Mindful Productivity While Working From Home
10 tips to prevent remote working from compromising your performance.
Posted April 25, 2020
Traditionally, business leaders have argued against the concept of working from home (WFH) due to productivity concerns and tactical problems that limit a supervisor's ability to observe and coach employees. Now that more people are required to work from home due to COVID-19, studies show a climb in productivity, improved work satisfaction, and fewer breaks and sick days.
Increased meditation practices and scientific research in the last decade show that mindfulness practices, too, contribute to well-being at work, sharper focus, less stress, and more productive employees, and that's also good for business.
Along with the combined merits of mindfulness and remote working, more corporate leaders are jumping onboard the meditation train. Sharat Sharan, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of ON24, a San Francisco-based marketing technology company, touts the advantages of meditation to stay calm in times of a global pandemic because personal health and energy are passed down to your team:
"After the great recession, I started meditating and now begin every day with 12 minutes of meditation. That routine has helped me stay mindful, pragmatic, and put out positive energy. In the midst of a crisis, you need to personally embody the attitude that you want your team and your own business to demonstrate."
What Is Mindful Productivity?
Mindful productivity is the intentional, moment-to-moment awareness of what's happening inside and immediately around us with self-attuned compassion as we move through daily schedules and routines. It involves bringing our full non-judgmental attention to body sensations, thoughts, and feelings that arise while working or thinking about our completion of tasks. The practice of mindful productivity brings about change from the inside out—regardless of workplace circumstances or the nature of job problems. Instead of attacking yourself when things fall apart, a mindful, self-compassionate attunement to yourself eases you through stress over the coronavirus, business failures, job loss, or worry and anxiety about career goals.
My research team at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte found that mindless workers had statistically higher burnout rates, were more disconnected from their inner selves, and had less self-insight than mindful workers, who showed more present-moment awareness such as clarity, calmness, compassion, and confidence. Mindful productivity allows us to enjoy the deep mystery of being alive without the need for numbing ourselves with multitasking and busy pursuits.
10 Tips for Mindful Productivity During Remote Working
1. Define Your Workspace. Confine your workspace to a specific area in your home, so your productivity doesn't intrude into the lives of other household members, and you can concentrate. Have a space that you designate as your workstation instead of checking emails, voicemails, or texting in front of the TV or spreading work out on the kitchen table. If you don't have a separate room, find an area with minimum traffic flow or a corner of a room off from the main area.
2. Create a Scaffolding. Establish a defined schedule and stick to it. Avoid sleeping in or lingering over a meal and treat your workspace as if it's your office across town, even though you might be walking into the next room. Only go to this designated space when you need to complete a task. Keep your workspace at arm' s-length after hours. Try to maintain the same hours you log at the office, so you're not consumed by the workload.
3. Pace Yourself. Make a conscious effort to toil in the present moment as much as possible. Be mindful of your virtual co-workers, and consider eating, walking, and driving slower. Productivity isn't a marathon; it's a sprint, and studies show that productivity is enhanced with balance. Plodding puts you at the finish line in time, plus you can enjoy life on your way. Remember, the tortoise, not the hare, won the race.
4. Practice Self-Care. Make sure to balance your days with nutritious food, regular exercise, and ample sleep. Stuck at home, it's possible to work 24/7, but that goes against healthy self-care. Tell yourself there's a limit to what you can do and put the rest out of the picture. Consider that attitude not a weakness, but a strength. Send guilt packing if you feel guilty not working, and remember that putting on the brakes of rest and relaxation gives you the fuel to accomplish your goals.
5. Avoid Multitasking. Studies show that multitasking isn't what it's cracked up to be, that people who focus on one task at a time are calmer and more effective and productive. According to Harvard researchers, if you're like the average person, you're lost in thought 47 percent of the time, and multitasking can keep you stuck there.
6. Set Boundaries. Learn to say no. Refuse to commit to more projects when you're already overloaded. Tell yourself there's a limit to what you can do. When you say yes but mean no, you're not taking good care of your mental and physical health. Develop water-tight psychological boundaries so you're not constantly reminded of temptations around you (there's chocolate cake in the fridge) or unfinished personal tasks—such as laundry, vacuuming, or organizing the spice rack—that otherwise could compromise your productivity. Complete any personal tasks outside of work hours.
7. Cultivate Self-Compassion. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. Instead of attacking yourself when you forget, make a mistake, or fail at a task, shower yourself with compassion. Practice pep talks and treat yourself with the same nurturing support and loving-kindness you give to your best friend. When overwhelmed, talk yourself off the ledge with kindhearted words.
8. Unplug and Come Up for Air. The best medicine for boosting your productivity is making sure you spend ample time in other pursuits besides productivity. Mother Nature didn't design your body to be desk-bound for long periods of time. Put time cushions between appointments, take time to breathe, eat a snack, look at your window, or stretch and move around. Set aside time for the present moment to clear your mind with yoga, solitary walks in nature, or meditation to take your mind off red alert.
9. Share the Load. Don't require yourself to do everything. Manage your schedule instead of letting it manage you. Ask for help when you need it. Delegating tasks is a sign of a confident, productive worker. Make sure other housemates are doing their part and divide tasks up now that the entire family is homebound, so you can concentrate on your productivity. Prioritize tasks and set realistic "lifelines" instead of "deadlines."
10. Block Off Time for Relationships. Integrate more time into your productive schedule for virtual human interactions with co-workers and friends and face-to-face time with family members. Protect your personal domain from electronic leashes, and know when to turn them off. Take days off and vacations where you unwind and have fun. Integrate personal time into your day (such as taking your child for a doctor's appointment) as often as you integrate work tasks into your personal time.
Bloom, N, Liang, J, Roberts, JN, & Zhichun, JY (2015). Does working from home work? Evidence from a Chinese experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 130 (1), 165–218, https://doi.org/10.1093/qje/qju032.
Hunter, P (2019). Remote working in research: An increasing usage of flexible work arrangements can improve productivity and creativity, Science & Society, 20 (1): 1-4.
Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S., Phillips, D. T., Baird, B., & Schooler, J. W. (2013). Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering. Psychological Science, 24(5), 776–781. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612459659
Norman, A S et al (2007). Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2 (4): 313-322. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsm030
Paulson, S., et al. (2013). Becoming conscious: The science of mindfulness. Annals Of The New York Academy Of Sciences, 1303, 87-104.
Robinson, B. (2014). Chained to the desk: A guidebook for workaholics, their partners and children, and the clinicians who treat them. New York: New York University Press.