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Time Management

Common question covered here
How do I manage my time while working from home?

The individuals who worked at home successfully were found to be highly self-motivated and self-disciplined and to have skills which provided them with bargaining power. Employees demonstrated self-discipline by tending to work in a very strict routine; they worked in the same place every day and tended to have relatively structured hours.Margrethe H. Olson, researcher, “Remote Office Work: Changing Work Patterns in Space and Time”*

A good routine is an important habit to develop as a remote worker. The benefits of managing your time properly include:

Setting and Keeping a Daily Routine

If you want to get the most out of your working hours, we recommend:

  • Having a consistent morning (or getting started) routine. While it doesn’t work for everyone (and may not apply to many digital nomads), many remote workers feel more prepared and ready for a work day by waking up at the same time each day, having a morning routine of some sort (getting the family out the door, a quick walk with the dog, grabbing a coffee) and being at their desk at a fairly predictable time for them.

  • Sharing your availability with your team. This is especially critical if you don’t have as consistent a schedule, or have non-work things that will take up your time during the day. Many teams use Slack or other chat channels for this. (See more in Availability Protocols.)

  • Planning your day. We recommend looking at your schedule at the end of each day (or first thing when you get started) and blocking time for important tasks during the day.

  • Building some flexibility into your schedule. If you’ve scheduled everything down to 15-minute increments, you won’t have time for anything unexpected that might come up.

  • Taking regular breaks. You can build these into your calendar as well, or use a technique like Pomodoro to make sure you step away from the computer.

  • Planning when to stop working. Disconnecting at the end of the day is a big challenge for people working outside an office. Along with having a set time when you’ll stop working, it’s best to turn off notifications for tasks, messages, emails, and similar when you finish work for the day.

story“Giving my day a conscious structure for when I work and when I don’t, has been vital. For the first year after my daughter was born, I did not get anything done. Then, my wife and I decided to split the days: Monday and Thursday are my work days, Tuesday and Friday are hers. Wednesday we alternate. The non-work days are the one we are responsible for the kids. I still work then, but I know that I have to pick them up from school, make lunch, and be there if they need me in the afternoon.” —Stephan Dohrn, remote working expert and coach*

Knowing when to stop means having the self-discipline to keep more regular work hours, being sure you’re on track with your team’s goals, and that you’re delivering on what you’re responsible for. As Rodolphe Dutel of Remotive.io puts it, “‘Am I doing enough?’ is one of the questions that keeps remote workers up at night. The key to getting on top of this concern is asking your supervisors for feedback and keeping them informed of what you’re doing.”*

Working Across Time Zones

If you’re working as a truly distributed team, either across a large country or globally, you’re going to hit issues with time zones and team-member availability. This can create delays with responses and getting work done. Ideally your team has an established set of protocols for dealing with time zone differences, but if not, here are a few things you can do individually:

  • Talking to colleagues in other time zones about their turnaround times and how they want you to communicate with them.

  • Display your availability in your email signature, Slack status, and other channels or tools.

  • Making sure you’re not working unusually long hours due to meeting commitments set by people in other time zones.

  • Using asynchronous communications tools, so people don’t have to be online outside their local working hours.

  • Ensuring you’re on track with your work towards the team’s goals, and letting the team and your manager know if anything is starting to stray off track.

  • Taking advantage of time-zone calculators and apps to figure out when others will be available.

Another area you may need to consider is national holidays in other countries. Other people may not be available on days that you don’t have off, and being required to work when everyone else is away can impact collaboration and amplify feelings of loneliness. You’ll also likely want to be sure your company recognizes the specific holidays and breaks of the country you live in.

Further Reading on Time Management

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Productivity

Let me be clear that autonomy does not mean doing less; it means the freedom of doing things in a better, more optimized way.Steph Smith, Integral Labs*

Like so many other aspects of remote work, you will find yourself needing to manage almost every aspect of your productivity yourself. That’s not a bad thing per se—a small set of studies have shown that remote workers actually contribute between 1.5 and 4 days a month in extra individual productivity, compared to traditional office workers.* Given that remote work is increasingly measured via outcomes instead of time working, productivity is make-or-break for a remote worker.

Here are some suggestions for maximizing your productivity when you work from home:

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