Now more than ever, people are finding themselves out of the office and working from home. And although many people – us included – were initially excited about that idea, most quickly found out that it presents its own unique set of challenges. To help you adjust to this new normal that we find ourselves in, we’ve put together this list of time management skills for remote workers that will help you minimize stress and stay productive.
Designing productive workspaces
While this isn’t directly related to time management, it will help lay the groundwork for all the other tips in this article. After all, it’ll be difficult to get work done when your environment is not conducive to productivity. This might be one of the most difficult things about working remotely, especially if you’re working from home. We’re creatures of habit, and most of us are simply not used to working in the same space that we relax in.
Natural light, an elevated laptop for the ergonomic, and the option to stand or sit on the stool make this an ideal remote workstation.
An external monitor for extra screen real estate and a clean, uncluttered desktop can both help you focus.
Last but not least, any desk can be a standing desk if you believe in yourself (and find creative ways to get your monitor to the right height.) Small side tables, stools, and even cardboard boxes can help get your monitor and keyboard to a comfortable height.
If you have space, try to set up a desk or table as a dedicated workspace. If it’s possible, this should be in a different area than your TV, couch, or the places where you normally kick back and relax. When working remotely, I’ve found that it’s very important to minimize distractions, and a dedicated workspace with minimal distractions is the first step toward managing your time effectively. Even if you can’t physically go into work, having separate, dedicated spaces for work and the rest of your life will make it easier to get into a productive frame of mind.
Making detailed schedules
Once you have your workspace set up, it’s key that you make a schedule for yourself. As much as we all like the idea of doing things at our own pace and making the most of our unstructured time, most of us discover pretty quickly that bosses set schedules for a reason. Just like good fences make good neighbors, good schedules make for good, productive work, and a good schedule is a full and detailed one (*cough* it helps to have a great calendar – sign up for a free Woven account here.)
Although it can be tempting to sleep in a bit and work into the evening, or rise and grind in the morning so you can take the afternoon off, it’s usually a good idea to keep the same schedule you did when you worked in an office. Even if it’s just making the leisurely commute from your living room to your kitchen table, this mental switch will make it easier to get down to work. And when lunch time or coffee is calling, do your best to get them around the same time every day so they don’t stretch into longer breaks. Consistency is key when it comes to creating and sticking to your own schedule when you work remotely.
At the risk of sounding like your mom, don’t forget to get dressed in the morning. There’s no need to dress up the same way you might if you were going into the office, but we’re trying to create routine signals that will help our brain know it’s time to get things done. While working in sweatpants and pajamas sounds like living the dream (and let’s be honest, we’ve all tried it once or twice) it ultimately holds back your productivity, because your brain isn’t in work mode. Getting dressed, even if it is just a t-shirt and jeans, will go a long way towards keeping you in a “work” frame of mind and help you get down to business.
Setting better goals (and beating them)
Once you have your schedule set, the next step is to set daily goals for yourself. This is one of the most difficult things to adjust to about working from home: you won’t be directly supervised, so it can be hard to stay focused when you don’t have your boss checking up on you every hour or so. To help offset this lack of management, we’ve found it’s critical to set daily goals for ourselves, then try to beat them. This will look different depending on your job and your responsibilities, but the general idea should apply to most roles.
There are a couple of different ways you can do this. While some people might find it helpful to simply aim to complete a certain set of tasks by the end of the day, we’ve found that it’s more useful to set smaller goals. For example, if you have four tasks to complete in a day, pick out two to finish before lunch and two to take on in the afternoon, then break them down into even smaller blocks that you think you can finish 30-60 minutes each. Some days are certainly better than others, but this system is a good way to stay on track and stay motivated. Breaking your day up into small, manageable chunks – and mapping them all out onto your calendar – makes it easier to get a lot done than sitting down at your desk and just starting at the top of your to-do list.
Check out our article on time blocking for a detailed guide on how to set your day up for success in Woven.
This is another situation where Woven can help you manage your time and get more done. Now that you’re (hopefully) putting all your tasks for the week onto your calendar, Woven has private tags so you can categorize each of your meetings and time blocks, without anyone else knowing. Then Woven’s analytics will automatically pull together a report that shows you how you spent your working hours and allows you to evaluate how you’re spending your time, and whether that matches up with your priorities.
Building your own accountability
On a similar note, setting up an accountability system with you and your coworkers is a great way to make sure you stay on task. This will kill two birds with one stone: keeping in touch with your coworkers will make you feel less isolated, but it will also keep you and your team on schedule. Of course, that will mean different things depending on how your team works. An office group chat, whether that’s on Skype, Slack, or another platform, is a good way to start accountability check-ins.
