We're weeks into stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders in an attempt to #flattenthecurve. This has caused millions of people to work from home—many for the first time—while also dealing with children being homeschooled, spouses and roommates working (or not!) in the same environment, pets, and all of the other distractions available at home. When working from home, it's imperative that you motivate yourself, focus, and learn to execute in the zone to be productive and get the most done.
Becoming more productive, maximizing motivation, and achieving results is about employing the right habits and routines. It's not something you do some of the time; it becomes part of the way you approach your work.
There are 9 specific habits grouped into 3 key areas that can help you get the most done working from home.
- Recruit Your Drive
Motivation is commonly thought of as fixed; you either have it or you don't. New research shows that we all have motivation inside of us, we just need to draw it out. We can improve it like a skill. We can build it like a muscle.
Your drive is there. However strongly you feel it now, you can recruit it to be even stronger if you know what to do. Start by choosing your New Reality: your goals, future state, and the place you'll be when things change for the better. When you know your goals and connect them to your actions, those actions are much more meaningful. Plan your actions weekly to help get you there and have an accountability partner to help keep you on top of your commitments.
- Ignite Your Proactivity
Getting started on complex tasks is difficult. Once you start, it's much easier to keep going.
To kickstart your proactivity, try these three hacks:
- Calendar your important activities and time. If you put it on your calendar, you're much more likely to do it.
- Count "3, 2, 1…Go" and just get started. You have a short amount of time to get started on something before your brain tells you it's too hard. Don't let it win.
- Use positive self-talk. Give yourself pep talks. When you feel positive, you're more likely to get started on important activities versus putting them off.
- Reengineer Your Habits
You must do things differently (and do different things) if you want different results. If you want to do something—anything—differently, you need to understand your habits and know how to change them.
There are 4 Elements of Habit:
- Trigger: Something that cues you to think something or take a particular action
- Thought: What you think, either consciously or subconsciously, when you encounter the trigger
- Response: The action you take in response to the trigger and thought
- Reward: The gain or payoff you receive from the action you take
Learn to affect each of these 4 elements and you can change any habit you want.
Control Your TIME
- Obsess Over TIME
Almost everyone at some point in their career toys with adopting some kind of time-management system. Few stick with it. The challenge is that many time-management systems focus too deeply on the activity level—what to do first, what to do next, what the priority order is—without paying enough attention to the bigger picture.
At RAIN Group, we find it instructive to think of time in the following levels:
- Treasured: Time you hold dear
- Investment: Time that generates outsized returns
- Mandatory: Time you feel you must spend
- Empty: Time you waste
The key to success and achieving top performance is maximizing your Investment time—the time you focus on becoming more effective, getting more done, and getting the right things done. This is the big picture.
One way to do this is to focus on your Greatest Impact Activity (GIA). Your GIA is the one activity that, should you do it consistently at high quality, will get you the greatest eventual return on your time investment.
When working from home, there's a tendency to let one category meld into the next, but it's important to establish boundaries and consciously spend time in one category versus another to maximize productivity. We all have only 24 hours in each day. Where people spend their time on any given day is a reflection of how they'll likely spend it for months and years to come. It's how you choose to spend your time and on what activities that most influences your results.
- Say No
You can't focus on your most important priorities if you say "yes" to everyone else's. You need to learn to say "no" to colleagues, employees, bosses, and even potential buyers if they aren't going to help you achieve your priorities. When you're working from home, this could include your spouse, kids, roommates, or others.
In order to reach your goals, you need to be brutal with your priority list. If you have 32 priorities, you have none. Ask a colleague or coach to help you be stern and say no to the lower priority priorities.
There are always going to be mandatory parts of your job and life that you must attend to, but it’s up to you to control your TIME and where you spend it. Minimize or outsource the mandatory work and maximize the time you invest on your most important activities. This requires the ability to say no.
- Play Hard to Get
Distractions are everywhere! In fact, people are distracted every 11 minutes. Distraction is an epidemic and it can be a lot worse when you're working from home juggling multiple responsibilities.
If you want to focus and become more productive, you need to free yourself from distractions. Do this by turning off all alerts, including email, phone, apps, social media, etc. Signal "do not disturb" by closing your door, turning on your out-of-office assistant, or wearing headphones.
You don't need to do these things all the time, but try implementing these strategies and gift yourself the space to focus, concentrate, and get done what you set out to accomplish.
Execute in the Zone
- Sprint into the Zone
If you want to maximize effort per work hour, get in the zone.
The zone (also known as flow) is a mental state where a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. To get in the zone, establish a daily routine of obsessed, planned Sprints.
Sprinting is a form of timeboxing, a popular technique in many project-management and software-development methods. Timeboxing allocates a specific period of time (or time box) to a pre-planned activity.
We recommend TIME Sprinting, which is 20 minutes (minimum) of obsessed focus on a planned activity. No stopping. No distractions. Obsessed focus. TIME Sprinting is one of the most powerful and effective strategies of the Extreme Productivity System (XPS). If you do it, you need to obsess over it just like you do when deciding how to spend your time.
If you want to get more accomplished in the time you have, and you want to have that euphoric feeling of being extremely productive, you must execute in the zone.
- Fuel Your Energy
You can't focus and be productive if you're tired. You need to fuel your mind, body, and spirit. You can do this through:
- Practicing positive self-talk and mindfulness
- Eating, sleeping, and remaining active to drive energy
- Taking Treasured time to do the things you love
- Finding your personal path to feel at peace and happy
Doing these things fuels the stamina you need to achieve long-term extreme productivity.
- Right the Ship
Changing habits and being productive isn't easy. We all fall off the wagon. The key is getting back on—and staying on—for longer periods. Earlier we shared how to ignite proactivity by saying "3, 2, 1…Go." The reverse also works to stop an undesired activity. Simply say, "3, 2, 1…Stop!"
While conscious thought may or may not cause us to initiate certain behaviors, conscious thought can conclusively cause us to stop that behavior.
If you're having a hard time making any of these changes in full, try making a micro-change. Cut it down and start there. Can't Sprint for 20 minutes? Try starting with 5.
You can't finish in 5 minutes—everyone knows this—but most people don't stop when the timer goes off. Once you're into a particular task, you keep going because you're over the activation energy hump, and you're getting satisfaction and pleasure out of the progress you're making.
There are many rich details and nuances to explore within each of these 9 habits. In fact, they make up the 9 Habits of Extreme Productivity.