What tools do you use to stay productive?

Question: What tools do you use to stay productive? Read answers from remote workers to learn.

Interview with Jacob, a site reliability engineer

During my 3+ years so far at Envato, this is by far the most requested question I get from our new remotes and anyone that is looking to spend more time working from anywhere.

So much so, I ended up writing a blog post that I keep updated for others.

Jacob is a Site Reliability Engineer who believes in asynchronous communication and bullet journaling - learn how he maximizes his daily "deep work" time.

Read full interview from Interview with Jacob, a site reliability engineer.


Interview with Mark, a programmer building bespoke business applications

  • StayFocusd’: A Chrome extension that plays parent to my child-like tendency to reach my hand into the social media cookie jar. I have 10 minutes per work day to burn on these time-wasters and then my access is cut off.

  • iPhone/Slack: "Do not disturb" setting - for a distributed team, maintaining a communication link is paramount, but so is getting work done. Before I "go dark", I'll ping my team saying I need a few hours heads down.

  • iPhone Calendar/reminders: Anything to reduce the mental load of daily activities and obligations goes in my phone, whether it's picking up groceries, watering the plants or going to dinner with friends. Not only does it help me, but my wife can see what I'll be up to as well.

  • Fitbit: Pings me every hour to get up and walk around, an activity easily forgotten during long work sessions. Though I don't go full quantified-self on every calorie I eat, seeing progress for exercise and sleep patterns can be surprisingly insightful.

  • Pen and paper for everything else: Taking notes, sketching designs and diagrams, and doodling - an undervalued activity during a meeting. Through trial and error, I've learned that I can write my thoughts down faster than I can type them, or transfer a visual aid in my head to paper.

Mark thinks that avoiding distractions and sticking to regular hours are perhaps the hardest parts of being a freelancer - learn his secrets to achieving a good work flow.

Read full interview from Interview with Mark, a programmer building bespoke business applications.


Interview with John, a full-stack web developer who works remotely

The tools I use for remote work are bonsai for managing contracts for outside of Upwork, Trello for task management, Toggl for time tracking and VS Code for development work.

John works remotely while using the latest web development technologies, learn how he works by reading his interview.

Read full interview from Interview with John, a full-stack web developer who works remotely.


Interview with Scott about working remotely for 20 years

I use the same tools that I’d use for onsite work, and they’re pretty basic: Laptop, phone, decent internet connection and VPN.

Collaboration tools like Skype for business and WebEx are critical for remotes.

I’d use Slack if it was part of our stack (I’m in a bigger company), but ironically video has never been part of the culture. As a designer and front-end developer, I make a point to keep pace with change and workplace trends.

For example, I’m really comfortable with my editor, but am downloading a new editor that my team has been testing out. You can’t be afraid to shift with the times!

Scott is a designer and developer that's been working remotely since 1998, read his interview to learn how he's been successful

Read full interview from Interview with Scott about working remotely for 20 years.


Interview with Nikita, an entrepreneur building a website to learn anything

My absolute favorite tool for working remotely is GitHub.

GitHub allows the entire world to collaborate on working on code projects no matter where you are located. I use Bee app to stay on top of all my GitHub projects and their issues and I apply a GTD approach there so I sort the issues I want to work on based on priority.

I use many tools that all help with working remotely but one of the big issues with working remotely is having proper communication channels. For that I personally love and use Telegram and the open source project I am working on (Learn Anything) uses it primarily. I dislike Slack/Discord for their lack of native apps on macOS.

Other than those tools, Fantastical, 2Do and Trello let me focus my time in the way I see fit and that helps working tremendously.

I also share nearly all the Trello boards I use publicly so anyone can get a feel for what my workflow with the tool is like.

Nikita shares his Trello boards publicly so you can see how he works.

Nikita shares his Trello boards publicly so you can see how he works.

I also have a habit of documenting everything. Everything I know is documented somewhere that both I and the entire world can reference. Currently this is achieved through writing articles on Medium and keeping a constantly up-to-date personal wiki with GitBook.

For example, check out my list of amazing macOS apps.

Nikita is an entrepreneur working on his startup while optimizing his productivity—learn how he organizes his life and work to maximize happiness

Read full interview from Interview with Nikita, an entrepreneur building a website to learn anything.


Interview with Ayesha, a freelance writer that gained early clients through her blog

As I mentioned earlier, I am old-fashioned when it comes to organizing and planning. I just keep a notepad and a diary to keep track of my work. If you’re working remotely, you know that a lot of your time is spent in front of the screen. So, the notepad is my detox for all the screen time.

In terms of apps that I’m using, there’re many of them.

I use Buffer to schedule social media posts. That makes it easier for me to schedule the entire month’s posts and get ahead of my work schedule.

