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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

    Here’s What To Do When You Are Getting Exhausted At Work 3 Powerful Ways To Lead By Example At Work 5 Ways to Maximize Productivity While Working From Home

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2021

    How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus

    How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus

    You sit at your desk, ready to finally get some work done. “Okay, lets do this,” you think to yourself. You scroll over to Word (or Excel, or Office, etc.) and open up a fresh document. You have some idea of what needs to be done, but what happens next?

    You write a few words down but just can’t stay focused. Then you say “Maybe I should wake myself up with something fun.” You go to Facebook, 20 minutes gone. Then comes Youtube, 60 minutes gone. Before you know it, lunchtime has come and half the day is gone.

    Does this seem familiar? Do you ever find yourself wasting your day?

    Well it doesn’t have to be this way, all you need to do is focus on finishing this article to find out how to not get distracted easily.

    But before we move on to the tips, here’re some important notes you need to know:

    • Avoiding distraction is tough. You’re not alone when it comes to distractions. It’s not easy staying on task when you need to work for hours at a time, but some people are able to do it. The question is: why them and not you?
    • You were never taught how to focus. It’s funny how all throughout our school days we were never taught HOW to learn and be focused, even though that’s all we did. It was just assumed, and ultimately it was hit or miss on whether or not you ended up knowing how to do those things at all.
    • The tools to help master your ability to focus. Since everyone’s left to their own devices, it’s up to you to find ways to master your focus ability. That’s what these tips are for, so you can finally stay focused and on track with what we want to accomplish for ourselves.

    So without further ado, let’s get started. 

    1. Keep Your Vision and Goals in Mind

    First things first, why do you even need to focus? Do you want to become a skilled guitar player? Do you want to write a novel? Do you want to start working from home?

    Think about it.

    Knowing why we need to stay focused can help us push through the tough and tedious parts of accomplishing our goals. That’s when our ability to focus is really tested and when it’s most needed.

    2. Reduce the Chaos of Your Day by Focusing on 2 to 3 Important Tasks

    If you have 20 tasks you need done everyday how effective do you think your focus ability will be? Terrible, right?

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    You can’t expect to do those things with sophistication if you’re too scatterbrained to focus. You need to break it down to the essentials.

    Focus on only doing 2-3 important tasks a day (even one is okay), but no more than that. It’s all you need to take steps towards accomplishing your goals. Slower is much better than giving up early because you took on too much, too early.

    3. Do Those Tasks as Soon as Possible

    In order to make sure you get those 2 to 3 tasks done, you need to do them early. This means as soon as you wake up, you’re already plotting how to do them.

    So get up, use the bathroom, eat breakfast, and do it (Yes, BEFORE work is the best time to do it).

    It’s tough, but waiting to do them only invites distraction to take over. Those distractions WILL come, and they will drain your willpower. This makes working on your goals harder to do, so don’t wait do work on your goals, do them as early as possible.

    4. Focus on Only the Smallest Part of Your Work at a Time

    An easy way to kill your focus is to see a goal for the big giant accomplishment that it is. Most goals will at least take a few weeks to months to accomplish, and knowing that can make it feel like it’ll take FOREVER to do.

    This will cause you to do one of two things:

    • You become discouraged because the goal is too big; or
    • You fantasize about what it’ll feel like to achieve the goal

    Either way is terrible for your focus and always a potential problem when focusing on the big picture or using visualization.

    So what should you do? Focus on doing a very small, minimum amount of work instead.

    For example, which seems easier:

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    Writing 200 words per day or writing a minimum of 2 sentences per day?

    20 pushups per day or a minimum of 1 pushup per day?

    The key here is to use minimums. Chances are you’ll push past them.

    Eventually your minimum will increase, and you’ll slowly improve your ability to stay focused on the bigger tasks.

    5. Visualize Yourself Working

    I briefly mentioned in tip #4 that visualization techniques can hurt you more than help you sometimes. But there is a proper way of using visualization, and it’s by visualizing yourself actually WORKING (not as if you’ve succeeded already).

    Champion runners use this technique to great effect, usually by working backwards. They imagine themselves winning at first, then they act out the whole process in reverse, feeling and visualizing each step all the way to the beginning.

    A quicker and more relevant way to apply this would be to imagine yourself doing a small part of the task at hand.

    For instance, if you need to practice your guitar but it’s all the way across the room (let’s assume maximum laziness for the sake of this example), what should you do?

    First, imagine standing up (really, think of the sensation of getting up and then do it). If you really imagined it, visualized and felt the act of standing up, then acting on that feeling will be easy.

    Then repeat the visualization process with each step till you have that guitar in hand and you’re playing it. The process of focusing so intently on each step distracts you from how much you don’t want to do something, and the visualizations “ready your body” for each step you need done.

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    All you need to do is apply this process to whatever it is you need to focus on, just start with the smallest motion you need to do.

    6. Control Your Internal Distractions

    Internal distractions are one of those problems you can’t really run away from. You need to find ways to prepare your mind for work, and find simple ways to keep it from straying to non-essential thoughts as well.

    A good way to prime your mind for work is to have a dedicated work station. If you always work in a specific area, then your mind will associate that area with work related thoughts.

    Simple enough, right? When you take breaks make sure to leave your work station, that way you’ll know when you’re “allowed” to let your thoughts roam free as well.

    Deadlines are useful here also (use Pomodoro method for example, see tip #9). This method helps keep your mind from wandering around since you’ve got that looming deadline coming along.

    Ultimately though, silencing those unwanted thoughts is all about getting some traction going. So instead of focusing on what’s happening internally, focus getting something done (anything!). Once you do that, you’ll see that all your thoughts will be about finishing your task.

    7. Remove External Distractions

    This tip is straightforward, just get away from things that distract you.

    Is the television a distraction? Work in another room. Are the kids distracting you? Get up earlier and work before they wake up. Is the Internet distracting? Turn off the modem.

    It’s usually obvious what you should do, but you still shouldn’t overlook this piece of advice.

    8. Skip What You Don’t Know

    This is a tip I don’t see often enough, if you hit a snag in your work then come back to it later. Focus your attention on what you CAN do, keep working “mindlessly” at all costs. All this means is that you should focus on the easy parts first.

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    Eventually you can come back to the more difficult parts, and hopefully by then it’ll have come to you or you’ll have built up enough momentum that it won’t break your focus if you work on it.

    9. Improve Your Discipline With Focus Practice

    There’s a few focus exercises you can do to improve your overall discipline.

    The first one is meditation, which is basically the definition of focus in practice. Think about it, you’re literally just sitting there doing nothing. It’s a great method for building focus ability, de-stressing, and giving you greater control over your emotions. You should definitely give meditation a shot.

    The second exercise is the Pomodoro method. These are basically “focus sprints,” and each one is followed by a solid break. Like real sprints, you’ll get better and better at doing them over time. Each interval improves your ability to stay focused when it matters, so it’s more than worth your time to try this out.

    10. Manage Your Momentum

    Momentum is like a discipline lubricant‒it helps ease the process of sticking with goals. That’s why I think it’s important that we never take true breaks from our goals; we end up losing momentum and relying on discipline to get back on track (not an easy thing to do).

    This means each and everyday we need to do something significant to further our goals (yes, even weekends and holidays). And when I say “significant,” I don’t necessarily mean a big task‒but rather, any task that brings us closer to our goals.

    For instance, if your goal is to be a freelance writer, then write one single pitch on a weekend. If your goal is get healthy, then go for a short 5 minute walk even on Christmas day.

    Nothing big, nothing crazy, only stuff that is significant enough to contribute to the success of your overall goal.

    More Tips on Staying Focused

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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