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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

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

    More by this author

    Dr. Erik Reis

    Peak-Performance Leadership Consultant

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    Published on April 8, 2021

    10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

    10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

    Want to know what Steve Jobs thought was the ultimate key in achieving success?

    “Focus and simplicity… once you get there, you can move mountains.”—Steve Jobs

    And this belief is even more important today than it was years ago. At your fingertips is a literal world of information and entertainment. So, it’s no wonder we all have such wandering minds nowadays.

    Thanks to the internet and smartphones, attention is practically a currency we should be more budget-minded about. In fact, a person who can stay focused is not only more likely to get more done but also be more satisfied at the end of the day because of it.

    Going further, a person who’s focused will more easily achieve their goals—anything from losing 20 pounds to getting a promotion at work is within the reach of this type of person.

    So, in the spirit of that idea, here are 10 ways to tame that wandering mind of yours and turn it into a laser-focused brain that gets things done.

    1. Find Your Totem

    Remember the totem in the movie, Inception? It’s an item that reminded people they weren’t in a dream when they touched it, and it was able to keep them grounded in reality.

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    You can replicate this idea when it comes to staying focused as well. All you’ve to got to do is find something to be your “focus totem,” and it’ll remind you that you should stop daydreaming and get back to work. Ideally, it’s something you can see and touch.

    In the movie, a chess piece and a spinning top were used—both are good ideas. You could also use a picture of your family, a mini trophy, or even wear a ring to focus your mind as well. (In fact, a green lantern ring might be kind of cool for this.)

    2. Promise a Reward

    Incentives are an obvious way to go. Having gold at the end of any journey makes you want to press forward just for the sweet results. In general, rewards should correlate to the difficulty/length of the work.

    For example:

    • Finish a quick house chore = a piece of chocolate
    • Complete an annoying administrative task = 10 minutes of Youtube
    • A successful day of work = a whole movie on Netflix

    Pretty simple stuff, right? But you’d be surprised how often you forget to reward yourself for doing solid work on the regular.

    3. Make It Stupid Easy for Your Wandering Mind

    I don’t know about you, but if I perceive my work to require more effort than I care to use, I’m instantly turned off. This then leads to distraction and procrastination. But you can offset this by breaking a difficult task into a bite-sized piece.

    Case in point, what seems easier: 30 pushups or 3 pushups?

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    It’s obvious, but sometimes our brains need to be “convinced” we’re only doing a small amount of work to get things going.

    But here’s something cool about this tactic: You can (and most likely will) keep going past your stupid easy benchmark. You don’t have to, but my experience tells me once you get going like this, it’s easy to go beyond your bare minimum goal.

    4. Empty Your Mind With Journaling

    Sometimes, there’s too much stuff floating around in your brain that is making your mind wander. In that case, it can help to spill everything in your head onto a journal to free up some space. You can use a pen and pad for this or something digital like Evernote.

    There are two basic ways to go about it:

    1. Freestyle – where you just write whatever randomly flows through your brain without thinking or pausing. This is great if you’ve got a million different ideas racing through your brain.
    2. Focused – where you create prompts or an outline to streamline your thinking and you just respond to the questions or format. This is best when you want to grasp a certain topic.

    5. Use the “Just 5 Minutes” Method

    Try telling yourself that you’ll work for “just 5 minutes” and then you can stop. You’ll find that the task feels far easier to handle. And like the “stupid easy” method, this tricks your brain into thinking the task is lower effort than it really is. After all, 5 minutes for even the worst task is psychologically manageable for any person out there.

    The key is to honestly allow yourself to stop at 5 minutes—no matter what. That’s what allows your brain to accept the method as legit and also lets it overcome the mental hurdle that makes your brain want to wander around and focus on anything but your task.

    6. Recite a Focus Mantra

    I like to think of mantras as a totem you can take with you anywhere you go. They serve the same purpose—reminding you to stay focused—but can be done anywhere and anytime.

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    I find the most powerful type of mantra to be based on reality. I learned this approach from Dr. Jon Fader—a performance coach who was on “Good Morning America”—and his book Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You about How to Win in Life. He calls this “objective optimism.”

    Basically, you create a mantra that’s based on personal success in your life. That way, the mantra isn’t just a fluffy positivity statement, there’s also the weight of real-life success giving it power

    Some examples:

    • If you’re struggling to make yourself go to the gym but have technically been there many times already, you could say, “just another day of heading to the gym—easy.”
    • If you’re suffering from impostor-syndrome after accepting a promotion, just say, “I’m here for a reason” to remind yourself that your efforts were recognized by others and are the real deal.
    • If you’re nervous about an upcoming sports competition but have trained diligently for it, you could say, “I’ve done all the work possible” to remind yourself that your earlier efforts have created the best version of you for the event.

    As you can see, the most powerful mantras are evidence-based and positive. So, just find proof of relevant success in your life and transform it into a motivating mantra.

    7. Use the “Multi-Yawn” Approach

    One of the best ways to be distracted is to be tired. And sometimes, you’ll be tired in such a way that you’re “sort of” working but not realize that you’re actually constantly distracted.

    If you can notice when you do this, one thing I like to do is crank out as many big, satisfying yawns as possible. Olympic athletes sometimes do this before their big events. It calms them down and helps them perform better in the process. And it works just as well for us regular folks. I find it has a similar effect to taking a good nap (and actually works best in unison), so you can imagine how effective this can be.

    8. Find an Easy Win

    Nothing feels good like winning. So, it can help to find a few simple tasks you can do with little effort and just get them done immediately. This will create momentum and propel your productivity forward. The feeling of success will lock your focus in on the task at hand and refocus your wandering mind. Use this when you feel “resistance” to getting your work started.

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    9. Create a “Wins” List

    Feeling like a capable person who can win at life is motivating in and of itself. In light of this fact, it can help to have an ongoing “wins” list to prove you’re an able person.

    Just keep track of all your daily wins—big and small. And whenever your focus starts to wane, give that list a peek and remind yourself that you’re more capable than you realize.

    10. Add Stakes to the Mix

    If you were to lose $20 if you failed to complete a task, would you be more focused on completing it? Of course!

    Try and find ways to put something on the line when it comes to completing your tasks, and you’ll find your focus, motivation, and ability to things done to be higher than ever before.

    For example, if you’re at work, you could involve a co-worker by saying you’ll buy their food if you don’t complete a task before lunchtime rolls around. At home, you could say you’ll also mow the lawn if you don’t remember to wash the dishes before the day is over. Or you could just use something like Beeminder or TaskRatchet, which actually charges you cash for failing to complete a task or goal on time. (It’s scary but effective)

    All are viable methods, so just give one of them a shot.

    Who Else Wants More Success?

    Of the many methods of winning at life out there, focusing is definitely a top-three contender. You can’t get anything you want in life if you don’t buckle down and get your work done—a wandering mind won’t create success.

    But with these 10 focus tips, you’ll be ahead of the competition and be closer to a fitter body, higher income, and a flat-out better life than before.

    More Tips on Sharpening Your Focus

    Featured photo credit: Clay Banks via unsplash.com

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