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 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 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 Rosemary, a digital content marketing manager reveals must-see freelance tips

Here is a list of some of the tools I personally use to keep organized and on track:

  • Product Management - Trello - Which I use for tasks, checklists and assigning work.

  • Time management - MyHours - I use it to manage time and projects as well as create reports.

  • Bookmarks - atavi - To keep a list of all websites I use often whether for work or personal. (It is all organized in one place that I can access anywhere with Wi-Fi or internet.)

  • Organization - Airtable

  • Copy/Corrections Grammarly (huge timesaver all around)

  • Passwords & Management LastPass (a lifesaver)

  • Powerpoint - I use it every day and believe me it can do much more than people realise.

  • Photoshop Essential - Visuals matter in what I do.

Rosemary, a digital content marketing manager shares the freelance lessons she has learned over the years—see her tips & exceptional entrepreneurial wisdom.

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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.

Read full interview from Interview with Kevin, a developer and remote consultant.


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 Cameron, a designer who works remotely at a WordPress agency

This is actually a topic I love to nerd-out about! I've probably tried every to-do list app and strategy you can think of. My current approach (and the one that works best for me) includes a mix of software and good old fashioned pen and paper.

Being a remote worker, it can sometimes feel lonely and cause us to spend too much time on social media.

I find the need to block these social media sites during most of the work day which is why I use an app called FocusMe which lets me set a time period to block distracting websites.

I also use a Pomodoro timer called Be Focused Pro which lets you break your workday into 25-minute blocks with a 5-minute break after each block. I use these 5-minute blocks for things like getting coffee, stretching or walking my dog.

This prevents me from sitting in front of the computer for 8 hours straight which can cause some long-term physical and mental problems.

In terms of to-do lists, I've found the best method for me is pen and paper because I'm such an “out of sight, out of mind” type of person.

Learn how Cameron started full-time remote work after trying freelancing and starting a digital agency.

Read full interview from Interview with Cameron, a designer who works remotely at a WordPress agency.


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.


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.


Interview with Meryl, a digital marketer and master of home office organization

Once you go to two monitors, you won't go back to one! I use email, document and spreadsheet apps, and a task management app that syncs tasks between the desktop and cell phone. I also use a phone and tripod for creating videos and YouTube to add captions.

Meryl K. Evans is skilled at creating a home office that leads to remote work flexibility. See her advice for creating a successful workspace, and hear about her journey into freelancing.

Read full interview from Interview with Meryl, a digital marketer and master of home office organization.


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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