Everyone thinks that the remote work life is all about making your own hours, traveling whenever you want, and making enough money to live on your own terms. But many people forget that the remote lifestyle comes with real work attached to it – and the work isn’t always easy! Otherwise, wouldn’t the whole world live that way?
The fine line that every remote employee walks is drawn somewhere in the middle of doing great work and living a great life. In the process of trying to have it all, you can find yourself in a complicated battle between responsibilities and leisure.
This article is designed to help you wipe away all the problems that lead to complications in the remote lifestyle. Embracing minimalism is the answer to most imbalances.
Years of complications
I’ve been working remotely since 2012. Since that time, I’ve been the head of marketing for an Indian tech company, the head of growth marketing at a UK SaaS company, a partner in launching an Estonian app company, a content head for an American software company, all in addition to executing many remote-based contracts for various clients.
There were some pretty amazing moments. Like puffing a victory cigar on a hillside while watching all the “office people” clock out and fight the rush hour traffic. Like traveling to 24 countries in 5 years. Like being available for most of my important family events.
But there were also horrible moments. Like losing money for 4 straight months. Like losing contracts because of a poor internet connection. Like suffering from strange illnesses while my immune system crashed due to working in 3 different time zones.
Since the time I started working remotely I’ve learned that to do it successfully you need to keep things as simple as possible.
What is minimalism in remote work?
I actually quite like Dictionary.com’s definition of minimalist, which is in part, “a person who favors a moderate approach to the achievement of a set of goals.”
In the remote work life, that means first defining what goals are most important to you and then determining the simplest way to accomplish them. But before you start listing 10 different personal goals, allow me to assert something very important. The work comes first!
You can never achieve the benefits of work/life balance working remotely if your actual work is not executed excellently. You need to get paid! And for that, you need to prioritize your work first.
The majority of remote work complications creep in due to this handful of reasons:
- You let your leisure activities overtake your work responsibilities
- You fail to align your lifestyle to the time zone your client/employer works in
- You fail to set up a good system of communication with your team and/or boss
- You allow family to distract you from getting the work done
- You take on too much remote work at one time
- You fail to delegate responsibilities correctly
All of these items above bring about complications such as:
- Missed project deadlines
- Low energy in meetings
- Becoming untrustworthy
- Dry periods of no work
- Fights with your family
- Deteriorating quality of work
Let’s explore some steps that you can take to uncomplicate the remote work lifestyle.
Step 1 – Figure out what your client/employer needs most
Every remote job you take should start with a clear conversation about KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). KPIs are how the company will measure your success in the role.
If you’re a blog writer, your KPIs may be:
- Write 3x articles per week
- Average 2:00 time-on-site per blog
- See x bump in organic website traffic each month
If you’re a remote marketer, your KPIs may be:
- Generate x new leads per month
- Initiate x new campaigns per month
- Generate x new revenue from online sales
- Get x new customers at x CPA (cost per acquisition)
If you’re a remote programmer, your KPIs may be:
- Meet all product release deadlines
- Write code at x rate of accuracy
- Fix bugs within x hours/days
It’s extremely important to understand what your employer requires and also understand your capabilities. Document your KPIs and the tasks you need to do to get each task done.
A minimalistic tip: Don’t agree to too many KPIs. Measuring too many things creates confusion and prevents you from focusing on the most important KPIs.
Step 2 – Set up systems to manage your workload
Now that you know your KPIs, set up some systems to stay on task. It may be software. It may be something more manual. But you must find a good way to manage your activities.
Some of my favorite tools are:
DoneDone issue tracking and task management – DoneDone is a lightweight issue tracking app that super simple to use and free from complication. Whenever I get a new request from my employer, I simply add it to DoneDone as a new task along with priority and due date. It’s even replaced email in many cases. Every day when I log on, DoneDone tells me what I need to do today, tomorrow, and in the future.
