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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.



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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((OWL Labs: State of Remote Work 2019)). 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((Global Workplace Analytics: Latest Work-At-Home/Telecommuting/Mobile Work/Remote Work Statistics)).

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((CDC: Short Sleep Duration by Occupation Group — 29 States, 2013–2014)). 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((Physiological Reviews: About Sleep’s Role in Memory)).

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((Sleep Foundation: Circadian Rhythm)).

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((Sleep: How Long Is an Ideal Nap?)). 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.

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((Interventional Cardiology: Daylight savings time and myocardial infarction)). 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((Psychology and Aging: Exercise holds immediate benefits for affect and cognition in younger and older adults)).

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((The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: Exercise for Mental Health)). Aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming, biking, and walking can reduce anxiety and depression((Psychiatria Polska: Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood)) by enhancing activity in the frontal lobe((Medical News Today: What does the frontal lobe do?)), 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((European Journal of Neuroscience: Hippocampal BDNF mediates the efficacy of exercise on synaptic plasticity and cognition)).

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((BMC Public Health: The effectiveness of workplace nutrition and physical activity interventions in improving productivity, work performance and workability: a systematic review.)).

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((Organogenesis: Tissue repair)).

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((JNM: Brain-Gut-Microbiota Axis in Alzheimer’s Disease)), Parkinson’s((The Cure Parkinson’s Trust: New Evidence Suggests Parkinson’s Might Not Start in The Brain)), and Multiple Sclerosis((Medical Sciences: The Gut Microbiome in Multiple Sclerosis: A Potential Therapeutic Avenue)). Gut bacteria also play a big part in regulating our immune system, as nearly 70% of our immune system is located in our gut((Clinical and Experimental Immunology: Allergy and the gastrointestinal system)).

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((Caltech: Microbes Help Produce Serotonin in Gut)), 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.

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((Sketchplanations: The Pomodoro Technique)).

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((Gallup: Too Many Interruptions at Work?)).

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((Vanderbilt University: Task Switching)) 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((Scientific American: Why Does the Brain Need So Much Power?)). Excessive switching between tasks((Science Direct: Task-Switching)) 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.

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((European Journal of Social Psychology: How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world)). The more consistently leaders work on creating these habits, the easier they will become.

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