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19 ways Hotjar's remote team stays focused and productive
There are days when the simple act of getting stuff done requires a lot of effort. We’ve all been there: a deadline is looming, there are too many distractions, burnout is approaching fast. Sometimes, even finding the self-discipline to start work can be... a lot of work.
Back in June we had a team meet-up in Marbella, Spain, to work together in the same physical space for a few days and get to know each other ‘in real life’—we are fully remote the rest of the year! Between a glass of chilled gazpacho and an inflatable unicorn (true story), my colleagues and I shared our favorite techniques and routines to stay focused, organized, and productive. Here are some things that work for us: please let us know of any others that can help!
Last updated15 Sep 2021
1. Start your day by getting in the zone
Morning routine and self-discipline are usually important to ‘get in the zone’ for the day, and half of the Hotjar team finds it quite easy to get up and be energized in the morning (the other half still crawls out of bed ever so slowly and struggles for a while to be productive… but we're not going to talk about it!).
Here are a few tips from our early risers:
I started exercising randomly in college and slowly noticed that my mood and ability to concentrate increased when I exercised early in the morning. It’s especially good for making the morning productive; it’s something you can 100% control about your day, that makes you feel good and establishes a baseline for the day to come. As for the exercise itself, I like to vary it: I'm not doing hardcore gym every day, sometimes it can be just a light jog in the park.
Doing a spot of yoga in the morning mellows me out and gets me pumped for the day. Depending on how I am feeling in the morning, I'll choose a video from my favorite YouTube Yogi, Yoga with Adriene, from 15 minutes (when I am super-drained) to 45 (when I'm ready for anything). I like doing it in the spare bedroom upstairs: it gets tons of sunlight in and warms me up while I stretch.
Fun fact: a few weeks later, Karissa invited the team to a 30-day Yoga Challenge. We are now on day 23!
When I started at Hotjar, I had never worked remotely before and loved the idea of the freedom that came with the job. Psychologically, it put me in a great mindset. However, I struggled with getting out of my previous ‘office’ structure and into a structure that fits my life and day-to-day things. I am trying to focus on that and feel like I am getting better. I try to schedule in 'life things' in my calendar and seek to stick to them: I find it breaks up my day and really makes it easier for me to focus and work productively and efficiently.
This is my first fully remote job, so I am still learning how to do things. I don’t have a perfect routine/structure yet, but I like to keep a structured schedule: I try to start and aim to finish at the same time every day. I also block out time to have lunch at the same hour every day and that helps with structure, too.
David, Founder & CEO, suffered from burnout before starting his Hotjar adventure. Because it’s easy to work long hours, take few breaks, or just overwork in general when building a business remotely, he now brings structure into his days by always blocking out lunch and dinner hours.
I hear what you’re saying: isn’t a fully flexible schedule one of the major perks of working remotely? If regimented structure is not for you, you can follow the example of our VP of Operations Ken, who uses the flexibility of a remote job to travel and hang out with his family… because he can!
Since joining Hotjar, Ken and his family have lived for more than 1 month in Mexico, US, UK, Netherlands, Cyprus, and South Africa, and he's also visited and done some amount of work from Norway, Malta, Spain, and Belgium (!).
He has a few fixed meetings in his schedule so the team knows when to reach him, and he focuses on optimizing where his distractions are coming in, so he can make the most out of the time he chooses to spend at the ‘office’.
3. Work from home? Make your space productive
We recently topped a list of “quirky employee perks and benefits” with our €4,000 home office budget, which allows us to set up our own customized workspace. Most of us working from home emphasize the importance of making a clear distinction between ‘office space’ and the rest of the house, even if that distinction amounts to a desk in the corner of a room. This differentiation helps get you in the mindset of “I am at my desk = I am at work,” and also allows your family/friends/housemates to know when not to disturb you.
Make sure your workspace isn't in a casual/hangout place in your home. I have a nook in my apartment that is away from everything else—the kitchen, my bedroom, and the bathroom. So if I need something, it gives me an excuse to get up, walk around, clear my head, etc. When I go upstairs to my nook, it's back to business.
Have a work-only area. If you work from your sofa, psychologically it's your desk. If you work from bed, the same thing. By not having a physical cut-off, it's impossible to have a psychological cut-off.
