In case you are just recently visiting Earth, well, things have slightly changed since 2019. Whilst we discussed the mental health ramifications of the first lockdown (view post here), the second lockdown brought with it new challenges. More specifically, I’m talking about working from home. In the span of roughly two weeks in March, the number of people in the US who had ever worked from home doubled. This same study found that 59% of those people wanted to keep doing it post-pandemic. I mean, it can definitely have its benefits. Prior research has shown that we, as individuals, are 11-20% more productive on creative tasks whilst at home. Cool, huh? However, that same study also indicated that we’re up to 10% less productive at home while work on uncreative tasks. And most work? Decidedly uncreative. Uh-oh.
I don’t think I need to explain how working from home during a pandemic might reduce productivity even further. As many of us have probably experienced, it can lead to some deeply cringe-y changes in behavior and a lack of showering that culminates a dignity-free lifestyle (I really hate when I put on 20 pounds for a role until I realize I’m not actually even a movie star). Spend enough time not leaving the house and you’ll see more terrifying things than a private-mode browser window. And lets not forget about the emotional challenges all this has created, like an increase in anxiety and depression. We went from normal life to lockdown so fast we were like professional drivers going around bends.
Unfortunately, while we may be living in the Epidemiological Land of Misfit Toys we still need to get things done. And not soon, but now. Sorry to sound so serious and preachy, posting my thoughts to the digital door like some 21st century Martin Luther, but if you want 2021 to be cool, fun and cuter than a puppy’s yawn, then we need to find a better way to work. Luckily, this is easier than you think. This doesn’t have to be a productivity apocalypse. This can actually be an opportunity. Things are going to go back to almost-kinda-semi-normal eventually and when it happens, we can be ahead of the curve instead of behind it (if we’re smart). So how do we do a productivity reboot? Well, here is my most pro of protips:
Be proactive, not reactive. Judge results, not hours.
Most of the time at the office you’re reacting. Following. But working at home, you don’t get credit for just showing up and looking busy. People only see what you’ve accomplished. Merely ‘reacting’ is not how the most productive people work. They know that, in the end, nobody pays you for your time but for the things you get done. Now that working from home has given you more flexibility, use it to focus on what is important. Do the things that move the needle. Most of us get 80% of results from 20% of the work we do. So focus on that 20%. Whilst at home, this thought process can apply to life outside of your career as well. People talk about “spending more time with their family” but thinking in terms of hours is silly. Its about what you do. I’ll take half the time in meaningful, precious moments vs twice as much time staring at our phones together.
“Know thyself” is more important than ever.
You have more freedom now more than ever – so we need to get rid of that immediately. A lot of the context, systems, and habits that used to unconsciously contain and direct your behavior are now gone. So we need to replace them with new processes – ones better tailored to you. Studies show that 2.5 to 4 hours after waking up is when peoples’ brains are at their sharpest. But that’s only true in general. When are your ‘magic hours’? Are you a morning person? A night owl? Great, protect those hours and use them for what matters. And this isn’t just true for when you work, but also how you work. More productive after a nap? Cool. That’s now an option. Knowing what works for you, in the best and worst ways, is critical. You now have a multitude of ways to procrastinate that weren’t an option before. Gotta head those off and outsmart yourself.
Create your new tailored CEO system.
Systems beat goals. People who have a goal to lose 10 pounds regain the weight whilst people who have a system of eating right and exercising everyday sustain the weight loss. To succeed over the long haul, you want ‘process goals’ not ‘outcome goals’. Your process goals will be your daily activities, so put them in your calendar. Think about what moves the needle, know when you’re at your best, and then schedule everything accordingly. A schedule is like a to-do list that takes time into consideration. That’s how you know if you actually have the hours for all that stuff and it forces you to prioritize.
So you’ve got priorities, magic hours, and a new schedule. Great. But subconsciously you are very much affected by the concrete world around you. So you’ve gotta adjust to that as well…
Manage your environment.
Bars are loud and energetic to unconsciously let you know its time to have fun. We need the opposite. The office used to trigger the mindset that ‘its time to get things done’. We need to engineer the same effect at home. You want to recreate the boundaries of the office in a new and improved way. You may not have a home office, but now you do. Create one even if it involves working in a refrigerator box like you’re seven years old. And this isn’t just true for your locations. Separate computers, separate browsers – anything you can use and customize to trigger the mindset of ‘time to get stuff done’ vs ‘fun time’ will help. And then, after you’re done optimizing your zone of productivity, look at the rest of the house and do the opposite. How can you structure the other areas of your life for more relaxation? For a feeling of comfort and togetherness? Build the contrast.
Plan communication and feedback.
I live alone so in darker moments my pandemic life feels like a supervillain origin story. This is not good. I have to be proactive about connecting with people if I want it to happen. If you don’t already have regular check-ins planned with the boss, do that. And have a list of all the awesome things you’ve accomplished ready to discuss because its even harder for them to know what you’re up to. Ask about appropriate response times now that things have changed. The other issue is feedback. A lot of things that get mumbled to you in person will never be put in an email. Gotta be proactive here. Ask for feedback on how you’re doing and where things are at. And with delicious irony let me add that now all serendipity must be planned. Bouncing ideas off people, casual networking, and other less formal activities take a serious hit when you work from home, but their absences will create negatives over time.
Motivation is mood management.
Sometimes I’m sitting here writing with all the enthusiasm of a photocopier. Finishing things feels more like a kidney stone than a milestone. Research shows that so much of motivation is about mood. How you feel. When we’re positive, we’re not only more productive, we’re more effective. And why do we procrastinate? That, too, is all about how you feel. Studies show you procrastinate most when you’re in a bad mood and think you can improve it with something fun. So what’s the most motivating thing of all? The answer goes right back to our focus on the tasks that are most important. Studies by Harvard professor, Teresa Amabile, show that nothing is more motivating than making progress in meaningful work.
In collaboration with Barking Up The Wrong Tree