Self-Management in Remote Environments

DrupalCon Europe 2020 - Barcelona, Spain

DrupalCon 2020

Self-Management in Remote Environments

DrupalCon Europe 2020 - Barcelona, Spain

Summary and main ideas of the DrupalCon 2020 session.



Why Self-Management in Remote Environments

Flexible Working is Becoming the New Normal

  • It is Increasing everywhere: Between 2005 to 2017, there was a 159% increase in remote work (US).
  • It attracts and Retains Talent: It is one of the most effective and non-monetary ways to retain employees.
  • It is Good for Business: Productivity can increase in a company because of greater flexibility.
  • Remote Workers Are More Productive: Fewer distractions and interruptions, less stress from no commute.
  • It is Here to Stay: Finally, in a study conducted by Condeco Software on 2020, 41% of global businesses surveyed say they already offer some degree of remote working, while 60% provide flextime opportunities that allow employees to choose when to start and end their workday.

Upwork’s “Future Workforce Report ” predicts that 73% of all teams will have remote workers by 2028.

Remote Work does not Work Out of the Box

  • Enabling a remote workforce is not “business as usual”.
  • There are critical differences in managing in-office and remotely: communication, culture, and management must adjust.

Tips for a Successful Remote Transformation


  1. Establish a remote leadership team: Count on experts with remote experience who will document challenges in real time.
  2. Establish a Handbook: Develop a single source of truth, where all important process will be documented.
  3. Establish a Communications Plan: For example, always-on video conference room (come and go), async communication.
  4. Minimize your Tool Stack: Define clear instructions for the use of these tools.
  5. Drive change: Transition is a process.


  1. Carve out a dedicated workspace: And use it purely for work purposes .
  2. Separate work from personal life: Being at home most of the day, does not mean you’re available.
  3. Engage with People: There is no office to influence spontaneous communication.
  4. Respect the routine, experiment with change: Not everyone shares the same peak hours of energy and focus
  5. Roll with the changes: Transition is a process.

Subduing the enemies

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” - Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Record Your Distractions

What/When/Where are they?

  • Neverending Email Loops
  • Subscriptions/Newsletters
  • Project comments
  • Work/Personal Chat channels
  • Teammates help
  • Multiple meetings/Calls
  • Social Media Notifications

Limit Your Distractions


  • Eliminate Waste
  • Remove/Block Apps
  • Turn off notifications Unsubscribe from newsletters


  • Check inbox 2-3 times per day (max.)
  • Set team-support hours
  • Plan breaks


  • Reduce Meeting/Call time
  • Async Meetings
  • Isolation / Availability flags

Willpower is a Limited Resource

Use self-nudging to make better choices

If we have a cake in front of our eyes, we will most likely grab it. But we can make a healthier diet for ourselves if we put away sweets and put healthy fruit in front of us.

Willpower decreases:

  • Decision Making Process
  • Deep work
  • “Frog eating”
  • Worries (that probably will never happen)

Context Switching

40% of distractions are Self-Initiated!


  • Focusing is hard
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Low Energy

Work on the ones you can control!


  • Reduce/Group phone calls
  • Group email inbox management
  • Avoid leave unfinished Tasks
  • Capture ideas when they come (but continue with that you’re currently doing and do not switch)

A Diary Study of Task Switching and Interruptions - Mary Czerwinski Eric Horvitz Susan Wilhite, Microsoft Research

Stop Multitasking

“People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted” - Clifford Nass, 2010

  • Wasted time: interruptions + deconcentration

Plan in advance

“Adventure is just bad planning” - Roald Amundsen

Align with your Goals

  • Time cannot be managed, you can only take advantage of it.
  • You always decide
  • Find gaps between the most valued tasks

Regular reviews:

  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Yearly

Prioritize your Tasks

  • Have a plan, even if you need to change it
  • Confirm what you will do
  • Eat that frog! Start with the most important/urgent ones
  • Focus
  • Follow your plan
  • Adjust your plan regularly
  • Decide and Reschedule what is left for the next days

Tasks vs Projects:

  • Tasks: simple action
  • Project: sum of tasks

Clean Your Inbox & control your Notifications

Process all your inbox at once (2-3 times per day max).

