Manage Your Time,
Own Your Day

Three Time Management Hacks That Make Work-From-Home Life Wonderful

Mid-morning light streamed through the kitchen window, and I picked up my phone—again. I wasn’t even halfway through emails, but the nagging voice in my head reminded me that a deadline just three days away needed attention.

Frustrated with the tedious process of composing a to-do-type email, I took a coffee break, my second of the morning.

Walking around the block, coffee in hand, I remembered: discipline, routine, and scheduling were my keys to success in this post-corporate life. Without all three of these elements, I’d get lost in the coffee, conversation, digital distractions, and household chores.

This time around (I’d done a first round of remote work circa 2008-2010, when the US economy crashed), I knew better. I wasn’t trying to start a huge company, build an app, or change the world. I quite literally just wanted to get sh** done.

My schedule as a freelancer, remote working Digital Strategy Director, and adventurer meant I had a lot of competing priorities. 

For example:

  • Team meetings as well as new client pitch meetings frequently broke up my day;
  • Shifting weather in a mountain town means I would often switch into “reactive mode” to take advantage of weather windows; and
  • Wearing many types of “hats” for my work meant I would alternate between production, strategy, and planning—all big mental switches.
If I don’t create some time of structure and routine, my world goes haywire, and before you know it, I’m eating a tub of ice cream at 10 a.m. While sweets are a delicious way to start the morning, they don’t always make for a productive start to the day. Below, three ways I’ve been able to bring some elements of consistency into my life. 

The key to this method is prioritizing your task list in advance – a dedicated weekly review is a must. Take stock of what’s coming up for the week ahead and make a rough sketch of your time blocks for each day. At the end of every workday, review any tasks you didn’t finish – as well as any new tasks that have come in – and adjust your time blocks for the rest of the week accordingly.

Block Your Time

Become more productive by focusing your energy on specific tasks for finite amounts of time. When I have my act together, I block my time a couple of days before my work week starts by using my calendar. 

 What I love about time blocking:

  • It encourages me to be thoughtful about my work. I have to separate my tasks into themed categories like “admin,” “ideation,” and “deep work.” This mindful approach to work means that when I jump into a work block, I am totally ready to go.
  • It curbs my perfectionist tendencies. A finite number of hours to work on something means that I don’t give myself the leeway to continually revise a project that needs to get out the door. It also means I build discipline into my work process, whether that means answering emails, developing a project pitch, or writing an article.

Remember: “Done is better than perfect. (Yes, make it perfect, but hit that deadline too.)

  • I get to actually live my life. Creating boundaries means that I am free to focus work time on work, and non-work time on living. Freelancers and work-at-home people are often challenged to “leave the office;” when your home is the office, it’s tough to learn how to separate yourself from the things that need to get done.

Time blocking gives me the permission to tell myself (and my digital colleagues) that the work day is over. When I sign off, I’m done for the day. 

The Doist says time blocking also combats procrastination, minimizes our optimism bias (estimation of how well we do something), and helps us carve out time for meeting-free work. 

For a deep dive into their (extremely well-written, helpful) step-by-step walkthrough on time blocking, read more here.

Time blocks consolidate your effort to help your brain stay focused on specific task types. This helps productivity tremendously.
Dani Timebox Schedule
Sample timebox (another name for "time block") from my own Google Calendar.
Daily Routines of 26 of History's Most Creative Minds
This example shows us that even the world's most "brilliant" minds all have very different routines. For more on these 26 peoples' routines, click the image to read the full article.

Create a Routine

Now it’s time for self-reflection: when do you work best? Your in-office schedule doesn’t have to reflect your work-from-home schedule, especially if you work part-time for an employer or have competing priorities (like children). Consider this your permission to create a schedule that works for you.  I create my routine by pulling together a few key elements: 
  • First, I think about all the things I want or need to do. Before anything goes on a sticky note, fridge, whiteboard, or app, I just do a brain dump. This is a one-time or monthly process to make sure everything I need to be doing stays on my radar.
  • After recording all the general ideas, I come up with bucket name for these to-dos. These general categories become the ‘themes” mentioned above.
  • I manage my running list of to-dos in a task management app like Doist (which is accessible on both web and mobile). I love that can be a great “parking lot” for things I need to schedule (ahem, I mean time block). I equally love that it is super easy to automate, schedule, and even delegate (!) tasks to other people. AVOID STICKY NOTES AT ALL COST, UNLESS YOU LIKE FORGETTING THINGS.
  • Once a week (usually Saturday or Sunday….welcome to your 30s, kids!), I go over my Doist list and add in everything that needs to be put into my weekly time blocks. Then, I sit down with Google Calendar to block out my days. 
  • When soliciting new meetings, I share my page (which makes it easy to schedule meetings with me using preferences set in Google Calendar)
  • Finally, but most importantly, I make sure exercise is part of my routine. Other practices like morning meditation, tea before coffee, and a short walk before starting screentime help to ground me, daily. While everyone’s practices are their own preference, I would encourage you to make sure bi-hourly movement is part of your routine.
Don’t forget to balance flexibility with discipline in a routine: I like to think of my routine as an ordered set of tasks I do every day. Sometimes the order or duration of those tasks changes given the circumstances of the day, but the routine goes hand-in-hand with time blocking.

Curb Tendencies with Personal Accountability

This might sound a little overboard, but I’ve found it easiest to build accountability to myself with tools that show me exactly how I spend my time. Relying on tools rather than my own volition means I get to have one less responsibility on my plate, a win! In addition, it also means that I can see, quantified, just how much time I am wasting.

My two go-to time management tech tools:

  • RescueTime, tracks my app use across all digital platforms (including my phone, computer, and tablet). It emails me a weekly report that categorizes app use as “productive” nor not, and I get to pick the level of distraction that an app provides. 
  • Time tracking tool Toggl helps me quantify my time, always. Both its web and mobile apps are simple, easy, and fun to use, and Toggl produces a beautiful client-friendly report I can use as a timesheet each week. They’ve been my go-to app since 2015 (over Harvest and SmartSheets), and I love that they produce content to support freelancers and independent consultants (like this “Work From Home” guide to setting up a remote work culture.)

Bonus: I like setting Toggl’s Pomodoro timer me to keep me on task at 20 minute intervals. Give it a try in the app’s settings.


Build Your Own Personal Workplace Culture

Productivity is tough, and swapping out your office’s four walls can be tough. Working from home is an opportunity for self-examination as much as it is life optimization: booking massive amounts of screentime doesn’t win you any brownie points from the boss, earn you more money, or even create the best results.

To the contrary: successfully working from home is about working smart. It’s about feeding your soul as much as it is about earning that paycheck.  

Hopefully these tools get you started on building your own personal  work-from-home culture. Stay tuned for future posts on managing your mind and your work, as well as upcoming workshops for work-from-homers.

 Have a tool or tip you want to share? Comment below!


4 Replies to “Manage Your Time, Own Your Day: Three Hacks”

    1. Thank you so much for reading, Kate! Do let me know if you get “stuck” on anything in particular; I’d love to be able to support you on this journey!

  1. What a wonderful piece, Dani! Thanks for the tips and tools to help is be productive at home!

    1. Britany, you’re the best: I love that our initial chats about WFH with partners pushed me in this direction to talk about productivity 🤣

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