By Stephanie Zorensky

If you’re anything like me, you want to fully enjoy all of the flexibility and freedom that comes with working remotely. The pandemic certainly changed how, when, and where many people work and has opened up a whole new world of work schedule possibilities.

At SmartBug®, we have been remote-only since our inception in 2007! Work-life balance is at the core of our culture and plays a big part in our ability to provide exceptional work to our clients. 

A fantastic perk is that all employees get flextime, meaning we are not tied to our desks 9-5, Monday through Friday. Instead, we can build our schedules to get in a productive day of work while having the flexibility to do what matters most in our free time. Also, life stuff happens. Family health issues, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and other things come up, and in these cases, flextime allows us to not have to worry about changing up our schedule.

However, working outside of the office does take discipline. Without a “normal” structure to your day, it can be challenging to figure out a schedule that works best to stay productive while also taking advantage of flexibility for your personal life,

So how do SmartBugs make this work best? Here are five recommendations from our remote team for anyone trying to maximize flextime while working remotely.

1. Determine what matters most.

Before starting at SmartBug, I spent a lot of time in the car commuting during rush hour. Although I was up to date on my favorite podcasts, I would daydream about all the things I wish I could be doing instead with that two hours of time, like going for a bike ride or getting dinner with my friends.

Take the time to determine what matters most to you. What do you wish you could be doing with your time? What do you want to achieve?

Do you want to travel more? Check Costa Rica, Colombia, or another beautiful place off your bucket list while not using up all of your PTO? Do you want to fully embrace the digital nomad life and get to explore new places all year long? Or maybe you’re a parent who doesn’t want to sacrifice quality time with your family in order to work full time? 

Focus your energy on those priorities, and plan ahead to ensure you can fit those things into your schedule. (See the next tip!)

2. Be strategic with your schedule.

If you want to get the most out of flextime, the key is to plan ahead and be strategic with your schedule. If I went into each week without a plan, it would be difficult to stick to a schedule to achieve what I want to do.

Start by asking yourself: What are your work priorities this month? What big projects do you need to complete? Are there certain clients or teams you need to meet with? Do you have recurring meetings on your schedule?

Then ask yourself: What are your personal priorities this month? Are you planning a big trip? Do you have a workout class you want to attend in the afternoon? Do you want to be done with work by the time your kids hop off the school bus?

Here are a couple of strategies that work for me:

Block Your Calendar

Blocking out my calendar a month in advance helps me get into a consistent schedule. I try to block out my meetings as far out as possible, especially ones where I need to coordinate a lot of different schedules and time zones. 

Beyond work tasks, I also block personal time in my calendar as well. It’s important to take the time to intentionally schedule those activities without interruptions. Don't just call it "busy" in your calendar—if you don't plan out specifics, this could easily be spent scrolling on social media or watching Netflix without purpose. For me, this includes yoga time and daily evening walks with my husband and dog.

Communicate with Your Team

It is very important to be open about your schedule with your team. You still need to be accountable to them and your deadlines, so be upfront about any personal priorities and when you plan to be away from your desk. My coworkers and I have consistent time blocks in our schedules for personal life things, like daily meditations and picking up kids from daycare, and we know and respect those times because it’s something that we spoke about ahead of time.

Know When You’re Most Productive

One thing that I find particularly helpful is to lean into the time when I know I’m most productive. For me, I’m usually much more focused and energized in the early morning, and I’ll use that time to knock out tasks that require the most attention. I save easier tasks for later in the day when I start to lose productivity.

3. Automate what you can.

Automating certain work activities can also help you be more efficient to free up valuable time. Here are a few examples of tools we use at SmartBug:

Gmail

This might be a no-brainer, but with Gmail (and other email providers) you can schedule out emails in advance to colleagues and clients. I love using this feature because, as I wrap up my day or week, I can spend a few extra minutes scheduling out emails when work is fresh in my mind. It frees up time in the future when I would have had to log back on to send them and spend time recalling what I wanted to say.

Slack

During the pandemic, many companies started using Slack as an internal messaging system, and it’s a platform we use at SmartBug. It allows all of us to stay connected throughout the work day using different channels. In Slack, you can schedule out messages to send to your team members. You can get ahead by scheduling messages to be sent to team members if you’re working late and you want a message to hit their inbox in the morning.

Teamwork

Teamwork is a project management tool that we use to execute work internally and collaborate with our clients. We’re pretty obsessive about project management and processes, and I love that we can have a library of repeatable templates that help us save time when we need to execute work. Teamwork also allows us to schedule out task lists with due dates so you can prep your to-do list far in advance and pre-assign tasks to different team members.

While it takes a little more time upfront to set up some of these automations, these tools allow me to get ahead of my communications and schedule important reminders so I can spend less time thinking about what I need to do and more time doing what I want to do.

4. Leverage the least crowded times for activities.

Nothing ruins valuable personal time like getting stuck in traffic or spending a premium price on airplane tickets because you only have free time during the busiest holidays and long weekends. You can really maximize your flextime by avoiding these frustrating situations and planning your schedule to leverage the least crowded or off-season times to do what you want to do. 

Travel during the week instead of the weekend! Or go wild—plan to go grocery shopping on a Wednesday afternoon!

5. Extend your holidays and weekends.

One of my favorite ways to make the most of flextime is taking extended personal time around paid holidays or weekends. For example, around Thanksgiving, I know that if I work more hours upfront in the month and a couple of hours here and there on weekends leading up to it, I will be able to use my flextime to extend the holidays to be with my family and friends without having to take PTO.

When it comes to working remotely, don’t live to work—work to live.

I’m so grateful to work for a remote agency that values work-life balance. I get to have the flexibility to do more of what I love in life while still growing my career. 

Does the flexibility of remote life sound appealing to you? Join our team! Check out our open positions today

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Stephanie Zorensky

About the author

Stephanie Zorensky is an Inbound Senior Marketing Specialist located in Chicago, IL. She has both in-house and agency experience implementing strategic inbound marketing campaigns, managing projects, and developing content. She finds joy in helping clients connect with their audience and achieve their goals. Outside of work, you'll find Stephanie enjoying walks along the lakefront, exploring the Chicago restaurant scene, cooking up a new recipe, and spending time with her husband and their golden retriever, Andy! Read more articles by Stephanie Zorensky.

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