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How I Boosted My Productivity Working From Home

I've worked remotely since 2012 and keeping my work-life balance was a challenge at first. Often it felt impossible and would take up what felt like all of my day. I've always worked 8hr shifts and if anything took my attention from it, the day was gone. I was so frustrated and I hated clocks. My timer would laugh at me when I had been awake for 6hrs but only 3 of those were logged as work hours.

The cause for this ranged from distractions to interruptions from the family to simply... food.

Can't keep up

Another issue was the companies I worked for had way too many ways of assigning me tasks: Wrike, Github, Slack, email, or just Zoom. Wrike and Github were easy to manage at first, then Github changed their notification system.

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Wrike's tasks were easy when they were assigned to me, but then my project manager would ask me to do things in the comments, and then that would get lost.

Speaking of lost, don't get me started with Slack and its never-ending feed. And Zoom, "I'm sure she asked me to do something, and I can't remember now" was what I would think to myself if I got lucky.

Does this sound familiar? Am I the only one who went through this? Well, I figured out a system that works for me and I hope it works for you.

Working at home

The first issue to tackle was the working from home factor. Why was I more productive when I worked at Starbucks? Well, no one to interrupt me, I could just pay people to make me food and I'm pretty sure the fact that I worked on a computer made me look cool, and I kinda liked that attention... don't judge me.

But that shit gets expensive! And sometimes, when you work from the same Starbucks enough times, strangers aren't strangers anymore and would over-indulge me with attention. It's happening again!

Use your cards

You work from home, and you have an advantage over people who don't. Use it. Wake up when they don't like to wake up.

Don't fall asleep

I started waking up at 5 am and started work on the dot at 6 am. Woke up, made my bed, showered, and made myself a coffee. I avoided breakfast because I wanted to stay a little hungry to keep my head clear. In my case, my family doesn't wake up until 8 am or 9 am. That's 3hrs (almost half the day!) that I was able to work uninterrupted.

Working this early gave me a boost, and sometimes I didn't even want to take a lunch. I just powered through to 2 pm and that's it. My workday is complete. 3 pm if you take a lunch. Not bad!

Manage management

The next issue was all these damn sources of truth. Management likes their fancy tracking kanban boards on steroids with sprints and all this other magic. The problem is it's all over the place and you know you've been asked to do something outside of the management software and you can't find it.

Well, I have a little method for that too.

There is one place it goes to

Email. Yeah... I know... but hear me out. If you setup Wrike, Github, and anything else management manages you with to just send you emails, you get it all in one place. So you can bang through it all and see what's important and what's not. In some cases, you can reply to the email if AWS isn't down for that specific region.

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Do this, before you do the next step. It will make it way easier. Trust me.

Low tech solutions to high tech management

The next one is even stupider lol. Make a list. I have a markdown page that looks like this:

# Do

# Doing

# Blocked

# Done

## Jan 29, 2021
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KanBan just for me! I liked KanBan and was disappointed when we stopped doing it. So I decided to one day do it on my own and this is how I stumbled across this amazing little trick.
It speaks for itself but I'll go through it briefly.

  • Do is what needs to get done (sometimes I have subheaders that are categorized based on what kind of work I'm doing like marketing or sprint tasks etc. But I always delete the headers when there's nothing under that list anymore)
  • Doing is what I'm doing. "Hey Phil, what are you working on?" I just copy-paste that.
  • Blocked things that go here I always have to notify someone. Another way to look at it is "It's in someone else's court." Also, I add a link to that specific conversation where I let them know it's in their court.
  • Done Is what I did for that day. So I have a log of things I worked on. For this purpose, I also add subheaders with dates. "Hey Phil, what did you work on last Monday?" Just copy-paste.

Links are a must.

When I add an item to the list, I always need context. I have added things to the list without a link and found myself asking "WTF is that?" So add a link. The best thing about working the digital life is that we can get links from almost anything.

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So my list looks like this:

# Do
- Update copy in pricing page -
- PR notes for UI updates -

# Doing
- Joe wants a different bg color -

# Blocked
- Update pricing on marketing page - -- Waiting on Mike for new prices -

# Done
## Jan 29, 2021
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It DOESN'T MATTER how small the task is. It goes on the list.
Fix merge conflicts makes it to my list. Because the point of this is for it to tell me what I need to do. My wife and I don't trust my memory. I trust the list.

Zoom Calls

Then there are the Zoom calls that don't provide links. Generally, there are two types of tasks that result from this.

1) Something so small that I can write it in one line and it will be enough context.
2) Something big that I can't write in one line.

If it's 2, then I simply ask them to do their job... not like that obviously. I say something "Can you create a Wrike task for that and assign me to it? I don't want to forget it. I have a lot on my plate ATM." I almost find it that when they write the task down, they add or change things that they initially were asking for.

If you can create a quick Wrike task for it, then that's fine too but don't do this all the time. Your job is not to manage yourself - well, I guess this is managing yourself, but it's not your job to manage yourself in a way that managers manage you... can you manage what I'm trying to say? - Always assign it to them for review. The last thing you need is you spend hours on it and they want something else.

That's how you get your link!

Sum it up

So here's everything in a nutshell:

  • Work during hours that yield the least interruptions from family and co-workers
  • Setup notifications to go to your email on everything you can
  • Make a list, and always add links for context
  • Make your managers make links if they ask you to do something over a call if it's too big to go on a list.

Your first hour of work can be dedicated to going through your emails and making a list for the day. After that, you just go down the list and knock them out. You will feel like you got things done, and you'll have a nice log of things you've done for the day, week, month, and year.
I hope this helps you out. It worked for me. Let me know if you have any tricks of your own that other readers can take advantage of too.

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