Working outside of a traditional office has many benefits – flexible scheduling, relaxed dress codes, and the ability to pursue side hustles or grow your own business. The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 saw a record shift to remote work. In a matter of weeks, millions of workers got a crash course in the joys and frustrations of working remotely. As any freelancer or long-time remote worker can tell you, remote work comes with its own pitfalls and challenges. Make the most of your workday with these top tips for time management:

Tip 1: Make a Schedule (and Stick to It!)

Freelancing or working remotely gives you greater control over your schedule. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you don’t need a schedule to succeed. Start and end work around the same time each day. Have scheduled breaks for lunch, movement, and personal errands or chores. Your schedule doesn’t have to look like the traditional 9-5 but still needs an outline to manage your time effectively.

Set aside time on Friday afternoon to plan your next week. Proactively manage your calendar to prioritize the important and urgent:

  • Important and urgent – These are crises that require immediate attention. Deadlines, last-minute important meetings, urgent tasks from your boss, calming an angry client, a burst pipe, etc. These tasks can often be completed before they become urgent with careful time management or preventative maintenance (setting realistic deadlines and expectations, proactive client communications, etc.).
  • Important but not urgent – This is the sweet spot of big picture items that actively propel your business forward. Examples include planned project work, on-boarding new clients, networking, process development, addressing employee and customer satisfaction, etc. Maximize time spent on these tasks and block out dedicated time each day during your most productive hours – first thing in the morning if you’re an early riser or later in the day if you don’t hit your stride until 3pm.
  • Urgent but not important – These tasks take time away from important tasks and should be eliminated, reduced, or outsourced when possible. Coworkers stopping by or calling for a chat, repeatedly checking email, answering phone calls, booking travel, running errands, data entry or clerical work, paying bills, and other interruptions fall into this category. Blocking out dedicated time to answer emails each day and paying all bills once a month, for example, helps minimize time spent on these tasks. When possible, delegate or outsource.
  • Not urgent or important – Seek to fully eliminate these time drains such as social media use or video streaming during the workday, gossip, or any activity that you use to procrastinate.

Take 5 minutes each morning before beginning work to review the day’s schedule and make adjustments as needed.

Tip 2: Dress for Success

Getting dressed for work each day sends a message to your brain that this is business time. Take the time to shower, style your hair, and pick a work appropriate outfit. Depending on where you work (home, shared space, on the road with clients, etc.) and what your industry is, this may mean a full suit or simply changing from your pajamas into leisurewear.

Remember that a zoom meeting with your boss or new client can pop up last minute. If you prefer to dress more comfortably when working alone, have easy add-ons nearby such as a jacket & tie or statement jewelry and nice sweater that you can put on at a minute’s notice.

Dressing for work sends a message to your coworkers, clients, boss, and yourself that you mean business.

Tip 3: Have a Designated Workspace

Working from your bed or lounging on the couch is not a recipe for long-term success. If you are working from home, find a dedicated space that is solely for working. This can be a desk, home office, or even a portion of your dining room table. Wherever you choose, make sure that you only use this space for working and treat it like a regular office space – store office supplies in easy reach, keep it neat and clean, and keep children and pets out of your space.

Working remotely does not need to mean working from home. Even with the best setup, working from home can mean dealing with family interruptions, lack of social interaction, and a blurring between your personal and professional life. Consider renting office space where you can have a cubicle or private office at a location convenient to your home. Some co-working spaces offer virtual offices where you can use the address and receive work mail and even utilize conference rooms as needed. If you are in the Springfield, NJ area, learn more about rental options at FlexWork NJ here.

