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Remote work

Time management tips for remote work

2020 was the year analog went digital.

And no, we aren’t talking about vinyl versus MP3.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced in-office teams around the world to fundamentally change the way they approached their working lives. Now, a morning commute means moving ten feet from your bed to your desk, collaboration is watching your teammate edit a Google Doc, and meetings are just a click away.

The future of work has been declared remote. Many companies, including Twitter, Dropbox, Facebook, and Slack have committed to keeping their workforces at home far beyond the pandemic. 

Working remote brings certain freedoms: you can wake up when you want, work when you feel like it, and even forget to brush your teeth until 4 pm (not recommended). 

Yet, there are certain focus features remote work is lacking. You might find yourself doing dishes while on a call, or overworking because of a lack of boundaries. Plus, staying on-task is difficult when you have a screaming kid in front of you. Or, if the city has decided to drill a giant hole outside your front window.

Even the most phenomenal multi-taskers are being impacted by the work and home collision. For some, this can amount to low productivity, poor time management, and even missed deadlines.

So, how can we stay productive at home and get the most out of our remote working lives?

Finding the right tricks and tips can make all the difference when readjusting your flow to suit a remote environment. Here are the top five time management techniques that will turn your home office into your favorite productivity zone. 

Simple time management techniques for remote work

  1. Keep a regular schedule

Of course, it’s tempting to sleep in until the absolute last minute, throw down a piece of toast, accompanied by yesterday’s stale coffee, and jump into your desk with moments to spare before your first meeting. 

Working from home means no commute, no outfit woes, and ultimately, no real schedule.

But, there are benefits to keeping a schedule. If you don’t keep regular working hours, then you’re always available for calls, Slack messages, and distractions. Likewise, if you have no set working hours, then you have no set breaking hours, and that is a quick way to burn yourself out.  Setting your office hours in Slack will help set expectations for response times and move you towards a steady routine.  

If you want to start taking your schedule seriously, start by waking up at the same time every day. Make sure to give yourself enough time to tackle your morning routine, whether that’s coffee -> shower -> desk, or bed -> bed -> desk, is really up to you. 

Next,  get dressed every day like you would for work. At least, give it a try. We can’t say we aren’t a business on top, pajamas on the bottom kind of squad, but it does feel good to start your day with a fresh, made-for-work look.

Ultimately, committing to a regular schedule helps you make better use of your time. It can also help you set those oh-so-important work-life boundaries that allow you to bring your best, most effective self to your projects.

  1. Make time for breaks

A Stanford study found remote workers take fewer sick days and holidays than their in-office counterparts. This is due, in part, to the flexibility home offices offer. However, all work and no play makes for a very burnt out employee. 

breaks scheduled in smart calendar

When we think about time management, we often think of productivity. We want to find ways to maximize our time so we can get more done, more quickly. The end goal of this pursuit should be making more time for ourselves, but often we end up only creating more space for work, and less time for relaxation and recovery.

Creating specific blocks of time for breaks is a great way to get some much-needed rest and set yourself up for success in the long run. You can choose to take multiple short breaks throughout the day, or you can schedule in your standard one-hour lunchtime, whatever works best for your habits. Make sure to snooze your Slack notifications leading up to your break time, so you aren’t tempted to jump onto a call or get lost in a complicated colleague query.  You can also schedule messages on Slack in case your break interferes with any important communications.

Even though the home office might at first seem like a haven, over-work can turn it into a  prison. Always remember, it’s a home first, and an office second.

  1. Reduce distractions

The great benefit of offices has always been the positive peer pressure factor. Researchers at The Institute for the Study of Labour found that when we’re surrounded by other people who are focused on their work, we tend to feel more focused ourselves. 

In this day and age, it’s impossible to be completely free from distractions. From your phone pinging Facebook notifications to your teammates not knowing the difference between @channel and @here, there are a million things out there just waiting to break your focus. Add in the quiet, shameless glory of an isolated home office, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a wasted day.

illustration of remote worker being distracted by phone

To reduce these distractions and get the most out of your working hours, try blocking your notifications or leaving your phone on do not disturb. You can also mute Slack channels to help reduce the chances of getting sucked into  #random discussions. 

It’s also important to be picky about your meetings. Although meetings can be a great way to check-in with your teammates, they can also eat up a lot of time in your day. Communicate with your colleagues about which meetings are necessary and which are optional. Minimizing your meetings can help you stay focused for longer and is a great way to set working boundaries.

  1. Optimize your workflow

The best way to stay productive is to stay efficient. Technology has created thousands of options for optimizing your workflow and, although not every solution works for every person, it’s a good idea to do some digging and find out if there’s a better way to do what you do.

One term that has become more and more popular since the world shifted to remote work is deep work. Deep work is simply the ability to focus on one task at a time without being distracted. Seems simple, right? But if you’ve ever tried to focus on a demanding project all while your kids scream at you, your phone rings off the hook, and your dog whimpers at your feet, you’ll know it’s not an easy turn-on, turn-off solution.

The best way to achieve a deep work state is to optimize your workflow. You can do this by using a smart calendar that allows you to change your Slack status to reflect your current state (focusing, collaborating, exercising, lunch) and lets you create rules around scheduling conflicts and meetings (eg. No two meetings back to back, or one hour of relaxation time every day).

It’s also important to understand how you work. Some people like to crush four hours of focus and then take a long break. Others benefit better from short, consistent working spurts, like in a Pomodoro Timer scenario. Whatever your method, figure it out and stick to it. The best way to optimize your workflow is to understand how you work best. 

  1. Make time to check in with your team

Although remote work has many benefits, it can be hard to stay connected with your team.

Collaboration, communication, and general office chit chat just aren’t the same when you’re not in the same room as the people you work with.

Yet, fifty years of happiness research has shown us that human connection is essential, not only to our sense of joy but to our sense of being.

Taking time to talk to your teammates can be a helpful tool when you reach a blocker, or when you need to take a much-needed break after working through a tough problem. What’s more, it helps you see the humanity in your teammates and feel compassion for their lives. 

Human connection takes us beyond the screen and back into reality, where we are all just people, doing the best we can.

Getting the most out of your time management techniques

Personal time management is a unique skill and one that doesn’t always come easily. Working in offices stunted the need for this on an individual level, as most time and project management was accounted for by the company. 

At home, things look a little different. It’s normal to find yourself distracted, confused, and even exhausted by this change. But, like any good thing, it takes time to adapt. Don’t beat yourself up - we’ll get there. 

Effective time management starts with understanding yourself and how you work. If you can figure out what drives your motivation (and what doesn’t) then you have a better chance at making improvements where they’re needed.

You also need to set yourself up for success. That means getting up, getting in gear, and getting it done. Small shifts in your daily routine, such as waking up at a specific time or organizing your desk in a way that feels comfortable, can help you create steady, healthy, and efficient working habits.

Going remote has been a blessing for some and a curse for others. Yet, even if offices open back up and we find some semblance of normal in the coming years, time management is a fashion that never goes out of style.

The biggest takeaways? Know yourself, know your limits, and know when you need a break.

Don’t feel bad about taking care of yourself, because you’re the most important part of your working day.

Looking for more ways to improve your time management skills? Check out some of our latest features and see how Holopod can help you take back control of your workday.