Hey, all you remote workers out there, have you set yourself up for success to think clearly, creatively and flexibly at home?
Your home actually has the potential to be a better spot for working than your office. After all, only about 10% of office workers report doing their best thinking at work, according to Dr. David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute — a statistic that knowledge workers and their coaches don’t dispute.
When you work remotely, you should be able to exert more control over your work routine, environment and overall habits. If you intentionally customize your ideal workday to fit your personal preferences and situation, you’ll improve your thinking, especially if you also commit to healthy work practices supported by a growing body of scientific studies. As a result, your increased clarity will help you elevate your mood, overall health and productivity.
How do you take control?
1. First, give yourself permission to design a routine that fits your ideal way of working. Or if that’s not possible, make adjustments that better support you and your working style.
Don’t fall in the trap of trying to replicate your old in-office routine in a remote setting, mimicking others or following the latest tips from a self-proclaimed remote worker guru. Those approaches may be easy and comfortable, but they may not work since our brains are unique. We need to make the effort to do custom tailoring.
2. Start by acknowledging certain constraints that you may have. Otherwise, you run the risk of being accused of being totally selfish by your boss, coworkers or family members, which causes its own set of problems.
On the work front, some of these constraints may be time-based. For example, you may have to be available certain times of the day to collaborate with coworkers or participate in conference calls, video meetings or webinars. Or, you may need to complete work assignments by a certain time of day to forward to team members in your same time zone or other parts of the country or world.
At home, you’ve got to consider your obligations to family members or roommates. For instance, you may need to share your workspace with others, which will affect your work design. Also during the course of your day, you may need to help your children with their coursework. You’ll probably want to eat some or all of your meals with family members. And don’t forget to set aside time for any dogs and their walks.
Once you identify all of your constraints and how they impact you, you’ll have a clearer picture of what blocks of time you control. Depending on the type of work you do, those time blocks may be the same each workday, or they may differ from day to day, or even from hour to hour.
3. Know that how you use this time depends on your degree of self-awareness and whether you prefer to keep to a regimented schedule or flex among tasks or projects based on your circumstances, including personal whims. For instance, your reactions can vary depending on your daily, weekly and monthly agenda. Or maybe you’re working on assignments you love, would prefer to put off or are trying to ignore because they suck the life out of you.
4. Your physical, mental and emotional state will affect your ability to focus in the moment. You’ve got to acknowledge this, especially since we’re living in a period of extreme uncertainty. You need to have compassion for yourself and your brain. This is the best advice one of my neuroscience professors ever gave me. Just acknowledge that you’ve hit a wall or even feel fenced in, and move to another task. Or even better, take a break.
As for breaks, keep in mind that scientific research shows frequent pauses from work help you improve your focus as well as your performance and productivity.
How frequent is frequent? Get up at least once every 50 to 70 minutes and move. Go refill your water bottle, put a load of laundry into the washing machine, pet the dog or even better, take the dog for a short walk so you both can breathe some fresh air. (Research shows that sitting is not the “new smoking” as some like to say. However, a sedentary lifestyle carries risks, such as type 2 diabetes.)
However you use your creativity to pause and move throughout the day, you’ll be following two of the many scientific practices that help you work smarter and better. Five other effective, research-based actions include:
• Taking time to socialize with coworkers or others, whether during online meetings or in a special Zoom session or phone call, can give you a sense of belonging. Our brains have a need to belong; research shows that we feel pain when we feel excluded or isolated.
• Practicing mindfulness, which can include different forms of meditation, can sharpen your focus, reduce anxiety, elevate your mood and provide other benefits, according to various research studies.
• Working fewer hours can improve productivity, as Microsoft Japan discovered last summer when employees experimented working four days a week.
• Unplugging from technology, especially before bed, can decrease stress.
• Setting yourself up to have “eureka!” moments can help you solve problems. To make the rest of your home as productive as your shower for a-ha moments, ensure you’re in a quiet environment, you’re internally focused, you have a positive mindset and you’re not directly working on any problems, especially work challenges.
You’ll be embracing your humanity by adding these humane practices to your remote work routine. And by playing to your strengths, you’ll be better managing your focus, energy and stress levels and improving the quality of your thinking and your life.