Structuring your day to be an effective remote worker

Hey, Remote workers!

Would love to hear more about how you structure your day. Three-part question!

a) Do you have a routine and do you stick with it regularly?
b) Do you use time-blocking?
c) What does your perfect work day look like? :slight_smile:

Hey Justine,

It’s a good question. Particularly when you’re used to working in an office, the switch to remote work can be a little disorienting. Suddenly, you have to create your own work schedule! I manage the blog and social media of X-Team, a community for developers, so my workday looks like this:

From 8AM - 12PM, I write. Writing any type of content (whether it’s a blog post, case study, web page, …) requires a lot of focus. I’m most focused and motivated in the morning, so that’s when I do my hardest tasks.

Depending on what day of the week it is, I try to either squeeze in a workout before I start work or before lunch. I’m remote and my work hours are flexible, so I try and take advantage of that by going to the gym when there aren’t many people.

My afternoons are more fluid. I tend to research upcoming pieces of content, as well as monitor social media, reply to messages, etc. Anything that doesn’t require hours of focused work, all the tasks that are a little scattered.

In the evenings, I read, relax (game :sunglasses:), and figure out what I’ll work on tomorrow. That’s it. So my day is structured in three big chunks, with enough flexibility in the afternoons that I can go with the flow whenever something comes along.

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Thanks for this Thomas – really good points here. Do you tend to shut off your notifications, including chat when you’re in focus mode?

I put my phone far away and don’t look at it for a few hours. In terms of my laptop, I have it set up so I don’t get many distracting notifications (e.g. email or browser notifications). I tend to turn Slack off too, but not always. No hard and fast rule here, but I don’t have loads of people messaging me all the time, so it works.

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It is a great and challenging question! I run my own business and also have a 2 year old so it is something I think about / work on daily. :smile: I have now been working remotely for 6 years and my wife too. Here are some things I (we) think about and how we structure:

  1. Structure but be flexible: I often find all the articles that say “Do these 900 things before 5AM” often feel like they are written in a vacuum. People have kids, people stay up late chatting to friends or family, people have a few too many glasses of wine during a zoom call… Structure helps but so does having fun! Don’t be too hard on yourself. Allow room for flexibility.

  2. Communicate and Plan Since BOTH my wife and I work remotely and we have a young child, communication is key. We’ve tried everything - sharing calendars, white board schedules, morning check ins, etc. The most effective - just talking. Find a few minutes in the morning or evening to share your schedule with your partner, a colleague, or a journal! This helps ease tensions if someone has a big deadline or a really important call today. Sets expectations.

  3. Read your energy Some people are morning people some people are NOT! My brother is a night owl, has been since we were 2 and 4 years old! But that’s OK. Think about where you have the most or least energy throughout the day and structure as such! Some work better at night, some work better in the morning. Remember there is no RIGHT OR WRONG WAY! Don’t be too hard on yourself. Try and test! See what feels best.

So that being said, I do try to generally stick to a routine and I use a Best Self Journal for planning and some time blocking. My day (especially right now without childcare in quarantine) looks a bit like this:

6:30 AM I try to wake up about an hour before my 2 year old son. I was not naturally a morning person so this has been an adjustment. I try to stick to it but I try not to be too hard on myself if I can’t stick to it! This time is for planning the day (Best Self Journal), drinking coffee, and easing into the day (remember, i have a 2 year old!)

7:30 - 9 Child time! Kid wrangling, breakfast, tantrums :slight_smile:

9-12pm As @tdmoor mentioned, I do try to eat the frog early as well. Heavy items in this window - writing, proposals, important emails, things that I need to get done for the rest of the day to feel lighter.

12-1 pm Lunch and prep for Nap time (my kids, not mine… maybe)

1-3 Tasks that don’t require as much energy as my energy is always low during this time. Scheduling, administrative business tasks, sending out emails, etc.

3-6 pm - I’m on daddy duty but this time is fluid too. Walks, sometimes I have to take a work call, sometimes not. Responsive to emails and slacks but try not to.

6-8 pm - Dinner, bed time prep. And workout. Try to be done with all by 8:30 pm. (Peloton!!)

8 pm afterwards - writing, learning (I am in a great online course) and prep for the next day. Try to be in bed by 10!!

Hope this helps and also gives some context to many of us that have kids in this remote working / quarantine world we find ourselves in!

Zach Weismann
Founder @ MAG Collective (www.magcollective.com)

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@zweismann - So helpful – especially for the people who WFH right now with their families. Thank you for sharing! I especially like what you said about having structure while remaining flexible + reading your energy. I’m very process-oriented - which is a good thing - but the downside of that is becoming too rigid in how “things should go” or how “things should be.” (:hocho:: shoulds ) As much as it’s important to set a routine, flexibility and testing is :key:! How long do you think it took you to test to figure out your ideal routine?

