Let’s face it. Time management isn’t a natural soft skill for most people. Between daily and weekly priorities, some workers would rather check social media for the 12th time or scope out yesterday’s sports highlights. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, remote work has become more commonplace, making time management tips for remote workers a necessity when they work from home.
Lackluster time management skills aren’t always the fault of the remote worker in a COVID-19 world. Instead, underlying circumstances can destroy even the most organized and diligent telecommuter. Examples may include what to do with the kids when they have virtual classes or how to interact with a partner/spouse because they’re also working from home. Tack on the anxiety and fear that’s present as a result of the pandemic, and time management skills seem far more insignificant.
But time management is a necessity in every industry, especially in unsupervised or results-only work environments—two common platforms in the modern work-from-home era. So before you sit at your desk at 6 p.m. and ask “Where the heck did the day go?” use these time management tips for remote workers to become more productive and successful.
Schedule Kids’ Activities Ahead of Time
Depending on the age of your children and whether or not they’re learning at school or from home, you can create a schedule for them to follow. While you can’t replicate a school day per se, tool the schedule so it loosely mimics it. This will give your kid(s) some semblance of order and a routine they can get used to. According to Leah Booth, a Yale-educated speech-language pathologist, children do best with bite-sized activities, or ones less than 30 minutes.
If you have older children, schedule a sit-down to discuss their school, tests, homework, and activities for the week. This will ensure you won’t have any surprises when you’re creating your own schedule. As a result, your time management won’t suffer simply because you’re aware of any errands you need to run or trips you need to take for yourself or your children.
Actionable Step: Create a schedule that makes every family members’ life a bit easier. If possible, gather the family for a once-a-week meeting to discuss any extra or out-of-the-ordinary activities.
Create a Daily To-Do List
Whether you’re the type of person who organizes their day entirely in their mind or you diligently craft a weekly schedule, creating a to-do list is the ultimate time manager. When writing a monthly or weekly schedule, you can get a rough idea of your work and social/parental schedule. But the to-do list is even more thorough.
When you create the schedule, don’t make it solely about work; that defeats the all-encompassing nature of time management. Instead, jot down every task, ranging from sending emails to finishing a project to cleaning the bathroom. Then, provide a rough estimate of the time you’re willing to commit to each activity. The tricky part is to adhere to this to-do list without meandering from it. In addition, cross each task off as you complete it. You’ll be surprised by the satisfaction and improved energy you’ll feel as a result of visually completing the task.
Actionable Step: If you have some extra time in the evening, use it to draft a to-do list for the next day, week, or month. Not only will you have the latest information regarding your schedule, but you’ll also have a better estimate of the time frame for certain tasks.
Think About Time Distribution
If you’re new to remote work, you may have little idea about how long certain activities are going to take. This is due to many factors, but identifying them can help you make decisions about time distribution. Some considerations include:
- How often do you ask other departments for help on a project?
- Are you tech-savvy?
- Do you have extra time to learn new computer programs/software/websites?
- Is there a wide variance of projects or tasks in your job? Or are they relatively the same on a regular basis?
After answering a few of these questions (and some of your own), you can distribute your time more adequately. You may not get it right at first, but a bit of practice and trial and error are some of the best time management tips for remote workers.
Actionable Step: If you aren’t sure how long a task is going to take, always overestimate. Making overestimates can prevent you (or your team) from working overtime or excessive hours, as well as give you the time you need to complete scheduled tasks outside of work.
Apply Scientific Research
Remote workers around the globe have their tips, hacks, and routines regarding time management. But if you can’t find a comfortable medium among these suggestions, turn your sights to proven scientific research.
According to past research and a Harvard Business Review study, only three aspects separate quality time management from the horrendous:
- Adaptation: Adjusting to obstacles, distractions, or priority changes.
- Awareness: The realization of time as a limited resource and using the time wisely.
- Arrangement: Designing and organizing your day effectively.
Actionable Step: If you can utilize these three scientific aspects of time management success, you will likely find that your success increases with respect to time management.
