I spend a lot of time talking about time. I coach leaders on how to capture that elusive feeling of personal and organizational productivity, while having enough time for their families. I train managers on how to get more out of their and their team’s time, and I train employees on how to make the most of their time. When you add geographical distribution to the productivity recipe, things get a little spicy.
Lately, I’ve had a growing appetite for spending more of my time working remotely, and I’m not alone. According to Gallup, 42% of working Americans spend at least some of their time working from home. I love the autonomy over my day. I love minimizing my commute time and maximizing my morning time. And, I love being able to go to my own kitchen and whip up a quick, healthy lunch made hot on the stove.
But, I’d be lying if I said I have all my time shit figured out. So, I wanted to do a little experiment and a little more “mesearch.” I spent two weeks fastidiously tracking my time, and I learned three things.

  1. Gamify as much of the day as possible

I focused on three productivity tools: calendar blocking, auditing my time down to every 15 minutes to assess my level of time awareness, and the Pomodoro technique to make it fun (and honest).
As nerdy as it sounds, when I gave myself the goal to utilize those tools to their optimal level, I found myself having fun with the constraints. I spent 15 minutes on Monday morning looking at my upcoming week, and I calendar blocked every hour so that I could keep myself accountable. And I used my own stylized version the Pomodoro technique for every activity.
The basic premise of the Pomodoro is that you work in 30 minute intervals, 25 minutes focusing on your task, and 5 minutes to give yourself a brain break.
I’m a big proponent of accountability and making your habits your own, so, sometimes I worked in 25 minute intervals, sometimes 10, but never more than 45. I took little 5-10 minute breaks and got fired up to start the next activity. I’ve been using this technique for about a year, and I still continue to surprise myself with how much/how little time things take when I stay focused. I’m doing it right now. How I spend my time then becomes a bit of a game or mini-competition with how well I spent the last 30 minutes.

  1. Stop communicating.

At least stop the constant communicating. I know it’s not a big secret, but the best way I found to take control of my time was to stop interacting with the outside forces. I closed down my email; I didn’t go onto social media, and I put away my phone except for certain scheduled times throughout the day.
So much of my day is typically dictated by workshops on my calendar and meetings with clients. By taking control of the time I had, and really sticking with it, I found I was able to engage in the virtual space more efficiently. Email responses that would normally take me several minutes to ponder, come back to, then respond to were answered in one seamless swoop. I wasn’t constantly toggling between different tasks. I blocked out time (tell you more about that next) to do certain tasks, knowing that I would get to the communication piece later.
Not only did this do wonders for my productivity, but I was able to quiet the inner-chatter of my mind. I didn’t stop there. I went as far as de-screening my evenings. No Netflix or videos. Instead, I read and white boarded future creative projects.

When I gave myself the intentional space to think clearly, I felt like I was connected to being a real human. What I found even more profound, was that I could feel that connection amidst lots of screen work. It was the fact that I was in control of my time and productivity on the screen that mattered. (I can write about my attachment to control another time.)

  1. Forgive myself when things don’t go as planned

And things will most likely (always) go a little off the rails. That’s one of the best things about life. Forgiveness was — and continues to be — the toughest but by far most important time management tool.
Life isn’t binary. I won’t always be fully “on.” I won’t always have a good assessment of how long a project will take me, and I’ll get sucked into responding to email for hours longer that I projected. All that may be the case, but I can learn from that and use my next 30 minute chunk of time better.
My major take away, which isn’t so much a shock but a reassurance, is that the art and science of productivity is directly impacted by our connection with ourselves. The more certainty, respect, flexibility, and forgiveness I have for myself and my time, the more I’m able to serve others. When it comes down to it, self respect is the special ingredient to staying engaged and happy in a virtual world.

Megan Wheeler

Megan is a leadership trainer and coach with LifeLabs Learning. She specializes in the remote experience and managing dispersed teams. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and finds any excuse to travel.