Effective time management techniques for WFH

Meenz Nautiyal

Written by

Meenz Nautiyal

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8 minutes

Are you struggling to manage your time well?

Since the pandemic, millions of workers have suddenly faced a new challenge – time management when working from home.

If you struggle with time management, the practical solution is to use suitable systems and tools. It takes practice and patience, but it’s something you can learn. By creating an environment that works better for you, you can boost productivity and deliver better results.

Let’s start creating that environment.

Why time management matters for remote employees

Remote work is here to stay.

For years, we’ve read about its benefits: flexible schedules, no commute, and the lure of working in your pajamas. But most of us didn’t realize the downsides of remote work until the pandemic.

And the most significant challenge? Time management. Planning and accomplishing tasks becomes much more challenging when working from home. And for freelancers, entrepreneurs, and business owners, that productivity challenge directly relates to income.

In short, time management isn’t just another skill in your toolbox. In many ways, it’s the toolbox itself. Managing time on your schedule is the only way to get things done.

So, even if you’ve been working from home for years, you can still improve your productivity. It all comes down to choosing the right tools and systems. Let’s have a look at the tools.

The five best remote time management tools

These five tools will help anyone working from home.

1. Time tracking software

You need to know where you spend your time. Even if you don’t get paid by the hour, you still live by the hour. And knowing where your day goes is the best way to improve.

A good time tracking software shows you where those hours are going. It’s an essential tool for any worker to analyze and improve productivity.

2. Collaboration and communication tools

How you collaborate depends on your team’s culture. There are suites of apps for this vital aspect of remote work, from messaging to video calls or even collaborative editing software.

In short, you can rely on unified communication to have all your communication and collaboration in a centralized location.

But what matters most is that you make a conscious decision of what to use. Don’t leave such essential tools up to chance. They’ll define your team and its culture.

3. Project management

As the world becomes more complex, seemingly simple projects have dozens or even hundreds of moving parts. Coordinating those tasks across your team and resources is a challenging role. Choosing the right project management tool is what matters in the long run.

4. Calendar

Few workers can survive productively in today’s environment without a calendar. A calendar is essential for the mission-critical, like making sure you don’t double-book client meetings. But it also works for time-blocking your tasks.

The best calendars sync with other apps, saving you time to focus on getting things done—not getting things scheduled.

5. Website blocker

Prone to distractions or struggling to set firm work boundaries? A website blocker is an easy and effective way to stay on task.

Website blockers are a great way to deliver an instant dose of focus to your workday. Create a list of distracting websites you know you should block for a while when you need to focus. Block it at scheduled moments throughout the day.

Fitted with the right tools, we’re now ready to improve the systems we use to manage our time.

How to create an effective time management system

The system you use is the most significant factor in managing your time. By system, I mean the environment, strategies, internal rules, milestones, and techniques that keep you delivering efficiently.

To start improving that system, follow the recommendations we’ve laid out below. But to begin delivering top results, remember that it’s a process. You’ll want to keep adapting and improving techniques over time until you get to a point where you feel successful.

Where should you start? A good idea is to choose a specific time management goal and select the techniques you’ll need to achieve that goal.

Here are the top techniques I recommend.

1. Set a schedule

We often focus on productivity backward, looking at the work to be done. But a more effective way is through time management—focusing on time, the most precious resource we have.

A schedule can help you take the tasks you need to accomplish and put them into a time-based structure.

To start, you’ll want to create a to-do list, which can be a simple single list with everything you need to accomplish. It could be a more complex set of lists like those David Allen advocates in his Getting Things Done system

Next, you’ll want to prioritize tasks on that list. Knowing the priority level of a batch of tasks doesn’t help decide which one matters most. Prioritization systems like labeling from “A” to “C” can be helpful, but they’re incomplete.

Instead, rank each task in relation to others so you know what should be done first, second, and so forth.

Now, you’ll want to plan out the day in advance using your prioritized task list. I recommend spending 10 or 15 minutes planning the next at the end of each day.

First, add scheduled items like meetings. Then fill in your working hours with your tasks, starting with the most important, then the second-most important, and so on, using time blocks that estimate how long each task will take. Finally, schedule short breaks at resting points that make sense based on your projects.

Scheduling your day like this forces you to start with what’s most important and is one of the most effective ways to accomplish what matters.

2. Learn your work habits

Remember I mentioned time tracking earlier? Time tracking helps you compare how well your daily schedule syncs with how you’d like to work. Over time, you’ll learn how to refine your schedule.

During those 15 planning minutes each day, compare that day’s ideal plan with the reality in your time tracking app. What did or did not work? Can you improve it?

At first, you’ll probably notice some—or most, or even all—tasks take longer than you blocked off. If it’s a task you do often, write down how long it took you using your time tracking data. Next time you schedule a similar task, use the time it took last time instead of an inaccurate estimate.