Tip 4: Schedule in Personal Time & Breaks

If your personal life is not well managed, you will find it difficult to get work done. Build time for meals, exercise, personal errands/appointments, and time with family and friends into your day. Remember to schedule time for:

  • Workouts – Build these into your calendar and treat them like any other meeting. You will be much more productive with a healthy amount of movement in your life. Keep yourself accountable by booking your favorite workout classes for the week, lay out your weights, or train your dog to expect a jog at 3pm each day. Who can say no to puppy eyes?
  • Meals  Eat a good breakfast prior to starting your workday. Grocery shop and meal plan over the weekend so you have healthy options available and don’t need to resort to take out. Make extra at dinner to have leftovers for lunch the next day and utilize time-saving appliances like slow cookers.
  • Personal tasks – Make a list and pick a dedicated weekly or biweekly time to breeze through paying bills, phone calls, online ordering, filling out permission slips, financial management, and scheduling appointments.
  • Background tasks – If you are working from home, turn on the dishwasher, start a load of laundry, turn on the robot vacuum, or refill the water pitcher before work or during breaks to lessen your load.
  • Relaxation and Socialization – Leave work at work and spend time with family and friends or doing your favorite hobbies to recharge.

Tip 5: Reduce Distractions

Working remotely comes with unique challenges. Some friends and family don’t understand that working remotely is still working and will try to call or visit with you during work hours. Set clear boundaries of when you are working and when you are available for loved ones. According to Gloria Mark, a digital distraction researcher at the University of California, Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully return to your original task after an interruption. This means a two-minute Instagram check actually steals about 25 minutes of productivity.

Fight the urge to multitask. You can’t effectively clean the kitchen and write a report at the same time. Follow your schedule and concentrate on your work knowing that you have time built in for personal and household tasks.

Secure care for children and pets. Whether you hire outside help or stagger schedules with your partner, it’s better for everyone to have dedicated childcare.

Eliminate triggers. If you tend to lose time to endless Twitter scrolling, utilize apps that limit access during work hours. If you take a long time to get back to work after phone calls, turn off your ringer and respond to messages at the end of the day.

Listen to your body. It’s much easier to focus if you’ve eaten a healthy meal and gone outside for a walk.

Adjust your background noise. If you need silence to work, consider noise cancelling headphones. Be realistic about whether you can work from home or if you need to rent an office space. Make a playlist that you work well to than you can turn on to power through tasks

Tip 6: Limit Meetings and Enforce Start and End Times

When scheduling a virtual or live meeting, ask yourself:

  • Does this need to be a meeting? Don’t schedule a meeting if an email or quick phone call will suffice.
  • Who really needs to attend? Keeping the participants to the bare minimum lets you get through your agenda quickly.
  • What is the purpose of this meeting? Distribute a clear objective and agenda in advance so that participants can come prepared.
  • How long will this meeting be? Set clear start and end times and stick to them.

When accepting a meeting invitation, ask yourself the same questions. Schedule meetings strategically – if you know a particular coworker’s meetings tend to run over and are not particularly useful, set another commitment afterwards so that you can do a hard stop at the original end time.

Be aware of fragmented time – little breaks between meetings and calls that don’t allow for more focused work. Use this time effectively by plowing through emails or taking a movement break.

Tip 7: Prioritize Accountability

When you work outside a traditional office setting, facetime with your boss and team members doesn’t happen organically. You need to make an effort to hold yourself and your reports accountable while growing good working relationships.

Make sure you are visible to your boss and coworkers. Set goals for yourself and report progress regularly. Keep track of your accomplishments to share during your annual review. Prioritize tasks your boss asks for directly so that they see you as a responsive employee. Schedule meetings strategically so that you can catch up with coworkers and stay in the loop.

If you manage a team, come up with clear guidelines collaboratively about when you are accessible to each other. This can mean a weekly team meeting, a 24-hour response rule for emails on business days, or simply everyone being available on Slack between 10am-1pm EST every day. Set goals and track progress together. Focus on work produced and not micromanaging your employees’ time.

Remote Work is Here to Stay

Love it or hate it, remote work is only going to grow in the coming years. Companies can now hire the best talent for the job without being restricted to a small geographical area. Workers can take advantage of lower cost-of-living outside big cities while working for big name companies. Small business owners can reach clients across the country with the stroke of a keyboard. Learning the crucial skills of self-management that make a good remote worker will set you up to be successful in the workforce of today – and tomorrow.

Why Flex Work NJ?

Flex Work NJ is conveniently located near the intersection of I-78 and NJ-24, 2 miles from the Garden State Parkway. There is private parking located in the rear of the building. A full kitchen, high speed internet, conference rooms and 24/7 access. With are over 100 restaurants nearby many within walking distance of the office.