Adapting To An Unpredictable Schedule As A Remote Worker

Adapting To An Unpredictable Schedule As A Remote Worker

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There are days when I’m on my game and everything is clicking for me as a remote worker. I check off tasks in my task manager and everything is just humming along. Other days, I have disasters where emergencies pop up and throws off the entire day’s schedule. At the end of disastrous days, my to-do list has no completed check marks because I was putting out fires that comes with the day.

I read hundreds of blog posts searching for that one productivity trick that will handle any situation. But I soon realized that there was no “one” magical trick that will work in every situation. Some remote workers have complete control of their schedule. Others (such as workers who work on customer support) don’t have that luxury.

I have learned to switch my tactics depending on the situation.


Create a Today List of my 3 MITs (Most Important Task)

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I choose two to three of my most important tasks from my task manager and work on them today. I write those 3 tasks on a sheet of paper or in my Bullet Journal. When I complete the 3 tasks, I can return back to my task manager and choose another 2-3 tasks. This is helpful on days where I don’t have complete control over my schedule. I might be on call and need to be ready to help with customer requests immediately. I can maintain my focus on my MITs by working on them in between small pockets of time when I am not dealing with customers.


Time-Blocking My Daily Schedule

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Cal Newport schedules work for various tasks. If the task isn’t on the calendar, it probably won’t get done. Time-blocking works best for me when I have control over today’s schedule. I can plot out my 3 MITs into today’s schedule. I try to perform deep work during my golden hours when my focus is high and I can pay attention. I include buffer time between deep work to recharge by scheduling in some brain dead work in between the deep work. This takes the 3 MITs to another level because I am actually scheduling in time for them. I treat these time blocks as personal appointments that I can’t break. If I get interruptions, I’ll schedule my work around my 3 time blocks.

I do have to be careful about over-scheduling. I can plan the perfect schedule and watch it all fall apart by 9 am. Time blocking utterly fails for me during busy seasons such as the Christmas Holiday Shopping season. It works best during slow periods such as after the new year. I won’t have as many pressing demands on my personal schedule and I can return back to working on my personal projects.

http://www.calnewport.com/blog/2013/12/21/deep-habits-the-importance-of-planning-every-minute-of-your-work-day/


Theming My Days

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When I have a more structured week that has few interruptions, I can start theming my days as the Productivityist, Mike Vardy, likes to do.

Vardy suggests putting aside batches of work on certain days throughout the week. Every day has a specific purpose with similar groups of tasks are taken care of. I try to have most of my meetings, errands, and phone calls on Mondays instead of scattered throughout the week. I have Wednesdays set aside for administrative paperwork that needs to be completed before the end of the week. I also designate Thursdays for work on my advertising campaigns and on writing. I love my Tuesdays and Wednesdays open as buffer days to work on customer requests that starts to pile up through the week.

https://productivityist.com/daily-theme-everyday-focus/


Eat That Frog

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According to Brian Tracy, I should try to tackle work by taking one MIT (usually the most difficult one I’ve procrastinated on) and do it the first thing in the morning.

I pick this tactic when I know my day is in complete chaos. I might be focused on a client project deadline and won’t have a lot of free time throughout the day to focus on my personal projects. I reduce the 3 MITs down to 1 MIT and call this my “Frog for Today:frog:. I wake up early and get started on my frog immediately after a light breakfast. I try to put in at least 30-60 minutes before I officially start my work day with the other emergencies that I need to work on for the rest of the day. As long as I can make progress for 30-60 minutes a day, I’ll be happy. If I can get my frog completed, I’ll feel a sense of victor before I throw myself into the daily chaos of constant interruptions and distractions.

Eating the frog has always been my fallback plan when I’m in high peak season. When time-blocking and daily is nearly impossible, I turn to “Eating My Frog to take forward steps before dealing with today’s demands.


I don’t subscribe to using just one of the four tactics I’ve described above. I use a different tactic depending on my schedule. Time-blocking and theming won’t work all the time. Life is too chaotic on some days or weeks. Choosing my 3 MITs or at least 1 frog to eat gives me a daily plan to work on.

