We believe that remote work with asynchronous communication and loosely defined working hours is the future of work for software engineers. It's a giant upgrade over office work. Get rid of that commute. Give people autonomy. Allow them to design the life they want.
But remote work comes with unique challenges too. There's such a thing as too much freedom. Just like their office counterparts, remote software engineers also have to juggle complex projects on tight deadlines. The work still needs to get done, except that it now needs to get done on a schedule you decide yourself.
To excel in such an environment, you need to master time management. In this article, we explore five time management strategies to help you structure your workday. Try them out. Some will stick and some won't, but all are meant to improve your focus, productivity, and work-life balance.
1. The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management strategy developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. It's designed to enhance productivity and focus by breaking work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Here's how to implement it:
- Choose a Task: Select a task you want to work on.
- Set a Timer: Set a timer for a Pomodoro interval (usually 25 minutes).
- Work Focused: Work on the task until the timer rings and stay focused.
- Take a Short Break: After the timer goes off, take a short break of five minutes. Use this time to stretch, relax, or clear your mind. Don't scroll social media.
- Repeat: Repeat the process, working for another Pomodoro interval, followed by a break. After completing four Pomodoros, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
The Pomodoro Technique helps you maintain concentration, prevents burnout, and improves your time management skills by dividing your work into manageable intervals. Also feel free to play around with the length of your timer. It doesn't have to be 25 minutes. If an hour and a half works better for you, then go for it.
2. Biorhythm Time Blocking
This technique involves aligning your work with your natural energy levels, or biorhythms, throughout the day. Here's how to use it:
- Identify Your Energy Peaks: Pay attention to when you feel most alert and focused during the day. For many people, this is in the morning or after a nap.
- Match Tasks to Energy Levels: Schedule your most demanding and cognitively challenging tasks during your energy peaks. Reserve lower-energy times for administrative or less mentally taxing work.
- Plan Your Day: Create a daily schedule that accounts for your energy fluctuations. Prioritize high-concentration tasks during peak times and use low-energy periods for more routine work.
Biorhythm time blocking makes you a more efficient worker because you end up assigning the right tasks when you're most ready for them. While you can force yourself through a difficult task during a low-energy time, this misalignment eventually leads to burnout. Biorhythm time blocking stops this from happening.
3. The Maker / Manager Schedule
The Maker/Manager schedule, popularized by Paul Graham in 2009, distinguishes between two modes of work, maker mode and manager mode. Here's how it works:
- Maker Mode: Designate specific blocks of time for "maker" tasks that require deep focus and creativity. These tasks are often project-related and demand uninterrupted concentration. They fit in blocks that are typically longer and can run for multiple hours.
- Manager Mode: Reserve separate time blocks for "manager" tasks that involve meetings, emails, administrative work, and communication. Manager tasks are typically shorter and more fragmented.
By alternating between maker and manager modes, you can maintain your creative flow while managing routine responsibilities. This is particularly useful for software engineers who should ideally spend most of their time in maker mode. When you're a manager, you'll spend more time in, you guessed it, manager mode.
4. The Ivy Lee Method
The Ivy Lee Method, named after its creator Ivy Lee, the founder of modern PR, is a simple but effective time management strategy that simplifies your daily to-do list and prioritizes essential tasks. Here's how it works:
- Set Your Tasks: At the end of each workday, write down the six most important tasks you need to accomplish the next day.
- Rank Them: Prioritize these tasks in order of importance.
- Start Your Day with Task #1: The following day, start with the first task and work on it until it's completed. Then move on to the next task, then the next, and so on.
- Repeat Daily: Continue this process daily, writing a new list each evening and starting with the top task the next day.
The Ivy Lee Method promotes simplicity and focuses on completing a small number of high-priority tasks each day. While the original method focused on six tasks, you can and should adapt it to your needs. You may find that a shorter or longer list works better for you. But the key is to prioritize tasks and stick to your plan.
5. Sprint Planning
You'll be familiar with this one, although probably not in the context of time management. But sprint planning, often associated with Agile project management, can also be adapted to individual time management and task planning. It works just like you think it would:
- Define Sprint Duration: Choose a time frame for your sprint, typically one to two weeks.
- Set Clear Goals: Identify specific goals or tasks you aim to accomplish during the sprint.
- Break Down Tasks: Divide your goals into actionable tasks that can be completed within the sprint.
- Prioritize Tasks: Order your tasks by priority, focusing on the most critical ones first.
- Allocate Time: Schedule time blocks for each task within the sprint, considering your availability and productivity.
By adopting the principles of sprint planning, you bring structure, clarity, and goal-oriented focus to your work as a remote software developer. This approach allows you to systematically tackle tasks, maintain a sense of progress, and adapt to changing priorities or challenges efficiently.