New to remote work? Here are the 5 things you need to stay productive when you work from home (or anywhere else!)

Read the headlines about the rise of remote work and you’d think it’s all rainbows and sunshine. Remote workers have full control of their schedules and can sleep in until noon (if they want to). Remote workers save money and are more productive by working from home. They’re even apparently healthier than their office-bound brethren

But these preconceptions about remote work (many written by those who don’t work remotely) are often only one side of the story. 

The truth is that working remotely can leave employees feeling anxious, stressed, and even burned out. And I should know. 

As a content writer for a fully-remote company (Process Street), I’ve seen firsthand the negative consequences of working remotely, especially when it comes to ineffective time management.

So what does it honestly take to properly and effectively manage your time when your work remotely? Let me tell you about it.

How I nearly burned out of my first remote job by overworking

Like anyone starting a new job, when I first started working remotely, I set out to make a good first impression. I started early, stayed late, and did everything to show I was putting in the effort.

Unfortunately, my working life wasn’t the only thing going through a monumental change at this point. I’d recently split up with my partner, moved to a new city, and rented my own apartment for the first time.

If there was one thing I needed to ground me during this monumental life change it was a job.

But this eagerness led me to do too much work. I’d check and answer emails at all times. Spend hours trying to perfect posts. And be constantly available for the second anyone needed anything from me. 

As a remote worker, the pull to overwork like this is especially bad.

When you’re outside of an office (where a boss or manager can physically see you working) you feel compelled to show that you’re around and working. In fact, research by LogMeIn shows that 46% of employees feel pressured to prove that they’re working hard while in a remote role

My colleague, Ben Mulholland, felt the same way and also overworked when he started his first remote job.

And although we both eventually learned best practices for effective time management, there are multiple strategies we wish we’d known before jumping into the world of remote work. 

RescueTime is used by remote workers around the world to stay productive and motivated. Find out more and sign up for free today!

Effective time management strategies #1: Keep a to-do list to combat “Work From Home Guilt”

When working remotely, it’s incredibly easy to feel that you’re not doing enough. This is what’s known as WFH guilt—work from home guilt.

During my first month at Process Street, I kept a mental to-do list for each day. But without properly documenting and tracking my progress, I overloaded myself with more and more.

This was one of the causes of my near-burnout. Yet I’m not alone in these feelings. Here’s how Gary Walker, the Product Director of 22North and Founder of Ready for Remote, explains his experience with WFH guilt:

“The unfortunate truth is that when you are trusted to get your work done from anywhere, you can build an overwhelming feeling of guilt due to the privilege.

[…] The tendency is to overwork, as you feel you should do more due to having such an opportunity.

Walker’s solution was the same as mine: a to-do list.

Keeping a to-do list isn’t a new, groundbreaking activity, but it’s particularly useful for remote workers. A daily to-do list sets your expectations. Not only that, but a to-do list helps with:

  • Overall organization. When you know what has to be tackled each day (my daily to-do list consists of 3 high-priority, important tasks, for example) it’s easier to manage your day, week, month, and beyond.
  • Improved memory. There’s a neuropsychological link between writing and memory. By penning things down, your brain is far more likely to remember what was written down afterward!
  • Higher rates of productivity. By documenting daily tasks and sorting your workload into manageable chunks, there’s no feeling of “Oh god, there’s so much to do. Where do I even begin?!” Instead, you can dive straight in and crack on.

No matter how you document and check-off your to-do list—either on a piece of paper or by using checklist software—it’s a simple yet astonishingly effective strategy.

Want a few nifty tips on making your own? Check out Process Street’s post on bullet journal ideas.

Effective time management strategies #2: Establish a daily routine to balance your work and life

If a company is internationally remote, employees have no set schedule. Sure, there may be calls to attend throughout the week and set deadlines to complete work by, but apart from these calendar events, remote workers can set their own workdays.

But this freedom can go both ways. While it gives you the opportunity to work whenever you want and fit your workday around other tasks and responsibilities it also gives you the opportunity to work all the time.

That’s why daily routines are essential for remote work productivity.

Without a daily routine, you end up fumbling through your day in a scattered, unorganized way. This inevitably leads to tasks being forgotten, jobs being rushed, and working longer and longer hours just to “keep up.”

On the flip-side, a solid routine gives you the structure you miss from not being in an office.

