Remote work has become a common practice for software engineers and pretty much anyone working in digital service industries. With the flexibility of working from anywhere, it offers numerous benefits, including better work-life balance and increased productivity. However, remote working time management can be challenging, as it requires discipline and self-motivation. In this blog post, we will explore some essential time management for remote software engineers.
My current teams at Epos Now, are based all over the world, from Brazil to the US, Canada and many European countries. So on top of having to manage their own work efficiently they’re also juggling collaborative work across different time-zones, languages and cultures.
Remote Working Time Management: Tips
Establish a Routine
Having a well-defined routine is crucial for managing time effectively. Start your day by setting clear goals and priorities. Plan your tasks for the day and create a schedule to follow. This will help you stay organized and focused, and ensure that you are making progress on your work.
Every morning, I try to follow a similar routine, to get my mind into the working day. I check for any changes to my priorities, issues people have raised etc. Then I prioritise tasks for that day that are reasonable to achieve. Some of these tasks may be ticket related and integrated with our project management flows but others will simply be chores. Having simple, achievable goals for the day, is a great motivator, so I make sure this list is feasible but pushes me that little bit.
I also find that buffering your time between work mode and home or family mode, helps to reset my mind. I do something mundane at the end of the day, empty the recycling, tidy my desk etc.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
Set up a designated workspace that is conducive to your productivity, where possible. Make sure it is free from distractions and has all the tools and resources you need to do your work efficiently. Having a separate workspace will help you establish boundaries between work and personal life, and allow you to concentrate on your tasks without interruptions. Ideally, this should have great, natural light.
Compartmentalisation is a powerful psychological tool. By keeping work only to a dedicated space, your mind automatically configures itself into work mode. Leaning into the routine point above this can improve morale and productivity.
Use Productivity Tools
There are various productivity tools available that can help you manage your time effectively. Use project management tools, time tracking apps, and to-do lists to keep track of your tasks and deadlines. These tools can help you stay organized, prioritize your work, and ensure that you are meeting your goals and deadlines.
As our workspace at Epos Now is in the Google eco-system, I use Google notes and tasks as this is integrated in the sidebar of Gmail, Google Docs, Meet etc. You could of course use Evernote, embedded notes / to do apps in your operating system or any of the online notes/task management tools to help here.
As soon I realise I need to do something, I note it down as a task, so I don’t forget. Then every morning, I revisit this list and prioritise what I want to do each day. An additional tip, in Google Tasks, is to “star” the tasks I’ve done that day, then at the end of the day tick / resolve them. This way I can review what I did that day and hopefully feel that little boost of satisfaction at a good day’s work.
Minimize Distractions by Taking Regular Breaks
Remote work can come with many distractions, such as social media, household chores, or personal phone calls. It’s essential to identify and minimize these distractions to stay focused on your work. Turn off notifications on your phone, block distracting websites, and communicate clear boundaries with family and friends during work hours.
Taking breaks is crucial for maintaining productivity and avoiding burnout. Schedule regular short breaks during your workday to stretch, relax, or do something enjoyable. Stepping away from your desk can help you clear your mind and come back to your work with renewed focus and energy.
I take short breaks at reasonable points and limit the time of these quite strictly so I don’t get distracted too much. 15 minutes, to freshen up, walk around a little, get a drink. Maybe it’s a social media break or a quick learning session on Duolingo. These things help to cleanse the palette, reset my brain’s context then I can take on the next challenge.
Communication is key when working remotely. Stay in touch with your team and manager through regular check-ins, video conferences, and chat platforms. Clarify expectations and deadlines, and keep your team updated on your progress. Effective communication can prevent misunderstandings, ensure that everyone is on the same page, and help you manage your time efficiently.
Every morning, I check in to the teams via slack. Just to say hello. Remember that you don’t have to be a robot, 100% work mode only. Building relationships with colleagues, talking about families movies, sports, music, games is also important for mental health but also team camaraderie.
In stand-up meetings, keep your updates concise and comprehensive. When tickets change status or something new arises, let the team know efficiently.
If you are stressed out, frustrated or under too much pressure, never fear asking for help. In an office, your colleagues would see your body language change and hopefully offer help. However, this isn’t possible remotely, so explicitly asking for help is critical. A quick message in slack, may unlock your day quickly or change your priorities so you remain efficient.
Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is essential for effective time management. Make sure to get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat healthy meals. Engage in activities that help you relax and recharge, such as meditation or hobbies. When you are physically and mentally healthy, you will be more productive and better equipped to manage your time effectively.
I struggle with this. When I’m in a good routine, I hit the gym 4 times a week, eat well and feel better. When I’m not, I’m awful. It’s hard. I know all the benefits but my mind struggles to actually do it. (I’d love advice if anyone has any!).
Learn to Say No
As a software engineer, you may be asked to take on additional tasks or projects. While it’s essential to be a team player, it’s also crucial to learn to say no when you are already stretched thin. Be realistic about your workload and prioritize your tasks based on their importance and deadlines. Avoid overcommitting and learn to delegate or say no when necessary to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Build Proper, Natural Friendships
OK, so not time management related but something I miss hugely when working remotely are the friendships that are made over a coffee. Learning about colleagues, their families, what they do in their spare time. These friendships make the challenges and battles we face during work, easier. When you disagree with friends, it’s easier to make up when you know them.
While we can’t do these things as naturally from afar, there are other ways to build genuine friendships. Putting some time aside for online games, dedicating the first 5 minutes of meetings to learning about your teammates, even learning their native languages where possible.
Remote Working Time Management: Extra Tips
- Set times to check email. Turn them off for a couple hours or so productivity boost.
- 2 minute rule for small tasks. Any longer, add to a to-do list.
- Listen to good, productivity music. Minimal electronic music, no/little lyrics. Whatever works for you.
- Use templates and AI, to optimise your efficiency
- Use Eisenhower Matrices
- Use the Pomodoro Technique. 25m working, 5m break.
Hope this helps 🙂