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Published on December 2, 2020

5 Ways to Maximize Productivity While Working From Home

5 Ways to Maximize Productivity While Working From Home
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For most of the United States and the rest of the working world, working from home has become the new norm, with no foreseeable end in sight. As days fill up with instant messaging, endless emails, and constant distractions, many find it challenging to stay productive and get work done, leading to burnout, fatigue, and loss of motivation over time. Working from home productivity just isn’t easy.

Companies are starting to recognize the toll that working from home is having on their leadership teams and employees. Yet, very few corporations possess the proper resources to educate and update their workforce on ways to work from home, which is why so many continue to struggle with the delicate balancing act of having their work-life not interfere with their personal life.

Even before COVID-19 hit the world, working from home was destined to become a reality, with up to 80% of workers polled by Owl Labs stating that they wanted to work from home, at least part of the time[1]. These statistics are great news for all parties involved.

Companies capable of allowing their employees to work remotely are estimated to see an annual savings of $11,000 per halftime telecommuting employee, with an additional $2,500 to $4,000 in yearly savings for the employees who choose to work remotely[2].

So how do we set our people up for success while working from home? More specifically, what drivers and factors determine the productivity of company leaders and employees while working remotely?

These answers lie with the brain by creating daily habits of success focused on maximizing leadership communication, employee productivity, engagement, and sustained cognitive processing.

1. Sleep Your Way to Success

There’s a reason we spend (or should spend) a third of our lives sleeping. Sleep is a superpower we all inherently possess, yet up to a third of the population in today’s current workforce reports consistently having issues with getting the recommended minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night[3]. Yes, sleep is essential for allowing the brain and body to recover, but it’s also vitally important for the consolidation of memories and higher-level cognitive processing[4].

If you genuinely want to get more done while working from home, prioritize your sleep by going to bed and waking up at the same time each night. This template will help you dial in your circadian rhythm and improve your ability to feel refreshed consistently[5].

Mid-afternoon naps can also be a great way to give the brain and body a short period of rest, as long as the naps are less than 20 minutes, which is the threshold where the brain can fall into a deeper sleep[6]. Resting longer than this can cause you to wake up feeling groggy, tired, and fatigued because you will be waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle.

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Still convinced that sleep doesn’t matter? Keep reading.

Researchers at the University of Michigan performed a study in 2014 that uncovered an astonishing 24% increase in hospital admissions for heart attacks on the Monday following daylight savings time in the spring, when we lose an hour[7]. These findings were also followed by a 21% decrease in the frequency of heart attack admissions during the “fall back” daylight saving time, when gain an hour.

If the simple fluctuation of an hour can yield these dire consequences, what do you think consistently losing 2-3 hours of sleep each night is doing to your brain and body?

Sleep like your life work from home productivity depends on it, because it does.

2. Exercise to Build Physical and Mental Endurance

Physical exercise is one of the most powerful drivers of our brain and nervous system. There is a reason babies move around inside a mother’s womb: Movement is well-known to be a significant driving force behind our nervous system’s development and maturation.

Although a baby may not be intentionally performing the movements themselves, we know that physical activity is a foundational basis for the proper development of the brain and higher-level cognitive processing systems[8].

You can learn more about the brain’s role in movement in this TED Talk with Daniel Wolpert:

Most attribute physical exercise to losing weight, building muscle, and maintaining a healthy BMI, but it also carries significant benefits for our mental and emotional health[9]. Aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming, biking, and walking can reduce anxiety and depression[10] by enhancing activity in the frontal lobe[11], a brain region associated with positive self-esteem, personality, and cognitive processing.

Movement is also an essential factor for increasing our ability to learn new tasks and focus because it influences the production of a specific protein, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is responsible for optimizing neuroplasticity, learning, and memory[12].

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Studies have even confirmed improved workplace productivity and decreased absenteeism via workplace-related health initiatives and educational programs focused on physical exercise, which can positively influence nearly all the spheres of an individual’s personal and professional life[13].

If you genuinely want to be a high-achieving leader and move your career forward with working from home productivity, make the conscious choice to move your body.

3. Use Food to Fuel Your Body and Brain

Thomas Edison was ahead of his time back in 1903 when he stated, “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

Nutrition is the keystone of health. It provides the raw materials to help us maintain our brains and bodies, which are always under constant remodeling and repair from the stress we place on ourselves throughout life[14].

