John Hawkins
Web Developer
October 29, 2018

Interview with John, a web developer who works from home

John is a web developer running a mini-agency inside a larger WordPress agency - learn how calendar management and establishing boundaries have helped him boost his productivity.

How did you get started with remote work?

In 2009, I was unhappy with my corporate job. A couple of friends and I decided to start a WordPress development agency.

Since one was in Texas and two were in Vegas, it made no sense to try and have an office. So, we all worked from home. Although I don't run that agency any longer, I have yet to go back to working in an office and will avoid it for as long as possible!

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What are you working on?

While I work for a WordPress agency that focuses on enterprise level clients, I'm also running a mini-agency inside that larger agency.

When your website says that you are everything to everyone, it becomes really hard to stand out.

So, we let maintain the focus on enterprise clients and direct small business clients to, our small business department.

Since this is a relatively new initiative for us, I'm putting in a lot of work with the marketing team to help build a presence for the eWebscapes brand. That is, when I'm not talking to small businesses about their website requirements.

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What's your typical work routine?

Because our company is run on East Coast time and I live in Vegas, I wake up bright and early to be at my desk at 6am.

I didn't think I was going to enjoy being up so early, but it didn't take long to adjust. By now, being up before 6am is pretty easy, and I love getting off work in the early afternoon.

When I get to my desk, the first 30-45 minutes is always consumed by email catch-up from the night before and checking stats across a handful of platforms. I then like to prep for any client calls that I have that day. The rest of the day lives and dies by my calendar.

Managing my calendar has been one of the most productive things I've done in a long time. On Friday afternoons, I have a 30-minute block of time set aside to fill in my calendar for the next week. I put in placeholders for chunks of development time, client follow-ups, admin tasks, and even lunches.

This allows me to be more in control of my week, and I don't find myself looking at a blank page wondering what to do next.

The added benefit of filling out my calendar ahead of time is that other team members can't fill up my day with meetings - or schedule a meeting at a time that would disrupt my focused development time.

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Do you have a dedicated space to work?

One of the major selling points for working remotely is the fact that you can 'work from wherever you want'. And yet, I'd say that 90% of my time is spent sitting or standing at my desk in my home office.

Occasionally, I will move downstairs to work from the couch for a bit, or if the weather is reasonable, I'll sit outside. But that's typically only when I'm working on writing projects, such as blogging or answering emails.

When it's time to do any sort of development or research work, I prefer to be at my desk with a big external monitor.

For about 6 months, I had a dedicated desk at a coworking facility. I was able to set up an external monitor and I'd bring my keyboard with me each day. So the setup was similar to working from home and I really enjoyed it.

There were two key problems that caused me to stop using that as my office 5 days a week:

  • My budget for food and gas shot through the roof. Eating out 5 days a week in downtown was crazy expensive.
  • Even though it was only a 15-20 minute drive, I felt like I was losing about 2 hours of productivity each day. By the time I had reached the office, got the desk set up, and had all the mini-conversations that happen all the time at coworking spaces, my actual work time was diminished.

These days, I have 2-3 calls with clients or team members each day. Working at a coffee shop or coworking facility just doesn't seem like a reasonable option anymore.

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What tools do you use to stay productive?

As a remote team member, communication is the number one thing that can make or break a project or team. There are a number of tools we use.

1) We use Slack for work-related conversations, but just as importantly, we have a number of dedicated channels for watercooler-style chats. These include rooms where we talk about health, movies, board games, and even a book of the month club.

2) Basecamp is where all our projects live. If it's not written down in Basecamp, it didn't happen.

3) Zoom. Yeah, Slack has added the ability to do video and screenshare calls. But Zoom is what I use for any calls with clients. With the client's permission, I'll record the calls so that we can refer back to the calls to review any details that may not have made it into Basecamp. Or I'll record training sessions with the client and send them the video at the end, so they can use it as an ongoing learning tool for themselves or any new staff that come on board. The clients appreciate this small detail more than I can express.

4) Google Calendar. As I mentioned before, I live and die by my calendar. With Google calendar, my entire team can view my calendar - and I can view theirs - allowing them to schedule calls at a time that they know will work for me. This saves the back and forth of "hey, do you have time on Tuesday for a call?"

Those are the biggies.

 The easier we make communication, the more productive we can be.

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How do you stay on task?

This is a great question. And I think it's something everybody struggles with from time to time, whether they work remotely or in an office.

For me, it goes back to the calendar. If I have the day mapped out ahead of time, I tend to stay on task a lot better.

When I don't have something scheduled for the day, I often get overwhelmed by the possibilities. I'll look at the blank slate and start thinking about the 1,000 projects or tasks that I keep saying I'll get to one day, but never really do.

Computer notifications are a big distraction for me. When it's time for me to be head-down on a task or project, it's key that I close any and all tabs that will make a sound or flash if something new comes in - email, Facebook, Twitter, et cetera. I'll set my status in Slack to "Do Not Disturb" and turn off notifications on my Mac.

Then, as the final step, I'll put on some low music. I have a playlist of 300 or so songs that I put on repeat. It's music that I know extremely well. I can't play new music because I find myself trying to "listen" to the music. The music for me needs to be like a soundtrack for my day. It's there in the background, but I'm just barely noticing it.

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What do you like about remote work?

Just about everything, actually.

But specifically, I like the lack of a commute to/from work. I used to enjoy my 15-minute drive to/from the office as I found it a nice way to ramp up or wind down from the day before being with my family.

But the ability to jump on the computer in the evening and knock out an hour or two of work without having to drive to an office to do it far outweighs it.

I like being able to work in whatever clothes I'm comfortable in.

I do a lot of video calls, so I'm rarely just wearing a tank top or anything like that, but I feel most comfortable wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and no shoes. That doesn't always fly when working in an office. Oh, and living in Vegas, any day not having to put on pants is a good day!

I like having access to my kitchen at lunchtime. And there's never a line for lunch or somebody else cooking something stinky in the break room. These were big issues when I used to work in an office. I don't miss that at all!

Plus, I save on the cost of eating out for lunch. I'm also able to better control what I eat this way.

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What do you not like about remote work?

I love pretty much everything about working remotely, but there definitely are a few challenges.

When you work with a team 8 hours a day for months or even years, they become your friends as well as co-workers. Not having the option to end the day with an impromptu group going out for a meal is a bummer. For me, having a meal with my team would require a lot of planning and travel.

When I was running a business, I was really terrible at setting boundaries. It became very easy to be at my desk every waking moment. This lead to some terrible burnout.

I'm much better about it now, but I have to stay on top of it so that I don't fall back into old habits.

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Why does remote work require discipline?

When you work from home, distractions are everywhere. You walk by that big TV and couch that look so alluring as you head to your office. Xbox? Playstation? I can hear those calling, too. But it's not even those distractions that are the worst. If you work from home, you need to set boundaries with your family, too.

When head-down coding, an interruption from a family member isn't just a 1-minute answering of a question. It can take 15-30 minutes to gain back the focus of where you were.

Maybe you have a door on your office that you keep shut when it's Do Not Disturb time, but open during times where an interruption won't derail your work.

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What did we forget to ask John Hawkins?

At RemoteHabits we're always trying to improve our interviews, what question should we have asked John Hawkins?


John Hawkins

John Hawkins is a Client Strategist at where he helps build WordPress based websites for small businesses and non-profit organizations.

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