I use Canva for my social media posts and other graphics. It has some really great templates without you having to fret over font types, colors, and layouts. I often use Photoshop occasionally to compliment with Canva.

Google Drive helps me communicate blog posts and other documents with my clients.

I use Toggl to keep track of my billed hours (I’m looking for a replacement for Toggl because there're a few hitches once in a while).

And of course, there’s no life without Microsoft Word. If I’m working, there’s always Microsoft Word open.

Other than that, I use Excel to keep track of the income. Then there are social media apps, Asana, Dropbox, and Google Calendar. I think there’s just too many to keep track of.

Ayesha is a freelance content writer—learn how she made the leap to remote work while building her blog and raising her family

Read full interview from Interview with Ayesha, a freelance writer that gained early clients through her blog.


Interview with Eddie, an Engineering Director

So, I think of tools as both apps and habits.

Depending on the project, Pomodoro is still a useful technique for managing time. I prefer it for more mechanical projects, as it runs the risk of breaking out of flow.

In my role, having an up to date calendar - and trusting that everyone else is up to date as well - is super important.

We have integrations with our HR system to sync calendars with whoever is out sick, on holiday or vacation, and also announce it in Slack's #general channel.

I also use Calendly to let folks (either inside or outside the company) pick a time slot that is available for both of us.

I take copious notes but also love to keep things simple, so Apple's default Notes.app gets hourly use. It syncs across all devices, so my notes are available on Mac and iPhone. I tend to do most of my note-taking, sometimes dictated, on my iPhone.

I've yet to find a to-do system that fits my brain and habits just right, but lately I've taken to using the Gmail.com "Tasks" sidebar. It lets you create tasks from emails, so I leave Gmail.com open in a tab all day every day.

For technical lifehacks, I can't live without iTerm set to "visor" mode and bound to a keyboard shortcut. By doing this, I can "summon" a terminal at the top of my screen, no matter which monitor or virtual space I'm viewing.

I also have hot corners set up on macOS, so with a flick of the cursor, I can put the mouse in the top-right corner and lock my screen. Handy muscle memory when walking away from my desk.

Lastly - a cheeky one - on macOS, press cmd + ctrl + space to summon Apple's emoji pad from any text input. This one also gets hourly use 😅

Eddie is an Engineering Director - learn how he manages to absorb interruptions and manage information overload while staying productive.

Read full interview from Interview with Eddie, an Engineering Director.


Interview with Adam, a UX engineer building his own consulting company

Station has been a great tool to collect all of the applications I had to check separately. Now I have one interface to check tasks, email, Slack, billing/accounting, hour tracking, and more.

Besides that, I think it's important to master the tools of your craft, so I continue to invest time into my terminal and my code editor to stay sharp and productive.

For terminal I use Oh My Zsh (with autosuggestion) and Solarized and Powerlevel9k.

Powerlevel9k, an awesome Powerline theme for ZSH

Powerlevel9k, an awesome Powerline theme for ZSH

For my IDE I Use Sublime Text with a huge host of plugins: color highlighter, syntax for Ruby, JavaScript, Elixir, GitGutter, JsPrettier, SideBarEnhancements, SublimeLinter, ...basically all the things to make my main programming languages easier to read and use.

Sublime Text 3.0 — a powerful code editor for programmers

Sublime Text 3.0 — a powerful code editor for programmers

Learn how Adam started working remotely from a cold-email on Hacker News, to how he's using a local co-working space to grow his business.

Read full interview from Interview with Adam, a UX engineer building his own consulting company.


Interview with Mike, a software engineer who works remotely at GitHub

Qbserve helps me to make sure I'm spending my time sensibly during the day. iOS and macOS Notes, Calendar, Reminders and Fantastical apps allow me to keep track of what's important and work on it.

GitHub allows me to collaborate on code with coworkers around the world. Zoom provides excellent videoconferencing. Visual Studio Code is a great programmer's text editor.

My adjustable standing desk and monitor arms helps me from getting stuck in one position.

Mike got started with remote work after getting an offer from his dream organisation. Learn how he works remotely while working on open source projects and publishing books.

Read full interview from Interview with Mike, a software engineer who works remotely at GitHub.


Interview with Chanell, a freelance writer and social media manager

I am a huge fan of Google Drive.

I use Google Docs to share content with editors I work with, so they can quickly make edits or add notes for things I need to tweak. I also use the spreadsheets for content calendars and contact information.

In the past, I have used Harvest to track time, generate PDF invoices, and send these invoices directly from the app.

Asana and Airtable are other apps I have experience with in relation to project management and contact information storage.

If I need to create an infographic or regular graphic I will use Canva, which is an impressive free and easy-to-use online graphic design app.

Chanell is a freelance writer working from Atlanta that writes about business management tips and video game entertainment threads.

Read full interview from Interview with Chanell, a freelance writer and social media manager.

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