how to work more productively across timezones

How to work more productively across timezones [PMP #257]

I run my digital business from New Zealand (GMT+12) and service a lot of US-based clients who are on Pacific (GMT-8) and Eastern (GMT-5) times. That’s a pretty big gap in time but is less challenging than you would think to manage.

In this post, I’d like to share some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned to make it easier to work with other people across time zones.

Don’t want to read this post? Listen to the podcast instead:

Be conscious of other peoples timezone

First off, you need to be aware of the time zone your team or clients are operating in. When scheduling a meeting, don’t go suggesting a time that’s clearly not going to work.

Sometimes people will request to meet with me, they know I’m in New Zealand and yet they’ll suggest a time in their local time which clearly won’t work for me.

Often we try to sidestep this by using a scheduling tool. Services like Calendly (affiliate link) are great but aren’t that helpful when there’s little to no overlap between your work hours.

So before you send someone a scheduling link or suggest a time, just take a minute to think about whether what you’re suggesting is going to work or whether you need to each be more flexible.

And if you are going to suggest a time, always specify the time zones. e.g. “I can meet at 2 pm PST on Wednesday (my Thursday 10 am NZ time)”. We all know how annoying it is when someone asks to meet at a certain time but they don’t specify if they mean your time or theirs.

Schedule everything in the other person's timezone

If you need to schedule a call or meeting with someone in another time zone, the best thing you can do to make it easier on the other person is to schedule the appointment in their time zone. If you try and do it in your local time, this often confuses people. Even though calendar apps do a great job of adding an appointment from another time zone to your calendar at the correct local time, people can get confused when they see an invite in New Zealand time so they have to clarify the actual time and it slows down the entire process.

For example, if I’m scheduling a meeting with someone on Pacific time, I’ll either:

  1. Send them a Calendly link. Scheduling tools like Calendly do a great job of identifying the other person's time zone using their device's IP address. That way, when they schedule a time to meet, they’re looking at my available times in their local time.
  2. Or, if I’m manually scheduling the appointment, I’ll change the timezone setting on the calendar appointment to be in their timezone when I set it up. Doing this means I can then drag the appointment to an available slot on my calendar and I can easily see what time this will be in their local time zone.

Using either of these methods means the other person simply adds the invite to their calendar and there’s no confusion.

Adjust your work hours

If you do a lot of work in another time zone, it may mean adjusting your work hours to fit with your desired time zone. As most of my clients are US based, it makes sense for me to get up early so that more of my day overlaps with the US work day. I don’t mind doing this as I’m an early riser anyway and it certainly helps to make working with US clients easier.

Of course, you may not want to do this for personal reasons but even if you adjust your hours one or two days a week, it’s often worth it if it means doing the work is that much easier.

Optimize the overlap time

Be aware of where your team or clients are located and make sure you use the overlap time as effectively as you can.

This is why I’ll usually do more of my client calls and appointments in the morning when I’m overlapping with the US afternoon. I can then use the afternoon my time to work on admin and other tasks that don't require other people.

You can apply the same logic to days of the week. Because New Zealand is so far away, my Monday is Sunday in the US so I usually have little to no client meetings that day (unless I’m meeting with clients in NZ or Australia). Because my client work these days is lower, I use this time to work on content for the blog and YouTube channel so I’m not trying to do this during my valuable client overlap time.

The key here is to be smart when planning your day so you can take advantage of the overlap and downtime.

Take advantage of time differences

Differences in time zones can actually give you an advantage when it comes to doing your work.

For example, the US workday starts when I’m still asleep and during this time I’ll often get questions and updates on projects via email. This is good as it means a lot of my follow-ups or action steps are already taken care of as people have responded to me overnight. I can then hit the ground running in the morning and because my work day ends in the US evening, I essentially have more time to get my work done. If I need to, I can even assign work to my virtual assistant in the Philippines whose day starts after mine. This means certain jobs can be completed overnight so that by the time I start to work the following day, the work is already done.

This is why I’ll always schedule my marketing emails to go out in the early morning my time (often before I wake up) so that I have the entire day to collect responses and reply to people.

Simply being conscious of where people are and what time of day it is means you can take advantage of the time differences (as long as you plan in advance).