Food choices can significantly alter how we feel and are used as the primary fuel source for our body’s gas tank. Food doesn’t just feed our body; it also feeds the bacteria that live inside our bodies. These beneficial bacteria form a symbiotic relationship with our bodies, meaning that both parties benefit from each other’s existence.

They play a large role in regulating underlying inflammatory processes and have recently been involved in mediating the onset of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s[15], Parkinson’s[16], and Multiple Sclerosis[17]. Gut bacteria also play a big part in regulating our immune system, as nearly 70% of our immune system is located in our gut[18].

Our gut bacterial profile also plays a vital role in the production of neurotransmitters. The latest estimates state that our gut produces nearly 90% of our body’s serotonin[19], which is the feel-good neurotransmitter that becomes out of balance in conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Food is no longer viewed just for its taste and texture. It can play a pivotal role in your overall health and well-being, possessing the ability to increase your energy levels and working from home productivity throughout the day. True leaders understand these principles and will do what is necessary to take their game to the next level.

4. Utilize Time Management Techniques

We set timers and alarms for cooking, waking up, and exercise, yet we rarely choose to set a timer for work. Why is that? For most of you reading this, it may have never crossed your mind, but using a timer to prioritize work has been around the working world for many years.

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The Pomodoro technique, named after the developer, entrepreneur, and author James Cirillo, was invented in the 1990s to maximize productivity by utilizing time-sequenced periods of focused work. Cirillo created the technique to cut large projects and time-consuming tasks into smaller 25-minute periods of tolerable work, with a tiny caveat: The shorter periods of time are designated to be used strictly for the task at hand and nothing else[20].

The Pomodoro Technique for Working From Home Productivity

    This distinction may not seem earth-shattering based on the initial impression. Still, it’s a significant factor for working from home productivity when you consider the evidence that the average working person is interrupted every 3 minutes and 5 seconds, decreasing to interruption intervals every 2 minutes and 11 seconds when using an electronic device such as a computer or phone[21].

    By merely using the Pomodoro technique, a remote worker can vastly improve their productivity by eliminating any outside factors that can take them away from their work.

    It should be noted that these distractions aren’t merely just wasting time. They’re also wasting precious brainpower[22] and energy resources. The brain uses up nearly 20% of the body’s energy reserves to produce electrical messages between neurons and maintain the integrity of various neural structures[23]. Excessive switching between tasks[24] depletes the brain’s coveted resources, causing faster rates of burnout, fatigue, decreased self-control, and altered cognitive processing.

    Your time is valuable, so don’t waste it on things that won’t matter in the long run. Your company and employees depend on your leadership skills to be sharp at all times.

    5. Set Your Schedule for Success

    How often do you schedule your haircut? What about your oil changes? These questions may seem trivial, but they bring up a relevant point: Scheduling is a consistent way to make sure things get done.

    Working from home provides many luxuries that can’t be found in the office, but it’s easy to fall into the mindset that this added flexibility means less structure to your day. The opposite is true. If you’re working remotely, setting a schedule for when and how you want to work could be one of the most important factors for facilitating your productivity throughout the day.

    Why? Because it’s easy to fall into the trap of working for the entire day, checking your e-mail into the evening hours, and never genuinely checking out of your workday.

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    Setting a schedule is an essential component for maximum productivity because it facilitates a set structure for remote workers to follow, which can be difficult now that they’re working from home and taking a break whenever they feel like it.

    Setting a schedule for starting and stopping work is crucial to not only avoid burnout; it’s also essential to allow time away from work to spend time with loved ones and enjoy your personal time. Creating a structure will also provide an example for your employees and team members to follow, which will inherently facilitate greater outcomes and working from home productivity.

    As Benjamin Franklin says, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

    The Bottom Line

    To truly make remote work a success, it will require strong individual and team leadership to make it happen. Everyone needs to be on the same page to facilitate systems and proper channels of communication.

    The moment leaders and individuals start to veer off track is when the spokes begin to fall off the wheel of work from home productivity and team success. Individuality is essential to turning this remote-working dream into a reality, so leaders must find ways to fail early, fail fast, and fail often to find the success that works for their team members and organization.

    Implementing these simple steps should be effortless and sustainable for the long term, but it won’t just happen overnight. The adage of “it takes 21 days to form a new habit” is outdated, with new research pointing that it actually takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit[25]. The more consistently leaders work on creating these habits, the easier they will become.

