, juggling important meetings while taking care of your children is a real struggle. 

Thankfully, there are simple habits and productivity hacks you can cultivate to make the most out of your days working from home. And there are countless applications to support you through this journey. 

By following these tips, you can remain focused and effective at work, and maybe even enjoy yourself a little bit. 

How to Stay Productive at Home

1. Create a work environment you like

To excel at working from home, you need to make your home desk feel like your work desk. 

Find a surface space, clean it, and gather the tools you usually need at work: a stack of post-it notes, a few pencils, your favorite coffee mug, etc.  

And because you are at home, you can enjoy extra little things that make you feel comfortable – houseplants, fresh flowers, candles, or just the presence of your cat. Personally, I always work with an oil diffuser by my side to keep the environment calming and inspiring. 

Lastly, making sure you keep your posture in check can go a long way. Of course, you might not have the extra comfy chair you would normally have at work, but there are simple hacks you can use to make yourself comfortable.

For instance, if you don’t have a desktop computer at home, try to set up your laptop on a stack of books and use an external keyboard and mouse. That way, you’re looking straight at your screen, reducing the pressure on your neck.

2. Start your day with intention 

Do you start your day by scrolling through emails and social media on your phone? 

Don’t worry – you’re not alone. 80% of smartphone users check their mobile devices within 15 minutes of waking up each morning. 

According to psychologists, this habit impairs cognitive abilities – like memory and attention – that we need to stay productive. 

There is a simple thing you can do to break this bad habit: starting your day with intention. This means taking a few minutes, every morning, to choose your main focus of the day and what you want to accomplish. 

Taking responsibility for how you start your day could radically improve both your productivity and your wellbeing. 

3. Plan your day 

Now that you’ve set an intention, you’re ready to get started. 

First things first, pretend you are “going to work”. Whatever your habits are, pretending you are getting prepared to go to the office will put you in the right mindset to get things done. 

What’s next, you need a plan and a schedule. While it’s important to establish a start time for getting to work, you also need to decide when to clock out and when to take a lunch break. 

This will motivate you to get things done, and help you keep work and home separate – thus avoiding working long hours into the night.

Once you “get to work”, you can review your to-do list and mark your tasks of the day. Make sure you communicate with your team about your working hours and your daily tasks. This will ensure everyone is on the same page. 

4. Keep work and home separate 

When home becomes your office, you get easily distracted – first, by yourself, but also by other human beings, whether online or offline. 

If you live with family, kids, or roommates, you need to define your workspace by clearly communicating expectations. If you can’t dedicate a room for work, make sure you set up a quiet environment during working hours. 

If you are your own worst distraction, make sure to clear your online and physical space from time wasters. It might sound simple, but logging out of social media can go a long way in maintaining your focus on important tasks. Also try to save household chores for break times. Trust me, these dirty windows don’t need to get wiped RIGHT NOW. 

5. Maintain your mental health 

When working from home, you can easily burn out. 

For some of us, it might be harder to set the right limit between work and time for self-care. And staying away from the office means missing out on a casual coffee break with your favorite coworkers. 

Make sure you take breaks to make space for yourself and maintain social connections. 

Make it a point to get some fresh air when possible. A 15-minute walk or a quick run greatly encourages the flow of ideas. Call a friend or take fun breaks with your coworkers. For instance, at Keela, we set up a weekly break to play a drawing and guessing game online

6. Use technology to check-in with your team 

The rise of instant messaging applications and video conferencing platforms make it easier than ever to stay connected with your team. 

Combining tools like Slack, Zoom, and Keela helps you keep track of how your work is contributing to the big picture. For instance: 

  • Use Slack for daily check-ins with your manager
  • Use Zoom for virtual meetings with your team
  • Use Keela to keep track of your projects and related tasks all in one place

7. Know what works best for you 

There is no big secret to working efficiently from home. What works for you might not work for everyone. 

Do you feel you should only take calls in the afternoon to be able to do quality work in the morning? Let people know you won’t take calls before noon. 

Does listening to Beyonce motivate you to go through your emails? Make it a habit. 

It might take time to get it right, but once you identify what keeps you focused and what distracts you, you will excel at working from home. And the best of all, there are plenty of applications you can use to make it work. 

Top 20 free applications to help you work from home 

Stay focused on what really matters

1. Forest app 

Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique? Maybe. But did you know that you can grow a – real! – forest while focusing on your work?

Forest allows you to plant a seed that you’ll watch gradually grow into a tree when you stay focused on your tasks. If you leave the app to check your Facebook feed or answer a text message, the plant will die and you’ll have to start over again. 

Not only is it a beautiful way of managing time, but users can also earn credits by planting real trees around the world.

2. Harvest 

Harvest is an online time tracking software. 

It lets you track the time spent on each project or individual tasks. It then creates visual reports that make it easy to see what you and your team have been working on. 

When you know how you spend your time, you can make smarter decision to organize your workload. 

3. Noisli 

Music can do wonders to cultivate a focused mind.

Noisli allows you to mix different background sounds to create the perfect environment for productivity or relaxation.

My favorite combination? Rain + Thunderstorm + Leaves + Jazz music. 