  • Trash
  • Keep it (as reference)
  • Do it (<2min)
  • Schedule it
  • Delegate it
  • Defer it

Automate your inbox:

  • Automatic filters
  • Reminders


“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” - George Lucas

Deep Work vs Shallow Work

  • Deepk Work: these efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
  • Shallow Work: these efforts tend to not create new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Adopt a Self-Service and Self-Learning mentality

Assume your question is already answered

  • It’s not what you know, it’s knowing where to look for.
  • Resist defaulting to tapping on the virtual shoulder of someone as soon as an inquiry comes to mind: redirect that effort into searching.
  • Help documenting processes.
  • Rely on your team support, only when needed

The Pomodoro Technique

By Francesco Cirillo

Work by intervals:

  • 25 min work
  • 5 min short break
  • Each 4 pomodoros: 20 min break

Plan your day:

  • Break tasks into pomodoros
  • Measure


  • At least 25 min of deep work
  • Team members will wait ~12 min (on average)


  • Stops workflow
  • Not intense Deep Work
  • Forces you to continue even if you are exhausted

The Rest Time Countdown Technique

Work by intervals:

  • Decide work time (e.g. 4 hours)
  • Decide total break time (e.g 30 min)
  • Everytime you want/needed take a break and continue the countdown. Pause it once you go back to work.
  • Practice and find your own work-break balance!


  • Intense of deep work
  • No flow stop
  • Conscious control over your breaks


  • Team members will wait longer if they need something from you.

How Good Is Enough

  • The Efficient Person - “Good enough.”
  • The Perfectionist - “Great work.” Only for important tasks. Productivity will drop significantly. The more your productivity decreases.
  • The Anal-Retentive Person - “Never Perfect.” This extra amount of time will only generate a minor improvement. Is it worth it?

The 80/20 Rule - The Pareto Principle

  • For many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes
  • Identify and focus this 20%

Building Trust

“Trust in your employees is essential for remote work success. It also forms the underlying foundation of a great virtual culture.” - Larry English

Document Everything (yes, everything)

Single Source of Truth:

  • Process
  • Company Goals / OKRs
  • Values
  • Knowhow
  • NO unwritten rules
  • Make all in charge
  • Foster collaboration / training



Text communication can be difficult.


  • Cultural / language differences
  • Time zones
  • Bank holidays
  • Lack of non-verbals

Develop a context-less Communication


  • Invest 5 min more, save double (or more!)
  • Reduce Loops
  • Helps others to understand

It is fundamental to distinguish between:

  • Async communication: e-mail, Chat (Slack, Whatsapp), Project Tools (GitLab, Jira, Asana)
  • Sync communication: Phone calls, Meetings

Asynchronous also refers to the fact that you’re not expected to respond immediately.


“I Survived to Another Meeting That Should Have Been An Email”

  • Have an agenda (in advance!)
  • Make it Optional (to optional people)
  • Document discussions, decisions and actions
  • Record it
  • Transform it (remote!)

Daily Standup Meeting Is Wasting Your Time - Xuan-Gieng Nguyen


“When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done”. - Cal Newport, (Deep Work, 2016)

The Shutdown Ritual

  • Incomplete tasks will dominate your attention so they will not be forgotten. (Zeigarnik effect)
  • Design a shutdown ritual you trust, ensure that every incomplete task has been captured in order to revisit it later.
  • At the end of your workday, shutdown work thinking completely, in case you need more time just extend your workday.

The Unconscious Mind

  • Idleness is paradoxically necessary in order to get any work done. Inject regular substantial freedom from professional concerns into your day.


  • It helps Insights. Provide your conscious brain time to rest so your unconscious mind will take a shift sorting through your most complex challenges.
  • It helps you recharge energy. Direct attention is a finite resource.
  • The work that downtime replaces is usually not that important. On average, the limit of intense concentration per day is 4 hours.


“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life” - Alain de Botton

Create Personal and Professional Boundaries

Choose consciously what to do with your personal time:

  • Mind: Books, courses, tutorials
  • Spirit: Books, meditation, music, art
  • Body: Sport, walking, dancing
  • Social: Family, friends, social networks

Time is limited: accept that increasing any specific pilar will impact the others.

Plan Your Personal Time

  • Book time for yourself at the beginning and the end of each day.
  • Start the day doing something meaningful for you!


  • Setup your optimal workspace
  • Invest wisely your limited willpower
  • Deal and limit distractions.
  • Focus, focus, focus.
  • Have a plan, even if it needs to be changed
  • Embrace asynchronous work
  • Shutdown until next day
  • Set boundaries between your professional and personal life

Resources & References

See also