    More Tips on Working From Home

    Featured photo credit: Krismas via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] OWL Labs: State of Remote Work 2019
    [2] Global Workplace Analytics: Latest Work-At-Home/Telecommuting/Mobile Work/Remote Work Statistics
    [3] CDC: Short Sleep Duration by Occupation Group — 29 States, 2013–2014
    [4] Physiological Reviews: About Sleep’s Role in Memory
    [5] Sleep Foundation: Circadian Rhythm
    [6] Sleep: How Long Is an Ideal Nap?
    [7] Interventional Cardiology: Daylight savings time and myocardial infarction
    [8] Psychology and Aging: Exercise holds immediate benefits for affect and cognition in younger and older adults
    [9] The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: Exercise for Mental Health
    [10] Psychiatria Polska: Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood
    [11] Medical News Today: What does the frontal lobe do?
    [12] European Journal of Neuroscience: Hippocampal BDNF mediates the efficacy of exercise on synaptic plasticity and cognition
    [13] BMC Public Health: The effectiveness of workplace nutrition and physical activity interventions in improving productivity, work performance and workability: a systematic review.
    [14] Organogenesis: Tissue repair
    [15] JNM: Brain-Gut-Microbiota Axis in Alzheimer’s Disease
    [16] The Cure Parkinson’s Trust: New Evidence Suggests Parkinson’s Might Not Start in The Brain
    [17] Medical Sciences: The Gut Microbiome in Multiple Sclerosis: A Potential Therapeutic Avenue
    [18] Clinical and Experimental Immunology: Allergy and the gastrointestinal system
    [19] Caltech: Microbes Help Produce Serotonin in Gut
    [20] Sketchplanations: The Pomodoro Technique
    [21] Gallup: Too Many Interruptions at Work?
    [22] Vanderbilt University: Task Switching
    [23] Scientific American: Why Does the Brain Need So Much Power?
    [24] Science Direct: Task-Switching
    [25] European Journal of Social Psychology: How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world

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    Dr. Erik Reis

    Peak-Performance Leadership Consultant

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    Last Updated on July 27, 2021

    Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better

    Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better
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    What comes to mind when you think of learning how to focus better? Do you think of the attention or concentration it takes to complete a task? Do you consider the amount of willpower needed to finish writing a report without touching your phone? Do you think it requires sitting in complete silence and away from distractions so that you can study for an important exam or prepare for an interview?

    I’m sure many of you can relate to the above statements and agree that the ability to focus is about staying on task for a given period of time. Breaking that concentration would mean that you’ve lost your focus, and you’re either doing something else or trying to gain back that focus to finish up the intended task.

    With an ever-increasing amount of information—that is easily accessible online and offline—we’re faced with a lot more opportunities and avenues to create possibilities to experience things on a daily basis.

    Unfortunately, that can make it a lot harder for us to make progress or get things done because we’re either easily distracted or overwhelmed by the constant influx of information.

    That’s why many of us end up having problems concentrating or focusing in life—whether it be on a smaller scale like completing a task on time, or something much bigger like staying on track in your career and climbing the ladder of success. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we blame our failures due to a lack of focus.

    Learning how to focus better doesn’t have to be too complex. Here is some information to help you get started.

    Focus Is Not About Paying Attention

    What if I tell you that you’ve been doing it all wrong this whole time?

    Focus isn’t just the attention span of giving 20 minutes to a task. It actually goes far beyond that.

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    The real reason why we focus is because we need to do something that exceeds our existing capability. We need to devote large amounts of time and energy to move the needle in life, to make that progress and positive change.

    And why do we want to do that? Because we want to spend time becoming a better version of ourselves!

    At the end of the day, the reason why we stay focused on any task, project, or goal is because we want to succeed. With that success comes progress in our lives, which means we eventually become better than what we were a month ago, or even a year ago.

    Let me give you an example:

    Say you’ve been tasked to manage a project by your boss. You have targets to meet and favorable outcomes to achieve. Your focus and attention has to be on this project.

    Once the project has been completed, your boss is happy with the results and your hard work. She rewards you with praise, a promotion, or maybe even a year-end bonus.