For our US Hero Maria, a different way of being productive is surrounding herself with things she loves. Her office is a bright and happy place: there are brightly colored buttons all over her desk, with a dinosaur and unicorn standing in them (from her daughter), plus “a book of odd medical photos from ye olden day, glass skull votives, and tons of yarn for crochet breaks when needed”. Check it out:
4. Working from home is hard? Try a co-working space
As of June 2017, every Hotjar team member gets a monthly working space allowance. Those of us who prefer not to work from home have been enjoying co-working spaces as their go-to solution.
My home studio does not really ‘encourage’ focused working, plus going to a co-working space gives me structure throughout the day. The space has different meeting rooms so I can jump on calls and move around. Being an active person I find it hard to be sat in a place; physically moving from a stand-up desk to a meeting room to a hot-desk helps me stay focused.
I stay the most organized and focused by leaving the house entirely, so I go to a co-working space in São Paulo, just 5 minutes from home. I get coffee and take breaks, and when I do I talk to people and socialize… and practice Portuguese! This is my only time learning the language, so I make the most out of it.
5. Have a personal board to visualize what needs to be done
I bought the biggest whiteboard I could so I’d have as much space as possible. I divide that into a section for random ideas, which I fill as soon as the idea comes to me, and a section for stuff that needs to get done. I usually fill it in at the beginning of the week, although tasks and priorities might change as the week goes on. This helps me get a bigger picture of what is going on.
Not a fan of whiteboards, or not enough space? Neil uses Trello for his personal Kanban:
Here are a few insights on how he uses the system:
This board has 3 columns: ‘must happen today’, ‘must happen this week’ and ‘must happen, no date’. Only 3 items can ever be in the first two columns: this allows me to make sure I’m on top of all my projects and means that if anything comes in, it can be accommodated. Some people struggle with the idea that there's always important things to do. And yes, there will ALWAYS be something else to do. But using a kanban with only 3 priority items, you can focus on what's important and keep yourself accountable to what really needs to be done.
6. Make daily lists to stay on top of your tasks
Our Finance Coordinator Melissa is a big fan of lists. She tends to write a very detailed list at the beginning of each day—precision is paramount when sorting out payments and logistics. She uses different colors every day; occasionally, her 3-year old Liam will add his own scribbles in too!
I use Trello to list everything I need to do that takes longer than 10 mins. If it takes less, I just do things there and then as they come up. I divide my tasks into 6 groups: everything, priorities, this week, today, in progress, done. I look at it every day—it’s definitely useful to list down things I need to do, no matter how trivial.
Whenever I have an idea popping into my head, I go to my Notes app on my phone or computer and write it down in a note called ‘inbox’. At the start of every week, I look at my inbox notes and choose three of four 'Big Rocks' to work on for the week. Then, every day, I create a simple to-do list for the day with the biggest rock(s) on top. This comes from the book Zen to Done.
7. Write things down
Melissa’s lists and Paul’s whiteboard should have tipped you off—for a digital team, we are surprisingly partial to writing things manually. Apparently, writing things down helps you store and process information more completely; it is also step 1 in the established (and recommended!) Getting Things Done (GTD) framework.
I have an obsession with stationery, pens, fountain pens (with green ink) and Muji paper. I use their dotted notebooks to make physical lists of tasks and to-dos: writing helps me stop, think, and focus on one thing. There's something about ingraining what you're actually writing on paper into your brain, that I just can’t get from typing.
Our Recruitment Coordinator Sara has also recently picked up a trick from a few people she interviewed for a position at Hotjar: keeping a Bullet Journal, which is meant to teach you “to do more with less”. The journal helps Sara get a better at-a-glance sense of what needs to be done, and writing about it makes her feel less overwhelmed. Plus, she finds great satisfaction scoring her to-dos off when she’s done!
8. Customize your calendar apps
Color-coding my Google calendar is super-useful. When I realized I could change the color of my meetings, I immediately started doing it. At first I went too far, as in I color-coded EVERY meeting and it just looked messy. Then I decided that I really just wanted my important calls to stand out, to make sure I am properly prepared ahead of them. The red color really made them seem more important than the rest!
It can be quite a nightmare to co-ordinate with others and find a meeting time that works, especially when you have a very busy calendar. Calendly is a massive help for me when scheduling calls. It's always extremely useful for interviews, since multiple people need to be on a call... before, I used to check everyone's calendar, now I just send out the link and Calendly takes care of it. I would probably waste around 2-3 hours a week without it.
Sometimes I change time zones and phone & computer sync up automatically, but there are 2 things I always need to change manually: Google Calendar and Calendly. If I forget to change one of those two, I am setting myself up for distraction and mess.
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