Whether it’s being on a virtual team, growing a side-hustle, chasing the 4-hour workweek, or enduring a random global pandemic, more and more people are working from home. With this trend growing faster than human behavior can catch up, there are a number of issues that can negatively affect productivity when working from home (or your local coffee shop), from dealing with kids at home to using the same space for too many things. How we approach working in the same space we live and sleep can make all the difference. In this article, I share 5 ways you can rapidly make working from home more effective and efficient and also explain the neuropsychology of the impact that each strategy has on your work and performance.
1. Dress for success
This tip may already be the most discussed: Dress up in your work clothes so you feel as though you’re actually going to your place of work. The Neuroscience: As humans, everything we do has neuro-associations in our minds. That means that there is a link between two or more things that impact an outcome. A + B = C, if you will. In this case, the clothes you wear affect the way you feel, and the way you feel affects the language you use, the way you sit, and even the way you may speak to clients or colleagues on the phone. Dress in pajamas and your mind links those clothes to relaxation, which will literally change the way your body creates energy, your metabolism, your posture, and therefore your work ethic and efficiency – all because of the clothes you’re wearing. It’s less about whether you’re dressed in a suit or in jeans and more about what the clothes represent to you and the neuro-associations you’ve created for them. It’s not just the conscious awareness that matters – your unconscious patterns are really what’s at play here.
2. The sound of stimulation
You may or may not know a certain Simon & Garfunkel song, “The Sound of Silence”. Regardless of your musical taste, I recommend you check it out on your favorite streaming service. When you’re about to enter your workspace, approach your desk, or when you first sit down to work, have a repeatable song that you use to stimulate your performance. Elite athletes commonly have certain songs or playlists that would stimulate us as we were warming up before a game. Kobe Bryant revealed that he would play the ‘Halloween’ theme tune before important games to get him into the right frame of mind, which he would later call “Mamba Mentality”. You can be sure the songs they’d listen to while winding down after a game were different, and for good reason. The Neuroscience: Any time we experience a stimulus and a simultaneous response, the two are linked in our minds and ‘anchored’ together. If you’ve ever heard of ‘Pavlov’s Dogs’, you’ve heard about this stimulus: response phenomena. We can have different kinds of stimuli that get anchored, from pictures to sounds to feelings, or the feel of things (such as the clothes you’re wearing, in my first point above). When you choose a ‘stimulation song’ and use it repeatedly before you start work, your mind will link it to work-mode and therefore stimulate your thinking, creativity, focus, and even your energy production. Be sure to choose the song intentionally as you’ll want to only use this song to stimulate you for work, thereby linking it in your mind for that specific purpose. The power behind this is limitless as you’ll be able to instantly change your state regardless of your external environment. Traveling across time zones, check. Starting early or working late, check. Construction going on outside or kids in the house, check. Using audio anchors to control your state and environment is one of the most powerful ways to empower yourself to be at your best when working from home.
3. Maker vs. Management spaces
Regardless of your job or industry, your tasks can be broken down into two categories – Maker (creative and proactive) Tasks and Manager (operational and responsive) Tasks. The types of brain activity for each of these tasks differ and studies show that switching back and forth between these tasks reduces performance and productivity. The Neuroscience: The type of attention that our brains require is different to perform these different tasks. Research presented by Ian McGilchrist in his TED talk highlights the old thinking that we use the right side of our brain for creativity and left for logic is outdated, and most tasks require an integrated, collaborative effort from both hemispheres of our brain to perform. That said, Maker vs. Manager Tasks require a different type of attention or focus to the other: – Peripheral – widely expansive, taking in the key details as well as other surrounding details that may not directly pertain to the task at hand – Foveal – intensely focused and blocking out other details not pertaining to the task With the Maker Tasks, it would be ideal to have our Peripheral focus activated, where innovation, creativity, and lateral thinking allow us to enhance our production and completion of those tasks. Manager Tasks on the other hand require more Foveal focus, where only the specific details about that task have attention. This allows for greater efficiency and output when checking tasks off of the to-do list. When you are working from home, you could control certain times or locations for each of these types of focus. Following the science of anchoring mentioned earlier, the location used for Maker tasks would allow for you to “get into the zone” and activate the type of focus you need for certain tasks. You could also do this on different days of the week. For example, keep Mondays for Manager tasks and Fridays for Maker tasks to create for the week ahead. Tuesday-Thursday then allows for both, with Maker tasks being primarily early in the morning or late at night and manager tasks or meetings with others in the middle. You can then train your mind to work more creatively during these times, and you can use this science to do the same in whatever way you think works best for you and your work needs.
