Having a daily routine has helped me to stay grounded in this career change.
I decided to go remote last fall when I saw that I needed a better plan to accomplish real work-life balance. I was doing full-time communications work at a brick and mortar office, and I had been doing some freelance writing work on the side.
Once I transitioned from working in an office to working at home, there were still some things about my work in the office that I wanted to take with me. I decided to keep the same work hours as I had before. I typically begin working at 8:30 am and continue until I finish completing my projects for the day. Unless I received a late project, I usually end the day at 5:00 pm (including all business communication).
To start the day, I take my dog for a one-mile walk. This helps me to relax, and get my rhythm for the day. While I grab breakfast, I usually sit down and look at the schedule for the day. I create my plan for the week on Sundays and add in any new additions throughout the days.
I always start with the longest and most involved project first —since I have the most energy in the morning and early afternoon— and then tackle shorter projects throughout the rest of the day. Once I begin working for the day, I always try to step away at least every hour to walk around and rest my brain. I never realized how much brainpower it takes to sit down really and write, even if you have an outline set and ready to go. Therefore, it is crucial for me to step away and allow my head to rest to gather my thoughts.
I stop for lunch around 1:00pm, and also try to take a short power nap to regain some energy to finish the day. At the end of the workday, I always double-check my schedule for the next day to be sure I have included all that needs to be done (there is always something new to add).
I will check all platforms (Upwork, email, and Trello) one last time for any late day assignments, or confirm deadlines for the next two days. I then end the day with another mile walk with my dog to transition into a time of rest for the evening.
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I used to like working a lot at night, but with 3 kids and a wife, I've become more of a morning person! I usually have breakfast with my family, and then either head to the gym with my wife, or get started on work.
I usually spend the mornings catching up on emails and messages, or doing phone calls. I'll grab some lunch, and then try and get most of my creative work done in the afternoon - either coding, planning or getting something else done.
I'll usually have dinner with the family, put the kids to bed, and then get a few more hours of work done in the evening, which can be my most productive time.
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My work routine is usually dictated by my clients. The majority of my clients are from the US, the UK, Europe, and Australia. So, time zone differences can be a bit of a challenge at times. If it is an Australian client, then I usually wake up early to attend phone calls and slack/Skype chat sessions. If it is a client from the US, then late nights are the norm.
However, I do try to follow a specific routine to help me get through the day (and night!):
The above routine is what I follow on an ideal day. However, in the event of client requests for a call or a Skype chat, I obviously must be flexible. There were instances during the early days of my career when I used to go to sleep at 2:00 AM my time to attend client phone calls. However, over the last year or so, I’ve put my foot down and told my clients that I will not be available from midnight my time to 6 AM my time, unless there is a dire emergency.
Most of my clients have been very understanding and have been more than willing to accommodate my request for an alternate time for a phone call.
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My routine is purposefully on the dull side.
I believe that focus is just the absence of distraction, not a muscle you need to train.
I have two principles that I follow and that have served me quite well. The first principle is to get two chunks of deep work every day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. If I manage to do so, how I spend the rest of the day doesn't matter.
This way I don't have to stress out about an endless list of habits that usually end up being another stress factor for me. Of course, achieving this is not an easy feat, especially in a remote setting.
Tools can help, but for me, it's important not to cling to any particular routine, but instead be flexible to stay consistent with the principle.
The second principle I follow is to do one important thing and do it well, a personal twist on the Linux philosophy. You could understand this as not doing multitasking, which I do fully agree with, but what I mean by it is another aspect.
If you look at your daily workload there are usually things that you tend to avoid or keep postponing. Those are often the most important tasks.
Being busy and doing a lot of things instead is the easy way out. So what I do each morning is write down a top 3 list of things that really need to get done.
The number one pick is usually by far the most important. If I manage to complete this crucial task, it will be a productive day. I sometimes get push back when talking about this idea, but as a thought experiment imagine that every employee in your company did 200 things a year that bring the business forward.
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My current company is based on the West Coast, but I live on the East Coast. There is a 3-hour time difference between us, so I generally have about 3-4 hours of uninterrupted time before the rest of the company really comes online every morning.
