Time Management When Working Remotely

Remote working has its benefits. Less traveling (usually) and being able to work in your underwear being the two obvious ones. Whether your working from home, at a coffee shop or in a co-working space it’s easy to get side-tracked from what needs doing. It requires discipline to stay focused and remain productive when you're in full control.

Avoiding Distractions

Distractions are a productivity killer. They break your flow and take you out of the zone. How do we avoid distractions when working remotely?

Regardless of where your working you’ll need to be able to manage your time effectively and avoid distractions in order to remain productive.

Setting clear tasks and having a method for managing your time is key to having a productive day.

How To Manage Time Effectively

Time management is a skill, and like any skill, it can be learned. You just need to know how, so let me show you what's worked for me.

To start with I like to keep things simple and break my tasks down into order of importance. Then try and work out how long each one would take before I employ a mixture of these techniques:

  1. The Pomodoro Technique
  2. The Flowtime Technique
  3. Deep work

The Pomodoro Technique

What's a pomodoro? According to wikipedia

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Each interval is known as a pomodoro, from the Italian word for 'tomato', after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.

This is a simple technique that’s designed to get things done with a clear focus. The goal of the Pomodoro Technique is to have a complete focus on the task you’re doing. You can’t be distracted and must remain focused until the timer rings.

Each interval of 25-minutes is one Pomodoro. With Four Pomodoro’s in one set.

If you break down your work into smaller tasks with a clear goal for each 25 minutes Pomodoro, then take a short break for 5 minutes and return.

Once you complete a set of four (a total duration of 2 hours) take a longer 30-minute break. Go for a walk, get some fresh air and get a screen break. This can also help with creativity because you’ll be taking in extra sights, sounds, and senses.

The problem with Pomodoro

The main problem I have with Pomodoro is the timer itself. I like to get into the zone when working on a difficult problem and frequent distractions sometimes feels like I'm not able to make much progress or simply makes me anxious.

You might have a larger task and want change the duration of the timer.

Maybe you want to skip the breaks between intervals, then carve out a clear block of time (2 hours) where you will have complete focus and won’t be distracted. However this kind of breaks the point of the pomodoro.


Flow - Getting In The Zone

Have you ever been so immersed in something you're almost running on autopilot, in the zone, completely focused on what you are doing. That’s what we call flow, a mental state of focus and being so involved in what you're doing that your sense of space and time becomes distorted.

Hungarian-American Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi recognised and named the psychological concept of flow.

There's a fine line, a goldilocks zone, where we maintain a state of flow. This balance needs to be maintained. Have you ever been tilted in a game and lost your groove?

So how do we achieve a state of flow?

To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results

According to Csikszentmihályi, there are nine components to achieving a state of flow.

  1. challenge-skill balance
  2. merging of action and awareness
  3. clarity of goals
  4. immediate and unambiguous feedback
  5. concentration on the task at hand
  6. the paradox of control - having control over the situation or the outcome
  7. transformation of time
  8. loss of self-consciousness
  9. autotelic experience (for self-benefit and experience of the task as the main goal, “I just want to do it, because I felt like it”)

The Flowtime Technique

The concept of flowtime is to enable the state of flow much easier while working on a task with no defined time. Sometimes the timer can distract us and only by focusing purely on the task can we enter flow.

Simply pick a single task to work on, note down the time you start working and just focus on that task. Work until you feel like you need a break and keep track of the time you've spent focusing and the time on breaks.

I like to listen to music and just let everything else melt away into the background.

This article from Zapier discusses it in much more detail.

Deep Work

The concept of deep work and time blocking which I learned from Lex Fridmans' podcast with Cal Newport.

Deep work is a concept that defines focusing for a long period of time on a cognitively demanding task.

A four hour block of time is generally sufficient. This is similar to flowtime in that it gives us enough time to focus on one thing and easily enter a state of flow to be able to focus purely on that task.

By carving out enough time to complete a difficult task we can eliminate distractions and reward ourselves by completing it much faster than we think.

Wrapping Up

We tend to cram too much into too little time. We over-estimate our abilities and the time it takes to complete a task. By allowing ourselves enough time to complete a task and focusing on one thing at a time you'll find we can be more productive than we think.

Adjust these techniques to create a style thats personalized to you. Test each concept and eventually you'll find something that suits your style of work.