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 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.

Read full interview from Interview with Alexandra, a freelance fashion designer building her own brand.


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.


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 Bennah, a remote ESL teacher that teaches kids English all over the world

Yes, I use QQ International to connect with the Chinese Administrators if I encounter problems such as black out or if my student didn’t come on time.

I use Zoom for our classes, so each of the students has their own room number. I also use Facebook Messenger since one of the administrators is based in the Philippines so I could easily contact him.

We use PDFs in giving instructions to the students. The Philippine admin asked me to install Team Viewer so he could easily access my laptop if there are problems from my server.

Bennah is an ESL (English as a Second Language) Teacher who teaches students from all around the world while working from home.

Read full interview from Interview with Bennah, a remote ESL teacher that teaches kids English all over the world.


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.

Read full interview from Interview with Hannah, a freelance writer that travels the world.


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.

Read full interview from Interview with Deb, a sales copywriter who transitioned from software development.


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!

Read full interview from Interview with Ben, a CEO/Engineer who works remotely.


Interview with Sarah about working remotely from an RV

At GitLab, we like to dogfood which means we use our own product to work. We will also frequently use Google Docs so that everyone can contribute in real-time.

Sarah is a digital marketing manager who travels the United States with her partner and two dogs while working remotely in her RV.

Read full interview from Interview with Sarah about working remotely from an RV.


Interview with Hanling, a data scientist that works remotely on machine learning

Since I primarily work on Upwork, the tool I use most often is the Upwork time tracker.

But we often use Skype to chat and make video calls with clients. Also I've used Trello to organize workflow for one of my contracts.

Hanling started working remotely as a student and now does freelance machine learning and data analysis for clients all around the world.

Read full interview from Interview with Hanling, a data scientist that works remotely on machine learning.


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.

Read full interview from Interview with Gregory, a Senior Software Developer.

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