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 Ben, a web developer who freelances from home

Headphones. #1 with a bold and underline. I have significant other, and live in a semi-loud neighborhood, but even when it's almost silent, putting them on helps me focus. They're partially noise cancelling, so that extra quiet can help.

Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, other media.

I've found over the years that having media on in the background is usually helpful to getting me in the flow.

I've had a second screen on my computer for a very long time, and there's almost always something playing on it (usually shows or movies I've already watched, so I don't really pay more than 10% of my attention to them). The only time I don't is when I'm on a Skype call with someone, when I'm planning a project, or when I'm stuck on a difficult problem.

Screens. For the longest time I've had pair of standard 1080p 24" monitors (Dell Professional series, because they're one of the few monitors that have a vertical stand that slides up and down). Late last year I was able to upgrade to a 4k 27" panel, and it was the best piece of hardware I've gotten in a long time. I'm able to see way more code on the screen, see 2 full 1080 width browsers side by side, and just, more. The extra real-estate on one panel is well worth the cost of the monitor.

Desk lamp. Seriously, this one sounds dumb, but when the room gets dark enough that I can't see things properly, that little desk lamp balances it out so well. I have one that clips to the edge of my desk, and it's behind my monitor, so my keyboard is lit indirectly, and I don't get eyestrain.

Multiple CPU cores, and a good chunk of RAM. Having a beefy desktop means I can spin up small virtual machines to run test servers on, to run clean desktops for test environments, to partition off different clients environments.

It's a huge time save to just be able to close a VM, have it save state, then just boot up the next week with all the stuff you were working on exactly where you left off.

Notepad, note pad, boogie board, scrap paper. I use all of these things to take notes when I'm in the middle of something, or when someone asks me for a new feature or a tweak while we're reviewing a project, or just as a paste dump for thoughts in progress. I sometimes dump it to digital notes, sometimes to paper (which eventually goes to digital notes or tickets). There's something really good about being able to write out an idea on paper or board that makes it easy to see the whole picture. Which I grab varies from day to day, even minute to minute, but whatever feels best is what I use.

Learn the tips and tricks Ben uses to stay productive while working remotely on a hybrid team

Read full interview from Interview with Ben, a web developer who freelances from home.


Interview with Kay, an independent software consultant who found freedom in remote work

Email is the main tool, I think. I do "zero inbox" for 10 years now and it works like a nice todo list. I get a mail, look what I can do with it and when I did it, I simply archive the mail. Sometimes this is simply "answer the mail" sometimes it's more.

Next is Slack/WhatsApp, for fast small messages. German companies seem to prefer WhatsApp groups, non-German companies prefer Slack.

Personally I really hate synchronous communication.

It has its place, but some people using it as a way of supervision. "He's not online in Slack, so he's not working!" etc. Really bad.

Then there is GitHub Issues or JIRA for the day to day development work.

Also Google Hangouts/Skype, for some explanatory or exploratory meetings. If someone doesn't understand whats happening or the team doesn't know what to do next, this really speeds things up. Also, some people are unbearable on text media, so you have to do phone calls to keep them in line, haha.

Learn how Kay made the jump from full-time employee to full-time remote consultant

Read full interview from Interview with Kay, an independent software consultant who found freedom in remote work.


Interview with Steven Wade, a software engineer working on a remote team

At Help Scout we are 100% remote. We have 2 offices, one in Boston and one in Boulder, that a few folks go in to from time to time, but we're 80 people spread across the world. So Slack is very important to stay in the know and on top of what you need to work on.

While Slack is a great communication tool, it can easily become a distraction. As someone who can't stand to leave notifications unchecked, I use a combination of muted channels and "do not disturb" time to make sure I spend time away from Slack.

We use Trello to track projects and tasks. It's an easy interface and flow to keep track of what you're working on.

Daily stand-ups to our platform standup channel also helps you see what your teammates are working on and if you can be of assistance (and vice versa).

I check email, it doesn't notify me. I turned off all email notifications on my computer and phone, so now it's something I have to think about opening to check.

I've recently started using the Mac app Tyme to track what I'm working on at work. Whether it be code reviews, programming, meetings, pair programming, anything, I track it. I have also set up categories to track lunch and "remote work travel" to ensure I don't get carried away in my "remote remote work".

Learn more about how Steven works remotely, including his work routine, habits and how he found his remote job

Read full interview from Interview with Steven Wade, a software engineer working on a remote team.


Interview with Lily, an entrepreneur building VR conferencing for remote teams

My favorite tools are:

My laptop

Work cell phone seamlessly integrated with the apps on my laptop. I like a work cell phone separate from a personal one so that I can turn it off, setting a clear delineation between work hours and personal time. Also, you don’t accidentally risk sending something to a co-worker you didn’t mean to.

HTC Vive VR headset for immersive meetings

A good old-fashioned pen and notebook for taking notes and writing down ideas.

Lily has almost a decade of remote work experience, now she's building the team collaboration tool of the future with Virtual Reality

Read full interview from Interview with Lily, an entrepreneur building VR conferencing for remote teams.


Interview with Patric, a UX designer and usability engineer that works from home

I use Gmail and Skype or Hangouts for communication.

My projects and tasks are in Trello where I try to document every activity I do (Why?)

I had days where I could not remember what I actually got done in the last hours so for my own sanity I "log" almost everything...

Lately I started to use Dropbox Paper to structure my thoughts on projects. I really came to like it if you keep the documents as short as possible. I also had a good experience collaborating in Paper on the launch for Indie Ignitor - where I worked together with a partner for the first time.

