Going remote is an appealing lifestyle, but without a guidance we can easily get lost. What’s the right balance between professional and personal life? How to make sure that you’ll finish your tasks by the end of the day?

You can get it right without too much effort. It’s just a matter of forming the right habits.

I work as a remote software engineer for three years now. During this time, I was successfully employed at Litmus first and then at Codeship. Now I’m a independent consultant (hire me) and Open Source developer. All remote, while having a family and an office in our living room. Here’s what I’ve got to share.

Routine

Having a reliable routine is the fundamental approach to start right your day and to be a successful remote worker.

You should structure your day with a predictable sequence of things to do. The less you have to think about it, the more space you will have to work.

Try to wake up at the same hour, have a good breakfast, and dress up. Always pretend you are going to show up in an office.

That helps to feel energized, and gives the right mindset to start doing your job. Yes, mindset, if you value yourself as a professional, don’t do your job while still wearing your pyjama at 3:30pm without having had a decent meal.

I take my daughter to kindergarten every day. This is a good excuse to go outside and enjoy a walk with her in the morning.

After that, I get back home and start to work until she is home again. This helps me to finish more or less at the same hour in the afternoon.

Don’t let your tasks to fill your entire day. Impose a strict separation between private and professional life. Our mind is tricky: if we live where we work, we never turn off the “working mode”. It’s tempting to check the email (again) after dinner, to do this “tiny chore” that we’re still thinking about.

Tasks

If that happens it’s because we don’t experience a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. We feel like we haven’t achieved that much, sure we can get back to work after dinner, but why?

Before to start, write down 5 things to do during the day, and limit your effort to them. When they are done, you are done.

They should be easy wins. The more you win, the more you feel successful.

Be specific and split things in small chunks. If you’re working on a feature that takes one month to complete, write “Implement user registration”, instead of a generic “Authentication”. The former can be finished today (easy win – yay!), while the second requires a few weeks of wait before to mark it as done. Better 20 small wins everyday, than 1 win at the end of the month.

Be indulgent, don’t fill the list with ambitious duties. The goal is to finish them in a reasonable amount of time. If you leave things undone, you’ll feel guilty. I only choose one main task per day and start with it. If for some reason you can’t work on the other things, at least you’ve sorted out what’s really important.

You don’t need a task manager software for this, a piece of paper is good enough. Always go straight to the point.

In my list for today I have:

  • ☑︎ Publish remote work article (main)
  • ◻︎ Merge customizable error messages for Lotus
  • ◻︎ Implement [REDACTED] on REDACTED
  • ◻︎ Take the next lesson of the course
  • ◻︎ Prepare and send tax documents to the accountant

Notice the verbs: “publish” instead of ”write” incentivize to get the work done and shipped today.

Time Management

Programming is an intensive, absorbing activity. If you are like me, time flies while at the keyboard without even noticing. “The zone” is good for your code, but dangerous for your health.

From time to time you need to take a break, stretch your body, and let your mind to relax for a few minutes.

But while you’re concentrated, it’s easy to think: “I’ll finish this other task and then I’ll take a break”. But while working under pressure or on a challenging task, we let to pass hours before that deserved break.

Timeboxing is an excellent way to solve this problem. One simple rule is: when time is over, we should immediately stop. How long this working time should be?

Pomodoro Technique

I use the Pomodoro Technique as a time guideline.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s dead easy: 25 minutes of work, 5 of break. Rinse and repeat.

No breaks are allowed, no distractions like phone calls, emails, Twitter, HackerNews. This is a way to value your work: you should protect it from interruptions. The current task is the most important thing for the next half hour. It deserves all your attention, that’s why we’re paid, right?

You can use a mechanical alarm, a simple timer on your phone, don’t get fancy with it. I use Pomodoro Time for Mac, because I want always to have a look at the remaining time.

This approach helps to quantify your tasks and get things done. For instance, I allocated 5 ”pomodoros” for this blog post, so I have to publish it when they’re terminated and move over.

If you do consulting, it helps to value your time. You won’t let unpaid activities to endlessly expand anymore. Do you really need the entire morning to find the perfect theme for your blog redesign? What if you give yourself just 1 “pomodoro” for it and spend the rest of the morning to work for your clients?

During the breaks, do something away from your computer. For instance, I play with my dog.

A Glass of Water

I always have a glass filled with water at the beginning of each work interval. When it’s time to walk away from the desk, I refill it. It’s a healthy habit that helps to stay hydrated.

It’s also a good way to prevent migraines. _”Mens sana in corpore sano”_.

Conclusion

Remote work is challenging but rewarding if done right. A trustworthy system that includes routine and time management is fundamental to succeed.


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