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 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.

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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 Deb, a sales copywriter who transitioned from software development

The main tools I have used for remote work are:

I don’t use the above tools all the time – my choice at times is dictated by client preference. As an example, one of my current clients insists on the use of Jira, Slack, Zoom, Dashlane, and Google Docs. Another of my clients prefers Google Hangouts, Microsoft Word, and Trello.

Deb made the jump from full-time software developer to freelance sales copywriter—learn how he made the transition.

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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.

Read full interview from Interview with Max, a Deep Learning Engineer with a winning strategy for distractions.


Interview with Hannah, a freelance writer that travels the world

My laptop is obviously essential for work, so I’m currently shopping around for a new one. I like to use time tracking apps like On the Job to track how I’m spending my time. This isn’t necessarily for clients—most of the time it’s for my personal reference.

Since some of my freelance work is writing, it can help me know what kind of rates to set. Writers often get paid per word instead of hourly, but depending on the topics, how much time it takes you to write the same amount of words can be very different.

So let’s say I just started writing on cryptocurrency and my time tracker shows that crypto topics take a lot of time to write. Now I know that for future crypto topics, I should charge more per word to make up for that.

I occasionally also use BreakTime, but not lately. You set how long you want to work and then how long you want your break to be. This is really good for two things:

  1. If you tend to get very focused when you work, it makes you stop and walk around a bit, which is important for your body.
  2. It can actually be motivating to work longer. If you want to take a break, but see that you only have ten minutes left before the app will tell you to, you’ll probably push yourself that extra ten minutes.

Hannah is a freelancer writer and social media manager that travels the world while working remotely. Read her interview to learn how she works.

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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 Alexandra, a freelance fashion designer building her own brand

I do Fashion Design so I usually use Rhino, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and sometimes InDesign for creating layouts or journals.

I also have a small sketchbook where I sketch ideas or I add inspiration for my clients designs. Beside all this, my laptop is the main tool.

Alexandra is a freelance fashion designer who works remotely while traveling and building her own brand.

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Interview with Gregory, a Senior Software Developer

A comfortable and ergonomic desk and chair setup is key. I have a stand for 3 monitors that keeps them at a good height, and a good comfortable chair that fits me well.

A good headset and camera are always a huge plus as well.

Communication is extremely important when working remotely, so having a good quality microphone - so you can be heard - and speakers or headphones - so you can hear well - is very helpful.

I use a "gaming" headset, because I like it to be wireless (and I can't find any half decent "business" wireless headsets with a boom mic for under $700), but I'm able to turn off all the flashing colors in it with a companion app on the computer, so I'm pretty happy with it.

A whiteboard is a huge help for me when I'm brainstorming or designing a new system, and getting up to walk over to it is always a good idea to stop from sitting in your chair for several hours straight.

I actually have a smaller whiteboard that I replaced a while ago that sits under my desk, and sometimes I'll pull it out to draw or sketch something up while sitting at the PC.

I also use site blocker extensions for my browser to limit my time on sites like Twitter, Hacker News, or other timewasters. Even if it's super easy for me to turn off, the big red warning screen it shows when I go to one of those sites is normally enough for me to realize that it's probably not a good idea.

Finally, a good timer/alarm/calendar system. I live and die by my calendar, so I've set up an old tablet in a stand under my right monitor, and have it displaying my calendar so I always know what is coming up.

I also use a Google Home to set reminders and alarms for different times as I need to. Being able to just tell the oval on my desk to remind me to take out the trash at like 6pm tonight is really nice, and keeps me focused without just ignoring things that I might need to do or remember.

Gregory is a senior software developer working from home - learn how he finds the balance between lack of focus and hyperfocus.

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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.

Read full interview from Interview with Igor Kulman, a software engineer building iOS apps remotely.


Interview with John, a web developer who works from home

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.

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.

Read full interview from Interview with John, a web developer who works from home.

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