Remember That Meetings Are Going to Become More Common
In the COVID-19 world, online meetings are becoming more and more commonplace. As a result, the time that you normally allocate to tasks and activities will become occupied by meetings with clients, colleagues, and employers. Thankfully, you often have plenty of notice as to how often these meetings occur. Therefore, you should be able to adjust accordingly.
Actionable Step: Virtual meetings are almost certain to become the new normal until—at the least—a vaccine comes out. So whether scheduled or impromptu, you should plan that meetings are going to take up some of your schedule as a remote worker. Plan accordingly.
Stick to the Same Morning Routine
Productivity and time management go hand in hand. Therefore, the more that you can stick to a routine, the better your time management. And that, in turn, can lead to improved productivity and less stress.
That’s what makes a morning routine one of the best time management tips for remote workers. A morning routine manages the beginning of your day so you get to work “on time” and adhere to your schedule.
Actionable Step: Remember that you don’t have to follow the exact routine that you did as an onsite worker. But having a pattern that’s similar can set you up for success. Getting up at the same time, exercising (if you need), and getting dressed (at least to some degree) will help you manage time efficiently from the crack of dawn.
Take Breaks That Work for You
Taking breaks may seem counterintuitive to time management and productivity. But studies show that regular breaks or even a daily lunch break can reduce stress and ease productivity.
Like many other time management tips for remote workers, you’ll need to use some trial and error to find what type of breaks work for you. For example, one scientifically proven break method is the Pomodoro Technique. This technique encourages—at its simplest—five-minute breaks every 25 minutes as a way to reduce eye strain and let the mind rest. But feel free to tweak this plan or any other to your style and tastes.
Actionable Steps: Taking regularly scheduled breaks can help you stick with your time management goals. But if you want something a bit looser, just set a maximum break time that you can always cut short.
Keep Work and Personal Tasks Separate
Keeping work and personal tasks separate is probably the most difficult hurdle when you work from home. And it’s not necessarily because you’re undisciplined or lack time management skills. It’s simply because of the ease to switch between the two.
Think about it. Imagine that you’re churning away on a work project. As you complete some research, you notice an advertisement for a deal on clothing or travel or electronics. Suddenly, you realize that you’ve already been browsing these deals for 10 minutes. But you’re now so intrigued that you might take 30 minutes to an hour to get back on track. Suddenly, your entire routine and schedule are shot.
Actionable Step: Pay attention to when you get off track. If it happens regularly, use a website blocker during the times that you work to remove all possible distractions. Turn it off and use surfing and shopping as a reward when you’re done for the day.
Figure Out When You’re Most Productive
Finding out when you’re most productive is yet another beneficial time management tip for remote workers. By figuring out when your brain is functioning at its highest level, you’ll have more productivity and a better ability to stick to your time-management plan.
But before you start working from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. everyday, remember that your employer may dictate your hours. Some companies want you to remain on a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule as you transition from the office to remote work. In other instances, your employer may be more lenient, offering flextime or the ability to set your own schedule.
Actionable Step: Take a log or journal of when you’re feeling the most alert. Then, use it to help you decide when to schedule your workday.
Use Time-Tracking Software
Time-tracking software is usually something that an employer uses. However, using a free time-tracking program or app can put your time management in perspective. More specifically, if you’ve never used one before, you might be floored by how far you stray from your own perceptions of time management. Awareness of how you’re using your time is half the battle of time management, making a time-tracking program a must.
Actionable Step: Download a time-tracking app for your phone or start a free trial on your laptop to measure how you use your time. Then, adjust your workload until you’re following your own schedule and to-do list more naturally.
Because of the many time management hacks, you’ll find that certain tips will work better than others. Take that as an opportunity to experiment and find the most effective combination activities throughout the day or week. By doing so, you should discover how to manage your day with little distraction and maximum productivity—becoming a time-management guru in the process.
Do you have any time management tips for remote workers as a manager, freelancer, or employee? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your advice. We’d love to hear from you!
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