As Stephen Altrogge writes on the Zapier blog:

“Morning and evening routines prime you for success. They help you achieve more, think clearly, and do work that actually matters. They keep you from stumbling through your day and make sure you get the most important things done.”

Ultimately, every person’s daily routine will be different; there’s no one-size-fits-all routine that works for everyone. But through a trial-and-error process, you can create a personal, optimized daily routine that serves you well. Every. Single. Day.

As part of a solid daily routine, I recommend:

Effective time management strategies #3: Prioritize high-value tasks when your energy is highest

When you wake up in the morning (or afternoon, depending on your daily schedule!), you should save the more important tasks for later, start easy, and build your way up, right?

Wrong.

When it comes to time management, a major issue for many remote workers is not prioritizing tasks properly.

I whole-heartedly admit that when Monday rolls around, one half of my brain thinks “It’s Monday. Do the smaller tasks first. I’ll eventually get round to the big stuff.

But I realize that’s the anxiety concerning those important tasks talking. Which is exactly why I push myself to eat the frog first.

As Mark Twain, the esteemed American author once said: 

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.”

By starting with the scarier, more important tasks—which are often the hardest, lengthiest, and most time-consuming—you’ll knock that anxiety on the head straight away. Plus, you’ll still have a full tank to focus on the rest of your daily tasks.

This is why prioritizing high-value tasks is especially important for remote workers.

Although you won’t fully grasp how long it takes to complete certain tasks in your first few weeks, your manager should give you some indication of which tasks you should focus on. Then, you’ll want to prioritize these high-value tasks and block out time at the start of your daily routine to tackle them.

Effective time management strategies #4: Use time management software to keep you on track

Remote workers need all the support they can get. And one of the best tools for this is time management software. The right tools act like a personal coach making sure you don’t slack off (and don’t miss deadlines!)

Leading time management software has in-built time tracking which, for us working remotely, is something of a godsend. 

Let me explain why using RescueTime as an example.

After using RescueTime for a few days or weeks, you’ll have access to accurate data on how you spend your time, when you’re most productive (or distracted), and which applications you use and for how long.

This data will quickly show you where you can make improvements to your routine and habits. Look for your main distractions like social media or news. Or find the times of the day where you’re most productive and block distractions during them.

RescueTime’s FocusTime feature can automatically block distractions when you need to focus.

Research by Ofcom shows that the average person, while awake, picks up their phone every 12 minutes. And due to distraction, 54% of workers believe they aren’t performing as well as they should.

To help combat distraction, tools like RescueTime offer website blockers. These automatically block sites like Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and others so you don’t unconsciously distract yourself when you’re supposed to be working.

If you need help finding the time management software that’s best for you, RescueTime has put together this in-depth guide of the best options!

Effective time management strategies #5: Automate processes that don’t need your attention

To-do lists. A daily routine. Task prioritization. Time management and remote work software. Those are four great methods for overcoming poor time management. But there’s still one left: Automating processes.

Utilizing and incorporating automation helps you streamline recurring tasks so you can dedicate more of your focus on high-priority duties.

For example, you can automate tasks, such as: 

  • Sending out emails once a certain task has been completed
  • Pushing a message into Slack
  • Transferring data from one application to another

Here’s an example from my own life. 

Due to how some organizations are set up, remote workers often have to send regular invoices to their finance department. The last thing I want to do is forget to send an invoice (and not get paid!)

To remedy this, I use a simple Process Street checklist which is linked to Zapier—an online tool that connects and automates over 1,000 different apps. Now, whenever I check off a task called “Generate the invoice”, an invoice is automatically created and sent to the person in charge of the Process Street books. 

It’s a super easy method, saving me from having to create and write out a fresh invoice, go into Gmail, attach the file, write out the email’s body text, and send it myself each month.

If your new, remote organization requires you to send an invoice each month, check out this blog post, which will guide you through the steps in full detail.

Produce great work consistently and sustainably by managing time properly

No matter if you’re starting work for a SaaS company or the next big bitcoin contender, use these remote working tips and tricks to not only make an outstanding first impression, but ensure you don’t overwork, burnout, and get too stressed by not managing your time properly. 

Thom James Carter is a junior content writer at Process Street. He has previously worked in copywriting and content creation for multiple start-ups and SMBs. He’s interested in technology, processes, and automation.

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