13 Lessons Learned From My First Year as a Remote Community Manager

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About 9.5 months ago, I wrote a post reflecting on my first three months of working remotely. I realized I have learned a lot since writing it. I’m going to share what I’ve learned about myself and working remotely in the last year in this post.

In many ways, I still feel like I am brand new to this. Probably for good reason because I am still really new to this compared to many people.

And, I certainly haven’t stopped getting blank stares and random questions when I tell people about what I do for a living, and that I don’t in fact “work” from a hammock on the beach every day. Because a.) my productivity would tank. b.) Salt water, sun glare and sand don’t play nice with laptops c.) I’m freaking pale. I go from pasty white to lobster red, and lobster red isn’t a good look on yours truly or anyone for that matter. (PSA: Use sunblock folks! )

Here’s 12 things I’ve learned since I started working remotely more than a year ago.

1. Importance of managing my energy levels not just my time.
I mentioned in my earlier post that I developed a serious addiction to Rescuetime. Rescuetime is a time-tracking productivity app. One of the best features is it lets you to block “distracting sites” for X amount of time so that you can focus and get more done. Think: blocking Twitter and Facebook.

While Rescuetime is good, I have found it’s a bit incomplete. In addition to using this app, I also need to get better about being self-aware enough to know when my energy levels are at the highest and lowest. If your energy levels are normally lowest from 2-4pm (like in my case), there is no point in grinding it out at that time (unless you absolutely have to). It’s better to use that time to eat lunch, run an errand, catch up with a friend, work out or even take a power nap. Then, resume work in the early evening hours.

This is also an obvious perk of being able to work remotely is being able to work when you are most productive (assuming you still get all your shit done) and not some predetermined hours between 8am-5pm that HR tells you to work.

2. Having a designated work area and some structure to your day is everything.  
Freedom is a wonderful thing. However, having no routine and too much freedom is a wonderful way to never get anything done. If your work hours change on a daily basis and you work wherever you feel like it, you aren’t going to be nearly as productive or dependable.

While it might not be as fun, do yourself a favor and establish regular working hours and a desk. For me, it’s generally 10am-7pm. You don’t have to work from your desk or even the same hours all the time. However, you should do it the majority of time. Structure and productivity go hand and hand.

3. No matter how much you plan beforehand, you will always sacrifice some productivity when traveling and working. 

One of the biggest perks for me is having the freedom to move around more. If I want to and have the means, I can work from practically anywhere with electricity and WiFi. That doesn’t mean that I will be as productive as I am in Austin though. In fact when traveling, you will likely sacrifice at least 10% productivity especially if you move locations every couple of days.

4.  Don’t let that stop you from traveling from time to time though. 
A bit counterintuitive to my previous point. One of the biggest perks of this lifestyle is being able to work from another city without having to “take a ton of vacation time.” Just plan ahead so that you don’t get super behind. For example, wake up slightly earlier and work from 7am-2pm, and then spend the rest of the day enjoying where you are. Or vice versa.

Oh yeah, it’s worth it to pay $20 more / per night for an Airbnb or Hotel Room that has a desk (ideally) or larger table that you can work from.

5. It’s really, really, really hard to over-communicate.
Communicate early and often. 🙂

6. For the love of God, take a day off when sick. 
It’s really tempting to power through and work sick. Don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. Take it from the idiot (yours truly) that tried to do that when she had a 101 fever and you realize just how unproductive you’ll be and how many times you’ll be nodding off (both on and off calls). I ended up redoing pretty much everything I did that (because the quality was crap). It would have been better to just take the day off entirely.

7. Results and GSD matter way more than the time it takes to do it. 
Results matter, butt in seat time doesn’t.  Each day, I give myself between 3-5 tasks that I want to complete that day. I always write them down on my to-do list and also usually post them in Slack (for extra accountability). What I’m trying to get better at (but I still suck at) is stopping work for the day once I finish these tasks. Usually these tasks take me a full work day, but occasionally I can finish in 4 or 5 hours. I need to get better about learning to stop working when I’m done and not feel guilty about it.

8. Changing my environment is a great way to get unstuck and eliminate creative roadblocks. 
Whenever I am feeling stuck, my go-to way to get unstuck is to change my environment. Whether that’s going for a walk, going out for lunch or working from a different spot, 9 times out of 10 that gets me out of a creative rut.

9. Getting better about asking for help when I am stuck on a project or task.  
Confession- I wasn’t great about asking for help when I worked in a cubicle. So, it’s probably not surprising this is still something I struggle with. Something that I want to get better at.

10. Self-doubt and second guessing myself is still something I struggle with on a near-daily basis. 
This is something I had in my earlier post. Something I wish I could say I was better about, but alas this is something I still need to work on.

11. Establishing a better exercise routine. 
I’m not trying to run a marathon or be a prime physical specimen. However, I also don’t want to be on a future episode of TLC’s My 600lb life. It’s way too easy to be sedentary in this lifestyle. There’s a lot of room for me to get better about consistently working out.

12. Snapchat and GSD mode don’t mix. 
I am really jealous of all the people who can snap every hour on the hour and still be a productive human being. I’m not one of those people. When I’m on Snapchat, I get sucked into the wormhole and get absolutely nothing done. It’s literally more distracting than logging into Facebook. That’s why I’ve resorted to muting notifications and “binge snapping” at night (and sometimes first thing in the morning). So, I can focus on work when I need to work and then use Snapchat when I unwind. Judge accordingly.

13.  I’ve yet to master the elusive, midday “power nap.”
I’ve come to the conclusion that I suck at napping. People always rave about how taking a 20 minute power nap can rejuvenate them. Yet, I’ve tried it on multiple occasions. One of two things always happen. I either wake up after 20 minutes and spend the rest of the work day half-asleep and so not productive, which is the exact opposite of a “power nap.” Or, I hit snooze and manage to wake up recharged but a good 2-3 hours later.  It’s for this reason that I’ve completely banned myself from napping unless I have no more calls or meetings that day (You know because missing a call b/c you were “napping” isn’t particularly professional) and I’m fully prepared to work through that evening/night to finish anything I started earlier that day.

Enough from me. What are your tips for working remotely effectively? 

About the author

Jessica Malnik

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