4. Momentum 

This is one of my favorite tools. It’s simple and it greatly improved my digital experience. 

Momentum is a chrome extension that replaces a new tab page with inspiring photos and focus goals. It’s a great tool to set up a daily intention while boosting motivation and creativity. 

5. Headspace 

Headspace is a very popular application whose goal is to make meditation accessible to everyone. 

And if you’ve never meditated before, don’t worry. In fact, Headspace was mainly created for those you’ve never practiced mindfulness before. 

The application offers guided meditations to cultivate presence and reduce stress. Plus, users can set reminders to get notified every day about your practice. 

6. Done 

Done is a habit tracker.

“What is a habit tracker?” you may ask. 

It helps you set goals and track progress towards adopting healthier routines. It turns out that seeing your progress and not wanting to break the number of days in a row you’ve done something good for you is a strong motivation in itself. 

So, with Done, you can track your habits with a beautiful, clean interface and a great rewarding system. 

Break free from digital distractions 

7. Screentime Genie

Screentime Genie is a friendly chatbot created by a group of students from the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University.

You just need to answer a few questions about your goals and motivations, and the Genie will offer some suggestions to help you reduce screen time and create healthier habits. 

8. Siempo 

With Siempo, everyone can build a healthy relationship with technology. 

The application includes different features to reduce digital distractions. 

For instance, you can set up the Enlightened Home Screen to replace your regular phone home screen with a calmer, less distracting interface. 

The Notification Tempo feature allows you to program notifications to be received at set intervals – on the half-hour, top of the hour, or once a day – so you don’t get interrupted when doing important work. 

9. Stay Focusd

Stay Focusd is a chrome extension that helps you stay focused on work by restricting the amount of time you spend on time-wasting websites.

It’s simple. Once your allotted time has been used up, the sites or pages you’ve blocked will be inaccessible for the rest of the day. 

10. News Feed Eradicator for Facebook  

Our last tool recommendations to avoid distractions is not the least of it. 

With this chrome extension you can replace your entire news feed with an inspiring quote.

If you spend too much time scrolling through social media, or if you simply can’t take more of the updates about a virus spreading over the world, this is the tool you need. 

Stay on top of everything 

11. Unroll.me

Is your inbox out of control with hundreds of newsletter and product promotions you don’t really care about?

This tool will change your life. 

Unroll.me shows you a list of all of your subscription emails. Then, you can either unsubscribe from what you don’t want to receive or roll the emails up into a single digest email. 

12. Boomerang

This is another tool to help you manage your emails.

Boomerang allows users to schedule emails to be sent or returned at a later date. 

You can write a message now and send it when it makes most sense, even if you’re not online. You can also schedule reminders directly inside Gmail. A lifesaver! 

13. Calendly 

Calendly is an easy-to-use, but powerful scheduling software. 

It allows anyone to book a one-on-one time directly into your calendar. 

The functioning is quite simple. First, you set up your availability preferences. Then, you share your schedule link via email. Finally, your contacts can pick a time and the event is added to your calendar. 

See? Meetings from home made easier. 

14. Pocket 

Found a great guide about AI for nonprofits but don’t have time to read it? Put it in Pocket. 

Pocket is a chrome extension that allows you to save an article or a video you find interesting but you want to view later. On top of that, you can easily tag what you save, making it easy to categorize your favorite reads.  

15. Habitica 

Habitica is a fun application to gamify your to-do list. 

After building your character from scratch, you can navigate an interactive screen displaying habits, daily tasks, to-dos, and rewards. Whenever you complete items on your list, you receive some in-game currency, experience, and skills. A great motivational boost to get through your daily to-dos. 

Stay connected with your teammates 

16. Slack 

At Keela, we love Slack. It’s our favorite tool to check in on each other and share fun updates about our lives. 

Slack is your best choice if you need real-time, instantaneous online communication. 

You can create as many channels as you want and tag respective team members to keep everyone in the loop. For specific conversations, you can also create private channels and do voice or video calls with your teammates. 

17. Zoom 

Zoom is a must-have for remote teams. 

Not only you can use the tools for virtual meetings, but also for online conferences and professional webinars. 

The application includes lots of great collaborating features like screen sharing and whiteboarding. Plus, you can customize your background to disguise your messy remote 

18. Google Hangouts 

If you’re not a Zoom adept, Google Hangouts will do the job.

The interface is pretty basic but it has all the collaboration features you’ll need to conduct productive meetings. And if you don’t have your computer on hand, you can call in from your phone for no additional fee. 

19. Trello 

Trello is one of the most popular productivity apps for task management.

It’s easy to use, and fairly customizable. With Trello, you can see current and future tasks while collaborating with your team. The boards are shareable and the workflow visualization makes it easy to track your team performance. 

20. Mind Meister

This is a great tool to ideate and keep track of thought processes. 

Mind Meister is a mind mapping tool that allows users to structure ideas in the form of slides and share with team members for brainstorming. You can invite team members to collaborate by commenting and voting on your ideas. A must-have for planning meetings! 


What’s your favorite productivity tool? Let us know in the comments below!