4. Take that break outside
You don’t need to go physically outside for every break, however, it would be ideal to get out of your workspace. Whether it’s enjoying a snack, checking in on social media, or watching a funny cat video, take that break away from your workspace so that you don’t change the state that you associate with your work desk/space. The Neuroscience: What many call multi-tasking is referred to scientifically as ‘context switching’. Our brains neurologically can only apply focus to one context at a time and therefore when we switch contexts we change the neurological wiring we use to perform. Consider our nerves like electrical wiring in your house. If every time you performed a different task you had to unplug one of your appliances, let’s say the coffee grinder, then not only does that appliance (or the mental focus) lose power, it also loses all of the settings that were put into it. When the coffee grinder is set up perfectly to make a tasty espresso with the specific organic, medium roast beans you’ve purchased, when unplugged, it’s being returned to the factory default settings, which aren’t necessarily optimal for your grind! Our minds are similar. When you switch contexts you lose the momentum and linked connections that you had made before the switch, and it often takes minutes to get back to where you left off in order to be productive again. When you’re at your workspace/desk and you want to take a break, change your location so that you encourage the mental context switch that is linked to the geographical space change. It will also encourage a faster switch back when you return.
5. Schedule Everything (with alarms)
When was the last time you scheduled thinking time? If you’ve never done it or if the thought of scheduling thinking time makes you chuckle and eye-roll, then you’re missing out on a huge productivity tool that is crushing your performance.
“Never put off to tomorrow what can be done today” – Benjamin Franklin
The Neuroscience: Our minds filter 11 million bits (pieces) of information EVERY SECOND! The only way we can focus is to filter those through what’s most important to us and hold onto roughly 150 bits per second. This means that if something isn’t in your most pressing, valued, or urgent focus it will be relegated to the background and we all know that means it probably won’t get done. When you schedule something your mind can compartmentalize it, bookmarking thoughts, data, solutions, and creative ideas to be available when you’ve allotted time for it. Similarly to anything else you schedule, you honor that time with dedication and attention. Have you ever woken up with a gasp, sat up in alert in bed panting and thinking to yourself “Am I late”? We all have, and it was most likely for something that was scheduled such as work, a class, or a meeting. When you schedule things, your unconscious mind keeps track in the background. This is the part of you that makes sure you continue breathing and keeps your heart beating when you’re asleep. By putting everything in your calendar, from meditation to your eating schedule, thinking time to working out, your unconscious mind will keep track and help you get those things done. Using alarms will trigger a neuro-association;’;’, and soon enough you’ll naturally be reacting to a habit formed by following these alarms. If you set an alarm to eat at a certain time every day, after enough repeated actions you’ll find yourself already eating or preparing a snack when the alarm goes off. If you schedule creative or critical thinking time (something recommended for every CEO or business owner), you’ll find that your mind is more creative at those times of the day. The alarms disrupt the pattern of behavior and thinking that you’re in and also, over time, trigger the thinking, energy, focus, and mood that you’ve trained your mind to associate to that task or appointment. In honor of two highly effective managers, here are two quotes that support the concept of scheduling and managing your focus.
“What gets measured gets managed” ~ Peter Drucker
“What gets scheduled gets done” ~ Michael Hyatt
When you have something that is important, put it on your schedule so that you get those things done in addition to what is urgent. Prioritize what’s important above what’s urgent. That ensures that your mission and goals get achieved while also handling and responding to what life brings up. Scheduling helps you win at BOTH games. Related: Flagging Productivity at Work? These 5 Simple Tricks Can Help You Get Your Mojo Back Any one of these 5 strategies will help you improve your performance and productivity when working from home, on the go, or even if/when you get back to working in an office. Apply all 5 and see your results skyrocket. The Science of Influence #WFH #productivity #neuroscience #highperformance