You’ve packed in the nine to five rat race, and you’re ready to embrace the refreshing flexibility of working remotely. Great! But are you really prepared for all the discipline and self-management that entails?
Remote work sounds great, but the daily reality can be pretty challenging. You have a mass of unstructured time stretching ahead of you, and you are 100% accountable for how you use it. No one else is around to tell you what to do or where to steer your focus.
So, you need to set a winning structure pretty quickly – one that works to your own individual strengths and productive habits. While you probably won’t get it right the first time around, these six time management tips for remote workers are a great way to get started.
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1. Know how you use your time
You can’t get more from your time without knowing how you spend it in the first place, so you’ll want to invest in a good time tracking tool. Tracking your time isn’t just useful for measuring your progress – it also helps you set boundaries, see where you waste time and make sure your work patterns are healthy. A robust time tracker can show you precisely how long you spend in every email, meeting, work document, website, phone call, and location to get a complete picture of your productivity. But it can also provide insight into your working habits, highlighting broken workflows, time drains and distractions. To save yourself the impossibility of doing all that manually, make sure you choose an automatic one – Timely is great for this.
Another way to approach this is by becoming your own project manager. You may have a different level (or type) of focus at different times of the day. Perhaps you excel at creative tasks after your more technical work is done. Make a note of these tendencies and structure your day around your strengths.
2. Set a work routine
Even flexible working requires some structure. Routines bring healthy stability and order to our days, and as a remote worker, they also help your colleagues know your availability. Details can change to fit other commitments, but the overall shape of your day should be pretty much consistent across your week. So go back to basics: plan when you will wake up, start work, take lunch, have breaks and end work each day. Bookend your days with activities – like exercise or reading – to help mark the transition between work time and personal time. Some people find it helpful to build in a “mock commute” to help protect that separation, but it’s also just a perfect excuse to build activity into your day.
3. Have a plan for each day
Research has shown that having a simple plan for each day can increase your engagement at work, which is essential for locking your productive focus. It’s another sneaky structure that our brains love; when we know what we have to have achieved, our work gains direction and purpose. So make a plan for each day – breaking larger tasks into more manageable ones, and putting your hardest, highest-value tasks towards the front of your day. We tend to privilege smaller, more manageable tasks, so putting a plan in place can help you make sure you stick to your priorities. It’s also a good idea to plan in when you want to switch work spots ahead, to ensure they meet the needs of your scheduled work.
4. Schedule your downtime
Studies suggest that remote workers are 13% more productive than their office counterparts, but that productivity can come at a dangerous cost: burnout. Remote work is ideal for concentrated deep work since there’s no one else around to distract you. But without regular breaks and clear boundaries between work and personal time, you’re setting yourself up for a pretty painful crash. In this environment, the fact that remote workers work more extended hours and take fewer sick days comes as little surprise. Treat your downtime just as you do your work time: structuring activities, breaks, and downtime into your day to protect time for them.
5. Know when to stop
When your office is also your home, it can be difficult to know when your working day is “done.” Add to that the issue of having colleagues in different time zones and feeling the need to respond to work queries immediately, and you’ll quickly realize you’re pretty much always “on.” You need to be ruthless: set clear availability hours, so people know when you can and can’t be contacted, and mute Slack and email notifications outside your work hours. Then fully clock out once you’re done: close your laptop and step away from your desk!
Do you manage remote workers?
Check out HighFive’s tips on creating a remote environment that helps workers thrive and Ring Central’s article on increasing collaboration.
Remote work can get lonely very fast. We’re quick to take the noise and bustle of office culture for granted, but once you start working alone, you soon appreciate the value of little daily social interactions. To avoid the worst effects of remote loneliness, you need to be proactive about your social time. Work with freelance friends, schedule meetups, join a class – do whatever you need to make sure you have a healthy and varied amount of human contact threaded throughout your week. It won’t happen without. Just moving your office to a public space can provide some level of positive human contact.
Over to you
While managing your time as a remote worker can seem daunting at first, it soon becomes hugely empowering. You quickly realize you have complete control over how, when and where you want to work – the kind of freedom rarely enjoyed in an office culture. Whenever you start to struggle with remote work, remind yourself why you’re doing it and make sure you still believe it’s worth the extra effort.
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