What did you do to figure out your workload this week? Do you use time-blocking, daily theming, the 3 MITs, or the frog in your remote work? I’m always looking for other tools that helps me to go with ebb and flow of life when life suddenly accelerates from nice and peaceful to crazy chaotic. Hit the Reply button and tell us what you do!

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I actually do very similar things as you. I have a master list of everything that needs to be done kept in Omnifocus and a number of shortcut’s to create routine checklists e.g. start of month tasks and quarterly meeting pre-tasks.
On a daily basis I use David Seah’s- emergent task planner in GoodNotes which incorporates the daily & monthly MITs and acts as a journal/time tracker all rolled into one. I don’t think I use it as intended but it works for me.
My weeks tend to have a routine as to the kinds of things I do e.g Monday’s in the office other weekdays a mix of site visits and focused work at home days to get document creation/analysis type stuff done. It’s not set in stone but I do tend to have a good rhythm going.
This is all overlaid by a “self created mandatory” monthly requirement of topics I need to cover spread throughout the year to make sure everything gets done.
For context I’m a construction Safety guy who needs to balance running a small team/Safety Management System requirements /site audits/running and attending training courses/ management meetings etc. + lots of unknown’s like incident investigations/enforcement body contacts etc.
Not the hardest job in the world by any stretch of the imagination but quite a few plates to keep spinning and if they drop I’m the one who needs to explain why.

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Whew… I’m on to something! Thanks for verifying what I’m suspecting or investigating.

I loved Seah’s EMT planner a long time ago. I might have to download his PDFs again and try them in GoodNotes. I did stray away because I wanted something that I customized myself. Hence, I journeyed over to the BuJo and made my own layout. I’ll have to try out EMT once again. Maybe I can get it to click this time around!

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. You’ve been doing your job for many years and it becomes like an old hat. It’s comfortable and fits you well.

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Do you break down your task to the GTD next-action level in your task manager? In my case, the next physical action is usually a matter of 10 to 15min at the most therefore I was never able to use both GTD and the MIT concept at the same time. If I pick my MIT at the GTD project level then it would usually be impossible to complete within a workday. The MIT concept focus on outcomes rather than on next-actions. Similarly I was never able to implement Getting Result the Agile Way even though I like the concept on paper. I couldn’t find a way to apply the principle without duplicating one way or another my GTD tasks into an external system.

I use time blocking at the GTD Area of Focus level, to make sure I do not spend too much time on topics that only deserve a few hours of my work week. The rest of the week is free for my most important Areas of Focus.
During the weekly review, I flag the projects or next-actions that need to be completed during the week. Each day, before switching to another project, I enter the next-action in my inbox, as a reminder of where I left out.

By the way, just to let you know that I enjoy pretty much every post you make on your workflow :+1:

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Welcome to the community, @Mail!

This is a great idea. I tried time blocking on a much more granular scale, but blocking time to focus on an area is :ok_hand:

Not sure why I didn’t think of that before!

When I realized that I was spending too much time on topics that were not my primary or most important responsibility at work I decided to establish time-blocks in my calendar and forced myself to not touch these topics until the next dedicated time-block.
It is easy to get distracted by these easy shallow tasks/projects rather than focus on the ones that really are critical in the long run.

I think most people use time-blocking the other way around, to ensure they work a minimum amount of time on their most important task/project/areas of responsibility.

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It depends. I try to do 30 minute blocks on most normal days. If the day is chaotic and I can find 15 minute blocks, then I’ll break a task down into 15 minute next actions. Any kind of progress is better than nothing.

One of my 3 MITs might be to just focus on a single project or Big Rock of the Day. I think more of my MITs is meant to stay out of switching contexts which introduces drag. Keep focus on either a single project or a single context has helped me.

If I have an MIT that needs more granularity, I’ll list it down as a sub-project to work on. I’ll break it down only as far as I need to and no more.

Thanks @Mail ! :pray: This is just me thinking out loud and writing about my feelings. Sharing with this community to see how I can fine-tune things or question current practices has been a good exercise in figuring out what I need done depending on the situation.

Your questions have been a great eye opener. Feel free to ask questions in the ERW forums and maybe I’ll see you the ERW water cool chats!

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