Time management for remote workers: how I plan my week’s projects
What’s your time management system? For many, the perfect workflow is an elusive white whale. It’s an ever-changing hybrid that keeps the deadlines met, the emails answered and our sanity intact.
As more people work from home, refining one’s office hours has taken a renewed importance. While freelancers and remote workers have different demands, we all benefit from a good ‘system’. Here’s mine. I think it’s pretty effective — maybe others will too.
How to keep track of work: at a glance
- Divide tasks into ‘chunks’
- Reward completed chunks
- Rescheduling work
- Accommodating urgent requests
- Scheduling meetings
- Managing emails
How I organise projects
My calendar is split into client-sized chunks. Each chunk represents roughly 2 hours of work on that project. That’s enough time to make a good dent and report progress:
The chunks are colour-coded according to the work required…
- Light blue = design work. Flex those creative brain cells!
- Dark blue = web development. Put the blinkers on and summon Kraftwerk.
- Purple = odds and ends. Small, self-contained tasks I can start and finish in one session.
- Red = deadline/site launch. All systems go! I avoid cramming the day with too much other stuff.
- Grey = open slots for email tasks and urgent requests (see below)
Where possible I’ll spread chunks evenly so there’s a variety of things to work on every day.
Completing a chunk
When I finish a chunk, I change it to the green “completed” category. Like a dog learning to poo, this gives me a sense of achievement as I progress through the day. An ideal week ends in a lush field of green, completed tasks.
The great thing about this system is that chunks can be flung about the place and rearranged. If feedback isn’t delivered or I’m awaiting material for a project, I drag and drop that chunk a few days ahead, prioritising something else in the meantime. This means I’m never left twiddling my thumbs as a result of delays.
How do I fit urgent and unexpected requests?
I deliberately leave space each day for the unexpected — see the grey “blank space”. If a client comes to me with an urgent task, that grey chunk provides the wiggle room needed. Invariably, these grey slots get filled with one request or another.
If urgent work is particularly time consuming, I push chunks back and remove the grey slots from the following days. As long as the red deadlines are honoured, everyone’s happy.
Some remote workers like to arrange meeting back-to-back. I can see the benefit in this, as it allows you to have an intense admin session followed by a long period of productivity.
Personally, I schedule meetings so they lead directly into a client’s allotted chunk. I find it helpful to work on something when the feedback is fresh in mind. For me, too many meetings in one go leaves a big queue and a frazzled brain.
Staying on top of emails
Emails are by far my least favourite part of freelancing. There’s no-one but me to deal with them, and many come laden with followup tasks and unexpected odd jobs. Though I’m guilty of emails overrunning from time to time, I am getting better. Here’s how to stay on top of emails while making use of this chunk-based system.
Answering small requests
Many emails just require a simple acknowledgment and the creation of a new chunk. I answer these first thing in the morning, after lunch and before dinner. Three waves a day usually tempers the storm.
Answering large requests
Messages that demand a time-consuming action are flagged. These are addressed on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, with a small smattering on Wednesday for good measure. Urgent requests are of course seen to immediately (see above).
Ideally, I finish the week with zero flagged emails. This is, of course, easier said than done.
So that’s the bird’s eye view of how I manage my time. It doesn’t always go that way, but it’s the best I’ve got so far. What do you think? If you have workflow hacks that improve on this I’d be grateful to hear them.