For months, the coronavirus pandemic has relegated office workers everywhere to their homes. Hunched over kitchen tables or attending conference calls from their living room sofas, these workers are truly living the business trope of “do more with less.”
As the pandemic continues to force businesses to keep their offices closed (or reduce seating capacity), it’s clear that work-from-home will be a reality for many professionals for some time to come. “Productivity” takes on new meaning when working from home. Whether it’s taking on the additional tasks of educating and caring for children, juggling the demands of an entire family living 24/7 under one roof, or the energy zappers of distraction (and loneliness for those living solo), working-from-home requires re-thinking ways to get things done.
If you’re one of the thousands of workers tasked with staying put but staying productive, here are five doable strategies that simplify your day and transform potential into productive outputs.
Buy into your biorhythm
Carefully evaluate your personal energy system. When are you clearest, quickest, most curious, less energized? Now that you’re working from home, you may be able to adjust your schedule a bit to capitalize on your body’s energy peaks. Lean into your biorhythm and leverage your own personal highs and lows to construct a schedule that aligns activities with the energy you’re capable of deploying at any given time. If your boss is receptive, you might try negotiating an earlier start time or late-night stretch to capitalize on your early-bird or night-owl tendencies.
Complex decision-making is a highly demanding activity that requires considerable mental energy and can compromise productivity. As a result, it’s critical to preserve cognitive resources for the decisions that directly drive outcomes and results. This means reducing the volume of less valuable or impactful decision making.
To streamline decision-making, consider pre-planning your day the night before. Spend a few minutes to flesh out your calendar beyond pre-arranged meetings to include the actual work you’ll do, hour by hour. Schedule in specific time to address email, respond to phone calls and even work through projects and stress over problems. Then, don’t think about it again. Trust your previous night’s self and obediently follow your plan. You’ll be amazed at the mental resources that are freed up for higher value work.
Multitasking has been proven to be a fantasy. Brain research shows that when we “multi-task” we’re not actually doing two things simultaneously; rather the brain is simply switching very quickly among tasks. And when the tasks are cognitive in nature, multitasking actually results in outputs reflective of a lower IQ. But, in today’s technology-flooded, distraction-inducing environment, focusing on just one thing at a time can be among our greatest challenges. A few easy behaviors that might help include:
- Setting a timer for 25 minutes, making a deal with yourself that you’ll stay on task just for that period of time. Then, take a break.
- Silence all notifications. The pings and dings are seductive distractions that fool us into feeling like we’re accomplishing something.
- Hide your inbox. An onslaught of new messages can trigger a threat response. Living out of our inboxes can trick us into feeling virtuous and highly customer focused. But, in reality, we’re simply enjoying the short-term gratification of checking something easy or urgent off the list at the expense of addressing more important issues.
Catch your breath
An oxygen break may be even more effective than coffee to improve your productivity. Pausing each hour for just a minute or two to take five or six deep, cleansing breaths nourishes the brain, energizes the body, settles the nervous system and offers a reset for the next phase of work to be done. Use this strategy for stress management as well. Are kids constantly interrupting your Zoom call? Spouse banging pots and pans in the next room while you’re on a deadline? Breathe deeply and remind yourself that this working arrangement is temporary.
Reflect, recognize, refine
And finally, conclude each day with intentional reflection. Create a ‘done’ list before crafting tomorrow’s ‘do’ list. This offers multiple benefits. It allows you to evaluate your results, determine what’s working and what’s not, and recalibrate your efforts. But, equally importantly, it provides a chance to celebrate what’s been accomplished. Pat yourself on the back for what you were able to accomplish in the less-than-ideal circumstances of forced remote working. And even if you haven’t yet reached the finish line, you can soak up the effects of your progress, which Theresa Amabile of Harvard has found to unlock motivation, engagement and satisfaction at work.
Undoubtedly, working remotely during a global health crisis presents productivity challenges. With a bit of planning and self-care, it is still possible to create constructive use of your time. Use these five tips to tame distraction, burnout and frustration – and deliver results, all while working from home.
This article was originally published on SmartBrief.