In this post, I will share my insights and my experience I’ve gained while working remotely for nearly 10 years. I’ve tried a thousand things in order to stay productive and efficient all this time why working at home. I was working as a software engineer on different projects for different clients, sometimes I would be employed, which would still be in a remote position.
This post will focus on how to stay productive while working from home, not touching the specifics of how to run a freelance business, I will write on that in the future, so stay tuned!
Why did I want to work remotely?
I enjoy having flexibility in my time, office environment and logistics. I would like to be able to select my work hours and my working location freely, not to be board in one place and be able to do things in my time. That’s why I took interest in being able to work remotely, work in the office always meant that I would need to work specific hours, go to specific location and sit at the desk that is given to me, every day.
I enjoy having flexibility in my time, office environment, and logistics. I would like to be able to select my work hours and my working location freely, not to be bored in one place, and be able to do things in my time. That’s why I took interest in being able to work remotely, work in the office always meant that I would need to work specific hours, go to the specific location and sit at the desk that is given to me, every day.
What did I learn?
Let’s go through what I’ve learned over this period.
1. Having a strict schedule will give you more free time
Yes, even though I thought that working whenever I want to is ideal, I would find myself working overtime in the evenings and weekends just to catch up with my projects. When you don’t have a strict schedule you can tell yourself that you will rest or run your errands in the morning, and work in the evening, or vice versa, then you might end up with an unexpected change of circumstances where you don’t complete any work on that day because plans have changed. In my case, I would also work on a couple of different projects and I would have to balance my time to be able to complete them in the same month or week.
After being frustrated for not accomplishing enough I started being more string about my schedule. I would start work at a set time (usually 9 AM) and stop working at a set time (usually 7 PM). As a result of implementing this change:
- It gave me defined a routine that I had to follow to accomplish my goals.
- It allowed me to let everybody around me know what are my office hours and when I cannot be disturbed.
- It allowed my mind and body to adjust and get used to set hours of work, it magically would adjust all of my resources for work.
- It gave me a great sense of how much time I have to work, if I had different 2 different projects, I could say that I work on one from 9 AM to 3 PM, and then from 3 PM to 7 PM, I would work on another one.
- It allowed me to have weekends, if I had work hard all week I could then afford to relax on weekends.
- It allowed me to stop work after 7 PM. It’s very easy to slip into the habit of not separating your life from your work when it merges you lose control of your time and balance.
2. Dress appropriately
I found that whenever I would dress as if I’m in the office, my mind shifts to work mode. It doesn’t mean I would have to dress in a suit, I can just dress casually, but not in my sweatpants.
3. Set boundaries in your inner circle
I had to establish clear boundaries in my inner circle. I had to let my friends, parents, wife know, that I’m working and cannot be disturbed. I also let them know about the working hours and when I could potentially be free.
I found that if you don’t do it, people start thinking that you are very flexible and since you’re your boss, you can come wherever at any time. Ironically that’s what the boss has to do - he has to ensure that the output is enough and progress is made. So yes, you can be your boss, but it means way more than “I can do whatever I want whenever I want”.
4. Plan, execute, learn
I had to learn to plan my days, weeks, and months. Not only for my work but also for my personal life.
Whenever I would start on a project, I would plan out the backlog, sprints, estimate the timeline and start working on the project planning on a 1 or 2-week basis. I would keep that in my project management tool, which before was Trello, now Proji.
It worked great for me. On Sunday I would plan all of my weak and move tasks from Todo to the days where I would execute on them, then I would move them to Done when they are done and clear out the Done list at the end of the week.
For each person it’s different, you can also look into GTD techniques (Getting Things Done), also take a look at the book “The One Thing” by Gary W. Keller. There are a lot of planning techniques, just find what works best for you and stick to it. It doesn’t have to be perfect from the start, just start on one, execute on it, and then learn and improve. The goal is to plan and be in charge of your schedule.
5. Plan what you’ll eat
I would cook for a week, or at least 3 days ahead or I would plan what I’ll be cooking the next day so it wouldn’t take me more than 45 minutes. If you will not have a plan of what to eat you will waste time and decision-making resources thinking of where and what to eat, what to cook.
On that point I also try to eat healthy, eating healthy boosts your mood, energy, and overall health, that might sound cheesy, but that’s a real thing, tried it and loved it. It’s not easy, but all the good things in life don’t come easy.
After reading a dozen of books about health, the best source of information I found on how to eat healthily I found in the book that my wife suggested to me called “How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease” by Michael Greger. He also has a great blog which you can check out at https://nutritionfacts.org/.
One of the best things to have the ability to do while working from home - exercise whenever you want without wasting time in traffic. I would use that to my advantage. I would figure out what’s the best time for me to work out, when I have the most energy, and do it, on my schedule. It will give you energy and other health benefits which you most likely know about already.
7. Invest in good equipment
Whatever equipment that I could afford and made me more productive - I would invest in it. I bought myself 3 monitors and a powerful stationary PC, a big IKEA desk, a great Logitech mouse, everything I would need to maximize my productivity. Also, I invested in a great internet connection, you don’t want to be frustrated by it.
8. Track your time
When charging an hourly rate tracking your time is natural, but I suggest doing it even if you don’t have any client to report to. When I started doing that for all I do, I can see a clear overview of what I spent my time on by the end of the week. Based on that I could make decisions on where to improve or where I would not put enough work and attention.
This neutralized the phrase “Time flies” for me because I could see exactly where did it go.
I use build-in time tracking in my Project Management tool Proji, use whatever is easier for you, just make sure to keep track of your time.
9. Avoid distractions
Before I was paying attention to distractions - my phone was on my table and every notification or message would distract me. I found that when I place the phone in another room, mute the notifications, except for urgent phone calls, I can keep the focus on my work. I also arranged my office space to have as few distractions as possible, I don’t have a TV or Xbox in my office room, I only have everything that inspires me and makes me more productive.
It will not be easy at first and to be able to do it effectively, I suggest doing time boxing, which I will talk about in the next point.
11. Time box
“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”Alexander Graham Bell
Timeboxing is all about concentrating on a single task at hand, giving it full focus and attention.
This is an effective method to define the time that you’ll be focusing on a task and nothing else. For myself, I found that 1 hour of focused work is way more effective than 3 hours of work filled with distractions.
I practice Pomodoro, where you would focus for 25 minutes, rest and then work again for 25 minutes rest, and so on. I would not always do 25 minutes, sometimes I need an hour, but I make sure that I can focus for the next hour if I commit to it. You can read more about Pomodoro here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique.
12. Take breaks
Related to the point before - it’s very important to take breaks. For myself, I found that when I’m in the flow state (state of deep focus) I often neglect breaks because I treasure them so much, in result I might achieve a lot in the first couple of hours, but then the rest of the day I would not be able to work.
Rather than doing that, I started taking breaks whenever I feel pressure in my head or using the Pomodoro technique to make sure I take a break in 25 minutes or so. This way I may interrupt the “flow” state, but then I am way more effective for the rest of the day and increase the odds of entering the flow state again.
13. Separate your work space
At my desk I only do work. I try not to spend my time at that space outside my working hours so that my body adjusts to the feeling of “coming to the office to work”. I found it extremely important to separate my living and working phase because as I mentioned earlier, it might merge and cause balance and productivity problems.
When I’m done working I leave that space and go to relax somewhere else.
I hope that I could help you with your journey of remote work. These tips were made after my successful and unsuccessful trials, hopefully, you can learn useful things from my successes and failures, which is the goal of this blog post.
Have a great life