5 things remote working taught me about productivity

Since I started working remotely, now almost 3 years ago, I’ve learned a thing or two about my productivity. These lessons are not necessarily tied to working remotely per se, they’ll also apply in a traditional working environment. The remote aspect just forced us to rethink how we deal with time & communication.

1. Meetings != communication

A 9 hour timezone difference means having no convenient overlap to have meetings. We’re flexible and still have some - usually in their early mornings, my evenings - but having days packed with meetings is just not an option.

We do most of the communication over email or IRC. Or, as we say: “if it’s not in the mailing list, it didn’t happen.” Instead of opaqueness to anyone not in the meeting, or confusion a couple of weeks later, we have written records of the discussion and the outcome.

2. No meeting is urgent

In addition, this kind of asynchronous communication is useful because it allows everyone to contribute to the discussion at their own pace, without being interrupted in their work.

As a remotee, I can’t just walk up to my colleagues. If I forget to discuss something, it’ll have to wait another day. Once you get used to it, you’ll be surprised how little is forgotten! Once you can’t physically bother your colleagues, you’ll notice how seldom an interruption of their concentration (and yours) is warranted.

3. Find time to focus

Instead of scrambling for little bits of time in between meetings and other interruptions, I can now focus for longer periods of time - the rest of my team is sleeping anyway!

Since I’m not a morning person, that’s when I do tedious tasks like triaging email, following up on projects & reviewing trivial patches. Afternoons are dedicated to coding, for hours on end, perfect to get in the zone!

4. Focus on work, not hours

In a creative endeavor like programming, there’s no real tangible, measurable unit of work, so quantifying it is pretty hard. There’s little direct correlation between hours and amount of work done. Usually, you just know when you’ve done well: you’ll feel intense self-satisfaction about your work.

I start work knowing that I don’t have to sit there & look busy for 8 hours. I can leave anytime & take a break. I can be perfectly happy after having worked only a couple of really productive hours.

But I still have unproductive days too, where procrastination gets the upper hand. Then too, focusing on the passing time is not the most productive solution. Unless you like that feeling after an entire day of getting nowhere, take a break (not from work per se, but from that task), clear your head & come back with renewed ideas & motivation.

5. Work when you work best

I used to get up early to go to work. Since I started working remotely & find myself in another timezone, that changed. The daily standup call is in my evenings so that’s where my schedule started drifting to.

I somewhat resemble a zombie in the morning: afternoon & evenings is when I get my work done. I still work the same amount of time, but I can now wake up full of energy, ready to tackle today’s big challenges.

And sometimes, I have one of those days where I’m really on a roll and don’t stop before finally wrapping things up at night.

Moreover, that flexibility works both ways: I’m also able to run personal errands during business hours!

This post is on GitHub. If you spot any errors, please send me a pull request (& credit yourself!)