Slack or Skype – You’ll need a quick and easy way to stay in constant communication with your remote teammates throughout the day. A lot of new startups are using Slack, which is by far my favorite tool for keeping in touch. Many enterprise companies already have business accounts with Microsoft. In that case, Skype for Business is also a decent option for remote communications. Both Slack and Skype provide text, voice, and video chatting options. The added benefit of Slack is their integrated communication channels, where you can discuss specific projects with specific people. Skype for Business doesn’t provide that functionality unless you pair it with Microsoft’s Yammer.
Whatsapp – This is one sweet app that the whole world started using properly before most Americans figured it out. So, I feel like I need to mention it for the uninitiated. But the power of Whatsapp is not the text messaging feature. It’s the voice notes feature! You may have some questions that you need a teammate to answer. But what if that teammate is not online? If you don’t want to bug your colleague with a phone call but your question is too complex to write in a text message, Whatsapp voice messages are the way to go. I use this almost every day as an essential part of my workflow.
An example day using these tools looks like this:
- Sign into Slack and tell everyone I’m online.
- Check DoneDone to see what activities I have lined up for the day.
- Open a Google Doc that I’m working on with a teammate.
- Collaborate real time in a Slack channel.
- Send a quick voice note on Whatsapp to another teammate who is offline today.
- Save all my work to Google Drive and share it in Slack and DoneDone.
- Add new tasks to DoneDone and assign due dates.
- Log off and do something adventurous.
A minimalistic tip: Don’t use too many apps. Choose one task management app, one communication app, one collaboration app, and one storage app. I suggest these apps because I’ve found them to be the simplest to use for most workflows.
Step 3 – Create an environment that encourages productivity
This is going to be different for everyone. I had a graphic design colleague once who enjoyed listening to metal music while designing posters. Although I also enjoy a sick riff, I can’t handle it while I’m working. Create your own productive environment.
Here are some things to consider while setting up your work space:
Climate control – Did you know that working in a cold room stimulates more productivity than working in a hot room?
Music (or lack thereof) – I have a Pandora playlist of classical music that I really enjoy playing only when I work. Sometimes I need pure silence. As I write this, I’m listening to the Billboard top 50. Set your vibe!
Artwork and Accessories – In my home office, I have a globe to remind me of how much opportunity there is in the world. I have a photo of my family to remind me why I work. I have a Jack Daniels coaster to hold my coffee and to remind me that this weekend I’m letting loose. Surround yourself with things that motivate.
Family – Keep them away when you’re working! Put a lock on it if you need to.
A minimalistic tip: Keep your workspace clear of clutter. Determine where you will keep your pens, paper, keyboard, coffee mug, cell phone charger, etc. And then don’t move them. A famous quote says, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” If your mother said it, she was a wise mom!
Step 4 – Set work/life boundaries
This final step is the most important of all. The biggest challenge in working remotely is that you have no one to hold you accountable to your work/life boundaries except yourself. But you must hold yourself accountable.
I highly recommend creating what I call a “Life Schedule.” You can do it on paper if you want, but I use a spreadsheet. This is going to sound geeky but it’s very important to eliminate the clutter from your schedule. To embrace minimalism, you need to see how much activity you must complete in a week so that you can wipe away the nonsense.
Create a 24-hour 7-day calendar, Monday through Sunday. Then, fill in the time you will dedicate to work, play, sleep, family, exercise, etc. This will help you get a clear picture of how much time you actually have in a week.
A minimalistic tip – Don’t get too specific in your life schedule. Leave big chunks of space for flexibility, but be specific about the times you will dedicate for work. Also, create an alternate example for when you are traveling. Likely, you’ll have a different work/sleep schedule during those adventures. Plan for when you will work and when you won’t.
Take the time to discover the minimal resources required for your remote work to be successful. Only then you can spend the most time enjoying your personal life in a stress-free way.
Understand what your employer needs and limit your KPIs to the essential ones. Implement the minimum number of simple tools to be productive. Design your workspace to be free from clutter and minimal distractions. Set boundaries so you can see the minimal number of hours you should be working and not working.
I can assert with confidence that the less distractions you bring into your remote life, the better. Embrace the excitement of working on your own terms and stun your clients/employers with the best version of you!