Before joining Automattic in May 2021, I’d already worked remotely for more than a year. But on becoming an Automattician, I soon realized that working in a fully distributed company takes remote to a new level. In the beginning it all felt chaotic and frustrating as I wasn’t confident in my process, and on some days I couldn’t recall where my time went. Joining a fully distributed environment can be especially challenging, as only you are accountable for your day, tasks, and time and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Here’s how I made sense of the chaos, and learned to manage my time and look back clearly at my day and week. I hope this method helps you, too. (And if you have other methods to share, please comment!)
“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.”Peter Drucker
Influential management consultant
Begin with the week
Most of my higher-level projects are organized together with the team, so I have clarity at any given moment on my priority projects.
My personal time management starts with my week. I begin by outlining my weekly goals. These can be tied to my priority project or any other task. Starting from the week also makes it easy for me to use this list when it’s time to compile my weekly team report.
I have a daily template where I organize my work day by blocks of hours. This can be flexible if I need it to be, but I’m usually quite consistent as this is the time my son is in daycare. My daily template is in Notion, but of course you can use any tool or method you like.
I have a template of tasks, with different types of tasks represented by emojis. These include things like reading updates, responding to people, designing, doing code design reviews, attending meetings, watching recordings of events, and even taking care of small house tasks.
Organizing the day in this fashion allows me to arrange tasks around my personal biorhythms, my colleagues’ availability (as a distributed company we have coworkers in every time zone on the planet), and my family’s needs and schedules.
A few tips to take full advantage of your day
Try to have diverse tasks one after the other, to have a natural flow of momentum
This might be a personal one, but it works for me. I prefer not to focus on one task for too long as you can easily end up feeling “stuck.” Instead, I arrange different types of tasks one after the other, usually with one of them taking longer or even spanning over a few time blocks, with the other shorter and lower effort. This helps me feel that even through the lengthier tasks I manage to finish some things.
Spread out your tasks according to your personal energy levels and priority
I feel most productive in the mornings, so after I finish my morning updates I usually put in some deep work tasks like new designs. I tend to schedule meetings and easier, lower-effort tasks that require less energy later in the day.
Break up the day to keep things fresh
I put in some house or administrative tasks throughout the day just to break up sitting in front of a computer for too long. Being able to do these throughout the day is one of the advantages of working fully remote. Pro tip: you can even watch some videos/event recordings while doing house tasks 😉
Be flexible throughout the day
I add in things midday, or shuffle things around according to what’s going on. I write down most things I do, to keep track and make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
What to do when things are going wrong?
Things don’t always go according to plan and it’s okay to change course when needed. I end up adding new tasks as the need arises—and when I don’t have enough time to tackle everything on my plate, I make sure to “push the tasks forward.” I just add a section in my daily schedule “For tomorrow” and move the unfinished tasks there. The same goes for my weekly plan, where I have my “Next week” list. In my weekly planning I also have a “Bucket” list for random things that I want to do in the future. That way nothing gets lost.
When I just started out as an Automattician my mind felt scrambled. I began using this system and found it to be particularly useful in periods when I’ve worked with multiple teams simultaneously. It helped me break up my day in a way that addresses the urgency of tasks, changing needs, and my personal biorhythms. The system consistently helps me organize my thoughts and my time in a way that works for me.