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 Michael, a VFX artist that works remotely

I mainly use Photoshop, Maya, and after effects as a base to start anything.

Some scripts for rigging, visual effects, modeling come in handy for a faster workflow and a tablet with a stylus pen for sculpting in Zbrush.

Quixel Suite is very useful for using masks as a pre base texture for baking later. The rest of the tools are as needed but a long list.

Simplygon is very useful for performance issues. It’s basically the main tools, the middleware, scripts, and then compositing software.

Last I use Obs Studio to record video for clients of my screenplay. So if I’m doing something in visual effects I have a client window open from the game engine to record the window with Obs Studio.

Some other software I use for my VFX work includes: 3ds Studio Max, Realflow, Cinema4d, Blender, Nuke, After Effects, Iclone, Substance Painter, Substance Designer, Quixel Suite, Marvelous Designer, Zbrush, Mudbox, Modo, World Machine, Visual Studio, Unity, Unreal Engine, Houdini, Mental Ray, Krakatoa, V-ray

Michael is a freelance visual effects (VFX) artist, creating 3d models, mockups and videos while working remotely.

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Interview with Shivani, a remote content writer who shares lessons learned

The two biggest tools I use to stay organised and manage my life (not just my work!) are Todoist and Notion.

Shivani provides all you need to know about making remote work...work. She shares tips on finding the best remote work opportunity and thriving once you get it.

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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.

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Interview with Kevin, a developer and remote consultant

Slack is big for remote work, though it can also be the bane of my existence. I tend to stay signed in via my browser to whatever Slack channel is relevant that day.

I use NotePlan for tracking personal tasks. Fantastical is great for scheduling and calendar. I rely on Google Hangouts for doing video calls.

All my work is code, and I generally use whatever my clients prefer. That can include project management software like Trello, Github Issues, or a regular Google Spreadsheet, and either Github, Bitbucket or Gitlab.

Kevin is a developer and consultant working on many different projects - learn which tools he uses to optimize his time management.

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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

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Interview with Nelvina, a fashion designer who designs bags and clothing

Being a designer, I mainly use Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop for most of my work. I also use Microsoft Word and Powerpoint for design briefs.

When I started doing freelance jobs, I would create hand sketches, scan them and then send them to clients. But now I create everything in vector. I can easily save my work in PDF and share them with my clients. Whenever I need to make modifications, it is also easier to have an editable vector document rather than a hand drawn design.

I communicate with clients using Upwork, Skype, Whatsapp or by email. Even if I have big files to share, I can use Dropbox or WeTransfer.

Nelvina is a freelance fashion and graphic designer that works remotely while working with clients all around the world

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Interview with Max, a Deep Learning Engineer with a winning strategy for distractions

Tools come and go, but there are a few techniques that seem to stick with me.

Meditation is probably the first I should mention, as it has had the most significant impact on my productivity overall. It might be a little unusual to call meditation a tool, but I think of it as one.

I sit in front of a computer with internet access all day, so the distractions are endless. I had a colleague once who had at least 50 browser tabs open at any point in time.

That's a little extreme, but not unheard of, and I tend to do the same. To avoid "tab hell" and other strange modern phenomena, like lurking on social media all day, meditation has an immensely positive effect for me.

If I regularly sit down for two 10 minute sessions a day most of these bad internet habits vanish without having to rely on actual tooling (like Focus or RescueTime).

Another technique I employ when having a hard time getting started is the Pomodoro technique. I don't have any particular tool for it, as it's so simple: you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break, rinse and repeat. The breaks are the most important part.

Once I'm in the groove though, the 25-minute schedule becomes a little too restrictive, and I let go of it.

In any case, I try to take a more extended break every two hours if my schedule allows it, and it usually does, since I optimize for an empty calendar.

Really shutting down in the evenings and weekends is even more critical, as well as getting enough good sleep. In sports and increasingly e-sports it's an accepted fact that rest periods are as important as the training itself.

Not doing so might work for a while, but will wear you out and demotivate you sooner or later. For some reason, that knowledge still hasn't made it into businesses, where managers mostly still want you to do the equivalent of sprinting a marathon.

After a chance Twitter conversation, Max found a remote position as a Deep Learning Engineer —see how he manages distractions and maintains focus throughout his day.

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Interview with Igor Kulman, a software engineer building iOS apps remotely

I really like my standing desk, I spend maybe half the day standing instead of sitting and I really got used to this workflow. I have an anti-fatigue mat that I stand on when working while standing, I bought it when I realized my feet hurt from all the standing.

I have my desktop computer mounted to the standing desk, connected to two displays, an old 22" LCD and a new 27" 4K IPS both mounted on adjustable monitor arms. The monitor arms are great, they allow me to position the displays to the correct height to achieve good ergonomy and save me a lot of space on the desk.

I use a vertical mouse for work, it takes some getting used to but it is so much better on your wrist.

I kept a gaming mouse for gaming after work hours.

The company I work for develops a secure messaging solution so we used it for daily communication and as a form of dogfooding. I basically spend my day in Xcode and Gitlab. We run our own Gitlab instance that we use not only for source control but also for project management; issues, feature planning, etc.

Igor converted a part-time contract into a full-time remote software engineering job—learn how he did it and his tips for working remotely.

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Interview with Ben, a CEO/Engineer who works remotely

I spend a lot of time in Gmail and Google Calendar! I also use Workflowy a lot for my current to-do-list and other longer-term priorities.

I almost always listen to music while I'm working - I find it helps to block out distractions and get me into the "zone".

I have a bunch of different Spotify playlists I switch between. Alternatively, I browse through the Discover section, which usually has great recommendations.

Ben is a CEO/Engineer who works remotely - find out how he balances working at home and family life!

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Interview with Shauna, founder and business consultant specializing in remote work

I use a lot of different tools. It's essential for me to be always looking at up-and-coming technologies for my clients. My favourite tools at the moment would be Todoist, Slack & Trello.

Shauna is a consultant that guides companies in thriving while remote—see her advice for staying grounded as a remote worker.

Read full interview from Interview with Shauna, founder and business consultant specializing in remote work.

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