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 Betsy, a head of content and remote work routine expert

I like to keep things pretty simple so I only use a few tools.

In terms of organizing tasks and ideas, I think that my paper planner is still my #1 way of staying productive but I also really like Evernote and Trello. Since I work with so many different teams, I find that Evernote is great for keeping each of my separate projects organized.

For my blog, I love using Trello to organize my editorial calendar and brainstorm new ideas.

For communication, I use Zoom for meetings and conference calls and Slack for updates and quick messaging.

Betsy Ramser is a content manager, blogger, and teacher who helps other remote workers thrive while creating a daily routine that works.

Read full interview from Interview with Betsy, a head of content and remote work routine expert.


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 Jenna, a freelance writer who works remotely to help manage her health

I like to keep things as simple as possible, and I try to use my bullet journal and cell phone for anything and everything. My phone calendar is good for reminders, but for the most part I just use regular lists! I’m a huge list maker. I also use my phone timer really often – I’d forget to take breaks and eat if I didn’t.

Specific to writing, I use the Hemingway Editor, but not religiously. I edit my work pretty thoroughly, but it’s helpful sometimes for catching things I've missed. Oh, and Evernote! It’s much better than trying to use bookmarks to help me keep track of research, ideas, quotes, and so on.

Jenna started working remotely after realizing her office job was causing health problems—now she works as a freelance writer and writes about self-improvement

Read full interview from Interview with Jenna, a freelance writer who works remotely to help manage her health.


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 Laurel about helping companies transition to remote work

Zoom for video calls (the bulk of my day), Asana for task management, Slack for team/community collaboration, and Google Calendar for Scheduling.

Offline, my "portable office" includes my Fitbit for activity tracking and top-of-the-hour reminders (nudge to wrap up meetings), glasses, water bottle, earbuds, wireless mouse, chargers, and my faithful Chromebook.

I keep all of these packed in a bag that I can take anywhere I feel like working from that day (which has included hotels, trains, the library, mountain tops, the gym, or even my kids' school).

Laurel is an advocate for remote work and helps companies learn how to work remotely through her consulting and writing.

Read full interview from Interview with Laurel about helping companies transition to remote work.


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 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 Ascencia, a content marketer, and avid gig economy professional

For note-taking, I use Evernote. I take notes there when I read books, take an online course, or just brainstorm for work.

To be honest, the most motivating tool for me is the Upwork time tracker. I work on an hourly basis, so it’s important to track time and keep the tracker on the whole time I’m working. It would capture my screen every 10 minutes.

Out of various project management tools I’ve tried, I like Asana the most.

A forgotten two-year-old Upwork account allowed Ascencia to become a content marketer—see how the gig economy has offered her an alternative path to success.

Read full interview from Interview with Ascencia, a content marketer, and avid gig economy professional.


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 Harry, an IT Architect who works from home

My 13" Macbook Pro is my workhorse. I like the size as it's small enough to remain portable and still have enough juice to run my multitasking universe.

My iPhone keeps me connected while I'm on the go—I'm constantly tethering my laptop to it while mobile. My 100 Mbs connection keeps me wired at home.

Email and Cisco Jabber for keeping in touch with coworkers and Citrix for connecting to the office in NYC.

Harry has worked remotely for almost 10 years as a senior mobile, web and desktop developer—learn how he balances work with family.

Read full interview from Interview with Harry, an IT Architect who works from home.

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