    That’s your success right there, and you feel good about your achievements. Looking back at who you were before and after the completion of this project, wouldn’t you say you’ve become a better version of your previous self?

    Focus Is a Flow

    This is what focus is and how where learning how to focus better starts. It’s not a one-off, task-by-task mode that you jump into whenever needed. Rather, focus is a flow[1].

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    Focus is the way in which you deliberately target your energy to push progress in something you care about. Because focus takes energy, time, and effort, whatever it is that you need to focus on should be something meaningful to you, something that’s worth shutting down phone calls, text messages, and social media for.

    So, why is it that we sometimes find it so hard to focus?

    Usually, it’s because we’re missing two major elements. Either we don’t know where we want to go—in that we don’t have a clear goal—or we do have a goal, but we don’t have a clear roadmap.

    Trying to improve your focus without these two things is like driving to get somewhere in a foreign country with no road map. You end up using a lot of gas and driving for hours without knowing if you’re getting anywhere.

    Let’s go back to the example of your boss assigning you a project to manage. The company is opening a new office, and your boss wants you to oversee the renovations and moving-in process of this new location.

    Now, if you didn’t have a clear goal or end result of how the new office should look, you could be busy arranging for contractors, interior designers, or movers to come, but have no clue what to assign or brief them on.

    The second scenario is that you know exactly how the new office should look and when it should be up and running. However, because you don’t have a clear roadmap to get to that end result, you end up working all over the place; one moment you’re arranging for the contractors to start renovations, the next moment you’ve got furniture coming in when the space isn’t ready. What do you focus on first?

    The Focus Flow

    Without a clear goal and road map, things can turn out frantic and frustrating, with many wrong turns. You also end up expending a lot more mental energy than needed. But, having a Focus Flow when learning how to focus better can help.

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    Let me show you how theFocus Flow works.

    1. It starts from a clear objective.
    2. This becomes a clear roadmap.
    3. Then it manifests into a state oftargeted attentionand effort.
    4. This results in pushing your progress towards your ultimate destination.

    Setting a Clear Objective

    To start off, you need to set a clear focus objective. If you don’t have an objective, how can you decide on which things are worth focusing on? You can’t focus on everything at the same time, so you have to make a choice.

    Like driving a car, you need a destination.

    In this case, you don’t want to drive around aimlessly. You want to arrive at your destination before you run out of gas.

    A good focus objective, therefore, needs to be concrete. This means that it should be something you can visualize, such as determining how the new office is going to look after you’ve completed the renovation and moving in. If you can visualize it, that means you have a clear enough picture to know what’s needed to achieve it.

    Drawing a Focus Roadmap

    The second step is to lay out a practical focus roadmap. Once you have your ideas, setting an objective is easy. The most difficult part is determining how you’re going to achieve your objective.

    There are lots of things you can do to work towards your goal, but what comes first? What’s more valuable, and how long will it take?

    That’s where having a roadmap helps you answer these questions. Like driving, you need to have at least a rough idea of which major roads to drive on, and the order in which you need to drive them.

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    Yet, creating a roadmap can get tricky because you have absolute freedom on how you’re going to achieve your objective.

    To create a good road map, you should include major milestones. These are targets you need to hit in order to achieve success. Your roadmap should also include feasible and realistic actions that you can achieve as you learn how to focus better.

    Need a little help in drawing this Focus Roadmap? The Full Life Planner can help you. It’s a practical planner to help you stay focused and on track with your most important goals and tasks in an organized way. Get yours today!

    Power Up Your Productivity

    I hope you now have a better understanding of how focus truly works. By harnessing your focus using the Focus Flow, you’ll be able to work on a task more productively, not because you’re able to concentrate, but rather because you know exactly what your end goal is, and you have a game plan in place to make that happen.

    Once there is clarity, I can assure you that you’ll be less likely to get distracted or lose focus on your tasks at hand.

    You may think it’s going to take you extra time writing out an objective and setting out a roadmap. You may believe that you are better off getting right down to the actual work.

    However, as I’ve mentioned, there’s no point in rushing your efforts that lead you to nowhere or cause you additional detours. You’ll end up expending more mental energy and time than needed.

    Once you’ve made your roadmap and found your focus, follow it up with unbreakable determination with Lifehack’s Actionable Motivation On Demand Handbook.

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    Featured photo credit: Paul Skorupskas via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Very Well Mind: The Psychology of Flow

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