I tried RescueTime - but it is not really useful if your days task vary and you cant compare them.

I had good experience blocking Facebook, Twitter and the likes to avoid "waking up in a social feed" from time to time.

Patric works on his own projects while also consulting for medium sized software companies, learn how he works remotely.

Read full interview from Interview with Patric, a UX designer and usability engineer that works from home.


Interview with Leon, a journalist teaching the world to play chess

Staying productive is, of course, the big challenge when working remotely. However, communicating effectively with people when you are not in the same room is also a challenge.

We use pivotaltracker.com as a tool to keep track of what everyone is doing and how much progress they are making.

Trello is also very useful, and like everyone, we use Slack for everything as well as to keep ourselves sane.

Chessable has grown a lot in the year since I joined. We now have workers in South Africa, the Netherlands, and the US. I'm in London and the boss is in Swindon. So, keeping in touch is essential.

Luckily for us, we all have a common interest in chess which is also the basis of our work so we talk about that a lot.

For me to stay productive, I can't work without copious amounts of coffee and a steady supply of biscuits. The temperature also plays a part. In the winter, a heater is essential in my little box room, and in the summer I plan to work outside in the garden.

I also like to do a bit of daily exercise to get the blood pumping. I may participate in a 30-minute run or a bit of yoga. I think there's a danger of getting a touch of cabin-fever if you work at home and don't see the outside world enough. So, a bit of fresh air in the middle of the day helps keep you human and productive.

Leon James Watson is a former journalist who has found the intrinsic value of remote work while teaching the masses to play chess.

Read full interview from Interview with Leon, a journalist teaching the world to play chess.


Interview with Michael about being an entrepreneur and freelancer

As far as tools for remote work nothing crazy; laptop, desktop, video conference Zoom or Skype.

I use Asana and Trello with clients but I track everything on my end with Google Docs and Google Calendar.

Michael is an online entrepreneur, author, and freelance writer who specializes in self-improvement and personal finance.

Read full interview from Interview with Michael about being an entrepreneur and freelancer.


Interview with Laura, a communications specialist and travel writer by night

I rely heavily on customized reminders from Slack known as Slackbots to remind me to do things. I like to play music while I work, too. Sometimes I play new age ambient type of stuff to keep me calm, centered and focused.

Other times I'll play upbeat music for motivation. Coffee is also a must-have for productivity. Oh! And strawberries. Strawberries keep me happy.

Laura Coronado discusses her method for juggling her career as a communications specialist by day and her side hustle as a freelance travel writer by night.

Read full interview from Interview with Laura, a communications specialist and travel writer by night.


Interview with Elizabeth, a graphic designer and art director

I’m pretty nerdy and never complete anything without thinking through the tools available to me. I am not an analogue person, so when it comes to tools, I definitely have favourites.

The most life-changing tool I’ve discovered in the last year is Superhuman for email. My clients kindly “gift” me email addresses when I work with them, so I have 11 inboxes to monitor.

Superhuman makes handling that insanity almost a pleasure. It’s invite-only at the moment, but if you want a referral, drop me a line!

As I work within various teams, I couldn’t function without Slack, Google Docs and AirTable.

Working remotely means I hold most meetings by video conference. I use Gather for these as it integrates with Slack and takes meeting notes for me that are searchable. I find I focus a lot more on what’s being said on calls when I’m not constantly scribbling notes.

I stay on track overall with Notion, a note-taking and collaboration app that also integrates tasks, wikis, and databases. So much of what I do means keeping an eye and ear on the internet, so I use it to collect links and ideas in addition to tracking client projects and timelines.

Speaking of keeping an ear on the internet, I use Brand24 to do that as it also integrates with Slack and helps me keep my clients top of mind. The number of times I’ve beaten a PR company to a new article or mention alone makes it a very worthy spend.

For design stuff, I love Canva for a quick social tile or a zillion and, of course, couldn’t function in my role without Adobe Creative Cloud, especially Illustrator and XD.

Props to Unsplash for quick image pulls and inspiration.

Elizabeth provides the ultimate list of tips for aspiring freelancers and remote workers. Check out her game-changing tools, and advice for thriving as a freelancer.

Read full interview from Interview with Elizabeth, a graphic designer and art director.


Interview with Artur, an engineer who found purpose as an Intrapreneur

This list is in no particular order:

  • Alfred for running everything on my laptop, with a full suite of custom workflows
  • Trello for task management
  • Grammarly for checking my writing
  • Brain.fm for ambient noise and focus music
  • Bose QC25 for noisy work environments
  • PHPStorm for coding PHP & JavaScript, and Sublime for everything else

I use a MacBook Pro 13'' that I hook up to an external monitor at home and at WeWork. I have switched the keys in the laptop and the two magic keyboards to Colemak layout. I started having carpal tunnel symptoms, and this arrangement helped a lot.

I am also an Evernote junkie. A lot of my thinking happens there, and I have developed a set of custom tools. For example, every day I receive a journal entry created from a template that helps me start the day with the right questions.

I also try—and fail— to write a summary of every book I read. Every week, I get a book to review, and knowing that I have to write up notes makes me more mindful during the reading.

Artur realized entrepreneurship wasn't for him—see how he carves out his creativity and purpose as a remote Intrapreneur at Automattic.

Read full interview from Interview with Artur, an engineer who found purpose as an Intrapreneur.

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