How to Create an Optimal Remote Work Schedule
by Thom Brown
Remote work offers a rare and special opportunity to take control of your own schedule. Doing this effectively could mean the difference between success and failure as a remote worker. I’ve been a remote worker for the past four years and, during that time, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t.
The optimal remote work schedule allows you to get the most done without burning out. This will help you keep going and give your all to your clients or team members. First of all, it’s important to understand what asynchronous work is and why it’s beneficial. Next, you need to consider whether you’re a freelancer or a full-time member of a remote team. From there, read my top four tops tips for creating the ideal remote work schedule.
The Benefits of Working Asynchronous
Digital nomads and remote workers tend to operate in different time zones to their clients and colleagues. As a result, they rely on something called asynchronous communication. This is a situation where each member of the team has their own schedule. While you’re asleep in Australia, your business partner may be hard at work in New York. It means that information is shared as and when a worker is ready to receive it. There is no expectation of immediate responses.
For many people, this is actually a benefit. It means that your schedule isn’t dictated by unexpected emergency messages. It gives you, the remote worker, control over your own time. You can be mindful of what tasks you do so that you can focus on being proactive, without letting stress take over.
That means you have a rare opportunity to devise your optimal remote work schedule. First, though, you should assess your own work situation.
The Difference Between Freelancing and Remote Teams
There are two main types of remote workers. On the one hand, there are freelancers. They largely work independently with a variety of clients. That’s what I do. I have to be able to juggle the needs of several different clients each week. Therefore, my schedule must fit them all in and I need to be focused enough to give 100% to each client.
On the other hand, there are those who work full-time as part of a single remote team. This poses a different set of challenges. In some ways, this may seem easier than being a freelancer since you’re only working on a single project. However, you also tend to be less independent, meaning that cooperation and communication are paramount.
As a freelancer, my routine is fairly flexible. As long as I’m meeting deadlines and impressing my clients, then I can work when I want to. If you’re in a remote team, though, then you’ll likely need to cooperate to ensure you’re all working on the same projects at the same time.
It’s important to understand what kind of worker you are and build your optimal remote work schedule around this. Here are four tips to help you do just that.
Start with a Morning Routine
Many remote workers suffer from a lack of a morning routine. According to research from Harvard Business School and Stanford University, morning routines have important benefits. They help us to feel confident, resilient, and healthy. They give us control over our schedules so that we can set ourselves up for success. People with healthy morning routines have better relationships and lower levels of stress.
When you work in an office, the morning routine is unavoidable. You need to shower, brush your teeth, put on appropriate clothing, and make the journey into work. Not doing so would probably lead to you quickly becoming unemployed. Remote workers, on the other hand, can simply wake up and start working from their beds without getting dressed or eating breakfast.
If you live like this, you’ll be less productive and feel more stressed. Instead, make sure you’re waking up at the same time each day. Then, give yourself an hour to complete a morning routine. This can be cultivated over time. The act of showering, getting dressed, and eating breakfast is a good start. Beyond that, though, you could journal, meditate, go for a walk, or write down your top three priorities for the day. This will set you up for carrying out your optimal work routine.
Share Your Schedule
It’s important that your team knows exactly when they can reach you and what tasks you’re working on at any given moment. Therefore, you should create a schedule that can be shared with others. If you spend Wednesday afternoons working out, then make sure your team knows this. Otherwise, they’ll be expecting you to respond and may get frustrated. If they know that they have to catch you on Wednesday mornings or wait until Thursday, then these conflicts can be avoided.
I recently had a problem with delayed payment from a client. I’d sent my invoice on Wednesday and expected it before the end of the week. When it hadn’t arrived the following Monday, I was understandably concerned. It turned out that the client scheduled his Tuesdays for paying freelancers. This meant that if I want my money quickly, I should send my invoice earlier in the week. This conflict was purely down to a lack of communication about our schedules.
Use the Time-Blocking Technique
Time-blocking is a technique you can use that helps you get through tasks more efficiently. You’ll work better when you focus on one task at a time since humans can’t multitask. Rather than constantly switching to your emails while working on a project, create a block of time outside of which you cannot check your emails. For me, I like to read and respond to emails for 20 minutes at the start of my day and 20 minutes before I clock out.
I then break up my other tasks as much as possible. Since I work with several different clients, I try to focus on just one client each day. If you’re working full-time in a remote team, then you might have a day set aside for creative tasks and another day for administrative tasks. Then, there will be time blocked off when you’re not working. During this time, your notifications are switched off and you don’t check your team’s Slack channel. Just make sure other team members know you’re offline.
Plan Your Breaks
On a remote schedule, you have the benefit of flexibility. As a result, it can be tempting to work when you feel energized and motivated while resting if you feel ill, tired, or mentally drained. This is fine in some instances but always taking this approach can lead to unproductive days. Instead, you should plan in advance when you will work and when you will rest.
Once I’m in a flow state, I find it hard to take breaks. Conversely, when I’m feeling tired, I find it hard to get going. I can’t rely on my body to decide when to work and when to stop. Instead, create a schedule that optimizes when to take a break and when to work.
Research suggests that people are most productive when they take a 17-minute break every 52 minutes. This schedule creates the highest levels of focus with the least amount of burnout at the end of your 8-hour shift. So set your timer and work within these confines. During these breaks, give your eyes a rest from screen time and instead focus on your health. You can use this time to eat healthy snacks to keep your energy levels up or meditate to bring your stress levels down.
The optimal remote work schedule begins with a morning routine, is available to clients and team members, utilizes time-blocking, and schedules in breaks. If you achieve these four goals, then you can use asynchronous communication to your benefit and thrive as a digital nomad.
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Born in Oxford, UK, Thom has been a digital nomad since graduating from the University of Sheffield in 2016. He’s a freelance writer and founder of Thom Brown Travel. Thom specializes in minimalist, ethical, and meaningful travel writing.