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How Do Remote Developers Manage to Be Productive?

baltaevalola profile image Lola Baltaeva ・6 min read

What we learned from the experience of communicating and interviewing numerous remote developers:

  1. Remote work is not for everyone.
  2. Everyone has their own life hacks with a daily routine and motivation.
  3. Working remotely can be difficult, but we have not met anyone who would like to return to the office.

You can read about how devs come to the decision to work remotely, how they find remote jobs and manage to work from home, for example, in this interview. Now we want to talk about how remote developers usually organize their life to cope with tasks and deliver on time, and also about the most popular life hacks that we have heard from them.

There is no universal scenario of daily routine. It all depends on the team, on its commitment to synchronous or asynchronous communication, on your personal characteristics, time zone, and out-of-hours affairs and preferences.

What common for most startups that have assembled remote teams is a focus on results, rather than monitoring the hours spent in front of the computer. This means that managing yourself is an extremely important skill for a remote dev: now you will not be spurred by the sight of working people around, the desire to finish a piece of code before lunch or before the end of the working day.

Here are 6 things to do if you want to be productive while working remotely:

1. Try to determine your productivity hours

Remote work makes you get to know yourself better. If you look at yourself carefully, you can make great use of your individual characteristics and, for example, use some hours for routine tasks, and others for solving problems and creative thinking. You probably know when it’s easier for you to focus: for some it’s the beginning of the working day, for others it’s the middle of the day, and still others work most productively at night and shift their schedule to do this.

2. Stick to the schedule

Yes, remote work is about freedom and flexible hours, all right. But you will greatly improve your dailylife if you develop your own system, get up at the same time, allocate a fixed period of time for lunch, set aside a certain time for sports or picking up a child from school. The predictability of the schedule brings stability and calm, but this does not prevent you from making your own adjustments if they are required, and working late in such cases. It is important that such cases are exceptions, and exceptions require rules.

3. Learn to end a working day

This is also related to setting up the system, but it is important for the remote developer to realize that the work must end, even if the computer is always nearby, and no one is kicking you out of the closing office. An interesting project, passion, and the desire to do more often play a cruel joke. You need to give yourself time to rest in order to be stable/long term productive. Be sure, the absolute majority of CTO would rather see in their teams those who consistently deliver good stuff, than those who choose the path of an unpredictable superhero, who does a very large piece of work for a couple of days without sleep, and then disappears for a week (although they manage to find an approach to such people too).

4. Separate work and home spaces

And this also follows from the system. It is extremely important, if you work from home, not to turn your entire life into work and your entire home into an office. Separate time for work and time for rest: it is not necessary to be in touch 24/7, to respond to messages in work chats at night, this “heroism” is not valuable. Divide the space into “work” and “home”, do not work everywhere: at the kitchen table, on the sofa, in the chair. It will be much better if the work is concentrated at the desk, then getting up from behind it, you will distance yourself from work too.
It will be perfect if you can allocate a separate room for work, as Scott Dawson did:

“I think the biggest mistake is to not have a space that you can close off. Having space that enables people to come bother you when you don’t want to be bothered. I shut my door, because my family is at home and the shut door is a signal that I’m busy. I open it when I’m free.

If you think you can work remotely on your living room couch and can deal with the distractions that arise, that’s great. But I think more often than not, people need a dedicated space where you’re in work mode. Once I leave that space, I’m not in work mode anymore.

I have a dedicated office that I can literally leave physically. During my evening, I’m not staring at my computer and I’m not hearing the email comes in. I am achieving a work-life balance by having a separate workspace. I think those are really key to staying power with remote work.”

For artificial separation of work and home spaces, people also use such a classic life hack: be dressed as if you are in an office or coworking during work (yes, even in shoes), and at the end of the day change into sweatpants, your favorite t-shirt, slippers and feel you are at home. This disciplines and sets the right tone.

Some, however, note that they do a great job without getting out of their pajamas, and some even out of bed. Maybe you are this unique instance. If not, do not forget that coworking is invented not without reason, and most companies encourage employees to use them and compensate for the cost.

5. Provide yourself with a quality workplace

Everyone we’ve talked to emphasizes that building a great workplace with everything you need is the first thing you should do if you decide to work from home. There are already a lot of things (like laziness) that interfere in your work process, so additional annoying factors such as the slow internet, an uncomfortable chair or a bad monitor can become crucial.

Yes, now you will have to take care of providing yourself with everything you need, and there will be no one else to blame for bad coffee either.

6. Chin up and maintain your self-motivation

It’s hard to get bored being a part of a cool project and team, but there are all sorts of days (magnetic storms, Mercury in retrograde:). In these cases, you need to be able to cheer yourself up.

First, remember there is always a stand-up, team meeting on the horizon, and you don’t want to let the other teammates down.

Secondly, when the work just doesn’t move, try to work at intervals using the Pomodoro Technique. This technique is quite grandfatherly but still works. This way you can involve yourself in the process, stop waiting for a break, turn off the timer and continue, having caught a working-wave.

Thirdly, when the work is not progressing because you are stuck in a difficult task, can not find the solution, it is useful to think about the problem with someone’s help. Call a teammate, tell him about the impasse and reveal your thoughts in detail, often in the process of explaining the problem to another, you come to a solution by yourself. If there is no opportunity to talk to a teammate (he is busy or it is a deep night on his continent), any other victim — your child, dog or rubber duck — is suitable for this purpose. The main thing is that you have to formalize and utter an idea. As Albert Einstein said: "If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself."

Our other interviewee uses a different technique:
“If there ever is a problem that I just can’t solve, I go and take a bath. The pressure disappears, my brain starts working differently. I’ve had days where I’ve had to use this method twice.”

This is the life of remote developers with a hot bath in the middle of the working day:) If you decide to try it, take these tips into account and look for selected jobs in tech startups around the world here.

Discussion (1)

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frenchcooc profile image

Great article! We made a similar piece a few months ago: It's great to see so many companies coming to remote these days - just bad that's it's due to the COVID-19 ramp up 😢