Keep in touch with your team members as a daily routine, or spit up into pairs as accountability buddies, to check in on each other’s progress on your respective tasks and offer support where it’s needed. Managing your time isn’t only about putting things on your schedule, it’s about getting enough things one. It can be hard to stay motivated when it’s just you working in your house or apartment, but combining daily goals with the knowledge that someone (other than your boss) is paying attention will make it much easier to stay on task and keep the ball rolling.
If you’d like to raise the stakes a little bit, you can always blackmail yourself. Yes, really! You’re going to want a trusted friend for this exercise, so you know they’ll help hold you accountable, but also follow through on their promise. The way the Blackmail technique works is to bet your friend a (painful) amount of money that you’ll owe them if you don’t complete the task you’re struggling with in a given amount of time. Some people take this a step further and promise to make donations to particularly distasteful or embarrassing causes. That might sound extreme, but you can bet you’ll be motivated if you’ve bet your rent on getting something done.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you want to be productive while working from home, it’s crucial that you minimize distractions while working. After all, every minute you spend watching that squirrel outside the window is a minute you aren’t spending on work. That can be a tall order with kids at home and everything going on in the world, so it’s worth taking the time to plan ahead.
As I mentioned earlier, our homes are where we keep most of our distractions, so it can be hard to shut them out from 9 to 5. The biggest distraction to fight, of course, is right in your pocket: your smartphone. It’s all too easy to say “Oh, I’ll just answer this one text…” or “Ooh, a Tweet!” and then lose the next half-hour to mindless scrolling. After all, both the phones and social apps were designed to distract. Apps like Freedom can be a huge help, by blocking certain apps and websites for the period of time you suggest, or even turning off the internet completely for a while. Check out our article on The Ten Best Productivity Apps for more tools to help you eliminate distractions.
Of course, it isn’t realistic to tell you to turn your phone off all day when you’re working. You need to be reachable for both your coworkers, as well as your friends & family, and chances are you didn’t have your phone off even when you were going into the office. Instead, I’ve found it useful to put my phone in another room, with the ringer loud enough for me to hear. That way, I can still be reached while I’m working in case of emergencies, but it isn’t as easy for me to just hop on my phone in the middle of a project. If you have to have your phone in the room for some reason, at least turn off your notifications or flip it upside down so you don’t have things flashing across the screen while you work.
Last but not least, practice focusing your attention. It’s fine to play hide-and-seek with your gadgets, but improving your ability to focus is where you’ll begin to see the best results and take control of your day. Nir Eyal’s new book Indistractable is an excellent resource for understanding why we get distracted and learning to better control it.
Planning your down time
Two of the biggest challenges with working remotely are staying focused without the social pressure of an office, and staying motivated without the camaraderie of a team. Having a plan for what you’re going to do after you’re finished for the day can help you with both, particularly if you plan something that you can look forward to at the end of the day. Of course nowadays there aren’t very many plans to be made, but simply having an idea of what you want to do after work can help your stay focused, power through the afternoon slump, and even give you a good reason to try to finish early, whether you’re looking forward to a workout, or ordering takeout and hitting the couch.
Additionally, planning for some you-time gives you a powerful tool to keep yourself on track. In the same way that some dieters use a “cheat day” to help them resist tempting treats during the week, setting aside some personal time after work gives you a way to compartmentalize distractions during the day. You can call it “Youtube Time” if you like.
What it really comes down to is clearly separating your work time from your time off. Sometimes when you work remotely, it can be just as difficult to flip the switch from “working” to “not working” as it is to lock-in every morning, but making a plan for what you’re doing after you get off work will help you feel like you’re really done for the day and rest up for tomorrow. After all, getting things done efficiently so you have time to rest up is time management too.
Taking responsibility for your productivity
Of course, all of these time-management strategies come with one crucial caveat – not everyone’s situation is the same, so each of these tips might not work the same for everybody. A big part of managing your time as a remote worker is taking the responsibility to learn what works best for you. Switching to working remotely can be a big adjustment, and millions of us were thrust into without much planning recently, so it took some time to get accustomed to our new workflows, but that’s the crucial point: it’s your workflow, so pick and choose from this list and figure out which skills help you manage your time best.
The biggest shift remote workers are discovering this year is that you don’t get brownie points anymore for showing up on time and having your butt in the seat. Until further notice, you’re getting paid for the quality of your work and the amount you get done, so it’s the perfect time to improve how you manage your time.
With that said, it might take a few weeks of experimenting to really get in the swing of things and discover which approaches work best for you, but as the old proverb says, “the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, but the second best time is today.” These time management skills will help you be a more effective remote worker and the best time to start is now.
Download the free version of Woven today and find out how a smarter calendar, with better scheduling, can help you manage your time and make remote work more productive than ever.