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Exactly @justineshu ! It’s all a practice and not set in stone! I’m sure we all have those days where the schedule gets turned upside down by external factors and we still have productive days.

I’d say about 2 years really due to two main factors: having my first child and running my own business. Both happened about 2 years ago. Starting my own business put me in a more proactive vs reactive state with my schedule but also required more structure. Child makes me be quite reactive to the day!

Fortunately these days there are lots of great tools out there - like the WWR community!

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These questions got me thinking.

I’ve been starting companies and working remotely for my entire work life, now 17 years since graduating from undergrad. I haven’t had to personally go into an office at a particular time or have any regular in-person meetings at my own companies. I felt like sharing that context before answering the questions you asked because I’m pretty sure how I do things might be very different than most people. I’ve found that people’s routines vary based on nuances that come from things such as living circumstances, work experience, preferred ways of working and even each individual’s own personality.

a) Do you have a routine and do you stick with it regularly?
No. I don’t have any routine that I stick to the way I manage my time meeting with others using Google Calendar and my personal tasks and todos using a document, typically a Google Doc. I’ve also always been a founder and find myself required to context switch during the day quite often, but when I have blocks of free time in the day, I will do the “maker” type tasks. Otherwise I typically spend my evenings and nights on deeper work.

b) Do you use time-blocking?
Not as often as I aspire to use time-blocking. I probably take advantage of the method once or two days a week.

c) What does your perfect work day look like? :slight_smile:
I’m living it and don’t have a single complaint about my work days. I’ve gotten very used to context switching often and finding time to deeper work when I can. I do recalibrate on a weekly basis to watch for procrastination on any particular objective that requires deeper work. I’ve made the discovery that if I am procrastinating continuously around a task or objective, there’s a root cause that I would benefit from getting to the bottom of.

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Good information thanks for sharing
vmware

I love this. Thanks for sharing @hnshah! It sounds like for you, it’s more about going with the flow, context switching and checking in with yourself on a weekly basis vs having a set routine day after day. Do you tend to work the same hours every day or does that change as well? Do you have any tips for context switching?

@justineshu ohhhh this is a great and thorny question.

Perhaps interestingly, I wrote about this nearly 3 years ago for Remote.co: https://remote.co/steps-winning-morning-routine-gets-zone/. (The one thing I don’t always do, frankly, is shower every morning! Unless I’m running, the jams stay on for a bit.)

Here we go…

a) No! No set daily routine. I have a toddler at home 24/7, a husband who is also a startup CEO, and a somewhat serious running hobby; these require flexibility especially in the mornings. While I might wake up early (5:30-6am), I might only get to work after breakfast around 8:30. I guess the one constant is that I always eat breakfast. Fueling yourself is important!

b) I use time-blocking when I have specific and urgent to-dos. I’m most likely to time-block in a day where I have a number of meetings and deliverables that are

c) My perfect work day involves a mix of head-down, highly productive writing–some for clients, and some thought leadership for myself–a walk outside with my kiddo or time playing in the park, and a really positive call or two with my team and/or business prospects.

I’d also add that each of us have different Circadian rhythms, and (wherever possible) we need to align our working hours with the hours that match our energy levels. So high-stakes meetings shouldn’t be scheduled during an expected afternoon slump, if you can manage to do so and still work around others’ time zones.

The one thing I’d recommend to anyone reading this: never neglect your personal brand in favor of your work. Schedule in time to write that blog post, work on your podcast, or ship that product you’ve wanted to share with the world. It shouldn’t come last, and these activities are so valuable moving forward. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Working from home has truly changed my lifestyle a lot. The routine has changed and flexibility has increased. My experience so far has been without a doubt a growing curve throughout this period.

This is how my daily work/life routine looks like,

  1. 7 AM- Do my regular morning workout and go for a short run
  2. 8 AM - 10 AM - I have my breakfeast and do my household chores such as buying groceries, getting the newspaper, some milk for my cat etc
  3. 10 AM - 2 PM - Check my work schedule and start finishing up on what I have planned.
  4. 2PM - 3PM - Lunch & small meditation session
  5. 3PM - 8PM - Continue my work schedule to finish my remaining tasks and fix my schedule for tomorrow. I’ll make sure to note my progress, blockages and pitfalls I had. This I’ll write in my journal and devise ways to improve such things on the next day.

After 8PM, it’s pretty much me time and I spent that time with family and friends. Working from home can improve your personal productivity a lot. At the end, it all depends on how you plan and prepare for each day. People often use to say that they don’t time, but I find that hard to believe. If it’s a priority, you can always fix a slot for it. Plan wisely and work hard.

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