So, my days tend to get split up into a few different parts.
First, I start by reviewing PRs or code checked in from the day before. This helps me get up to speed with what is different or what is being worked on, and lets me kind of get back in the programming mindset.
Pretty soon after that, I start the main "programming" part of the day, where I generally have a single focus, one problem, or one part of the code that I need to work on.
Because of the time difference, both of these parts almost always fall during the time when I don't need to worry about interruptions from the rest of my team.
I'm free to really focus on the problem in front of me. Sometimes I'll purposely take myself offline, if I really need to avoid distractions.
The next chunk is normally the "meetings" part of my day, where I spend time talking with coworkers, having meetings, discussing problems and solutions, talking about timelines, and overall just communicating with others at the company.
The last part of my day is normally spent finishing up work from the morning and writing documentation, tests, small scripts, or fixing more trivial bugs.
This also doubles as my "wind down" from the day, so I pick easier or less "intense" things to work on, and try to pick things that can be easily interrupted and restarted.
I will also often set up the problem or task I'll be working on the next day, so that after I'm done doing PR review, I can jump right into it.
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Read full interview from Interview with Gregory, a Senior Software Developer.
I have a quite strict work routine that I developed and really helps me stay focused. I get up at 8 am every day, check Twitter, have some tea and start working at around 9 am.
On Mondays, I basically start my day with a weekly sync call at 10 am where we talk about what was done the week before, what are the plans for the coming week.
I usually take a long lunch around 1 pm, I almost always go out for lunch, for a change of scenery, so I do not spend the whole day at home.
The advantage of working from home and having a flexible schedule is that I can go for lunch basically anywhere I want, I am not constrained to a specific area around the office.
I stop working around 5 pm or 6 pm, depending on the workload. I turn off the computer, leave the room and switch context.
I usually go for a walk to clear my head and catch up on podcasts. Once or twice a week I go for a swim after work hours.
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Because our company is run on East Coast time and I live in Vegas, I wake up bright and early to be at my desk at 6am.
I didn't think I was going to enjoy being up so early, but it didn't take long to adjust. By now, being up before 6am is pretty easy, and I love getting off work in the early afternoon.
When I get to my desk, the first 30-45 minutes is always consumed by email catch-up from the night before and checking stats across a handful of platforms. I then like to prep for any client calls that I have that day. The rest of the day lives and dies by my calendar.
Managing my calendar has been one of the most productive things I've done in a long time. On Friday afternoons, I have a 30-minute block of time set aside to fill in my calendar for the next week. I put in placeholders for chunks of development time, client follow-ups, admin tasks, and even lunches.
This allows me to be more in control of my week, and I don't find myself looking at a blank page wondering what to do next.
The added benefit of filling out my calendar ahead of time is that other team members can't fill up my day with meetings - or schedule a meeting at a time that would disrupt my focused development time.
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I do have to mention that even though being a freelancer has a lot of advantages, in order to have a healthy work routine, there is need for a strong work ethic and a balanced timetable.
I often tend to work until very late and get stuck in a chaotic timetable (maybe also because I’m doing a creative job).
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I start my workday at 9:00 AM and sometimes attend a pre-work call with some colleagues where we discuss the topic of Growth both in our personal lives as well as professional.
My actual to-do list for any given day is pretty dynamic; one day I may be heads-down in Sketch designing website components for projects or interviewing clients and the next day partnering with our Sales and Marketing teams to create graphics or marketing initiatives for our company. I also help fill-in as a Frontend Engineer on projects as needed.
All of this helps keep things fresh for me and prevents me from getting burned out filling like I'm stuck in a single routine.
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Since at the moment I'm a master student, I can work remotely only part-time.
Most of my contracts are short-time (completed within one week). So I have to keep on finding new jobs (recently I'm quite free).
I would review the new job posts on Upwork frequently and apply using my fragment time. Typically I'll do the work in the evenings of my timezone (if it is not urgent) and also two whole days in weekends (if I'm free).
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