If you find yourself working on tasks you haven’t scheduled, find the root cause. That may be because your job requires you to be on-call for urgent tasks. If so, add buffer time each day to handle the inevitable.

But the most common cause noticed overall is that at the moment, you didn’t feel like working on your scheduled tasks. To improve, you’ll want to adjust your productivity system to fit your work habits better.

Learn when you’re most productive. Study your time tracking data over a week or more and look for periods when you feel particularly focused.

In his book When, Dan Pink explains we have the most energy in the morning and evening, with a slump in the afternoon. If that describes you, consider scheduling lower-energy tasks after lunch.

Over time, following this process will help you find a regular work routine you can stick to for the long term.

3. Overcome distractions

One of the biggest challenges you’ll face when working at home is beating distractions. But learning how to stay focused is one of the best skills you can develop for your professional and personal life.

Here are some of the best techniques for staying focused when working remotely.

Focus, don’t multitask. To overcome distractions, make an effort to overcome them. Here’s a simple process that can work well. Start by selecting a single task and deciding how long you’ll work on it. Then consider what will pull your attention away—from email to getting a glass of water—and handle those distractions now. Then work solely on your chosen task, and resist the temptation to do something else until your time is up.

Create a distraction-free workspace. A focus-friendly environment is a huge help as you dedicate yourself to one task. Spend some time creating a dedicated workspace, ideally apart from everything else. Clear off your desk and your computer desktop. Hide notifications. Put your phone out of sight, or even in another room. Spend some time creating a space you enjoy.

Treat work hours as if you were going to work. While we think we’ll save time working from home, the opposite is often true. Our personal lives can blend too much when we don’t have an office. View your work schedule at home just as if it were at the office. Dress the part. Start working at a specific time every day. Even keep your work area separate from everything else.

Try the Pomodoro technique. If you’re struggling to focus for a long time—and don’t we all?—the Pomodoro technique can help. Focus on a single task for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. When you give all your attention during those 25 minutes, you’ll be surprised how much you can get done.

Pomodoro technique

Set healthy boundaries. Remote work has removed the benefit of boundaries. When we commuted to the office, there was some sense of where work began and ended—but not anymore. Try to cultivate those boundaries again. Create a home office—even if it’s just a corner. Set working hours. And force yourself to focus only on work during that time.

Take breaks. As I mentioned in the example of the Pomodoro techniques, breaks can be healthy and help you get more done. If you’re worried about losing too much time, try mini-breaks of as little as 30 seconds. Step away from your computer, look outside, and get a glass of water. Find short activities like this that help you refresh.

Build your focus muscle. We are often our own biggest barriers to focus. When you’re working, keep track of how long you can concentrate, then gradually increase that amount over time. Another technique to build focus comes from Deep Work author Cal Newport—he recommends building focus by reading books in longer single sittings.

4. Don’t forget to socialize

One of my favorite breaks is socializing. Even if you’re working from home without anyone else around, make time for being social. Humans get an energy boost from spending time with others, and it’s also good for our mental health.

The challenge of socializing while working remotely is that the easiest options at work often aren’t necessary. Meetings, in particular, can distract you from more important tasks, and often work-created socializing opportunities aren’t impactful. So the first strategy is to eliminate social activities that don’t bring you value.

Find the best ways to socialize with your team to help you accomplish more, get to know your team better, or both. Remove activities that don’t help with either.

Find the best ways to communicate with your team in ways that work for you when you need to collaborate. And seek out ways to connect on a deeper level. You’ll then want to include socializing that helps you recharge.

One of the most powerful ways to socialize when working from home is finding ways to connect outside of work. Strengthen existing friendships or even build new ones from your home.

Even if you choose not to leave the house, you can connect with video calls and do virtual activities together.

It’s easy to forget about the social aspect of work without coworkers around to remind us, so make an effort to bring a social element back to your life.

A final word on time management when working from home

If you struggle with time management, it’s worth the effort to improve. Throughout our lives, after all, we’ll probably spend more time working than on any other activity besides sleep. Getting it right is worth the effort.

Thankfully, if you struggle with managing your time, you can improve. It’s just a skill you can learn with the right tools and systems.

The best way to learn is to choose one of the methods I’ve shared here. Spend time getting better at that strategy, then move on to others. Track your time, track your results, and keep improving the cycle.

Time management may be a challenge, but it’s worth it.

About the author

​​Meenakshi Nautiyal, aka Meenz, is a Growth Marketer for Nextiva. She’s passionate about everything SaaS, start-ups, and SEO. She has a successful track record of 10+ years scaling organic traffic and inbound leads for various startups. Bibliophile and coffee-lover who dives into art therapy during her free time.

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