8 habits of super-productive people who work from home

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After years of working from coffee shops and personal home desks, there’s one thing I’m sure of — working remotely takes a lot of purposeful planning.

Working from home is fantastic… right up until your neighbor starts firing up all sorts of power tools and noisy machinery across the street. Managing your own time and choosing your hours can be incredibly hard if you don’t deliberately plan your day ahead of time.

Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “While you are alone you are entirely your own master.” When working remotely, you are more likely to spend half your time battling procrastination, distractions, or managing energy dips. If you give in to your distractions, you could wind up devoting productive time to fighting off the guilt that comes from giving in to those distractions.

In the wake of COVID-19, many people are suddenly finding themselves working remotely, and often in close quarters with young children, partners, and family. So how can you keep your focus regardless of your environment?

Start Work as Early as Possible

Rising before the sun is a habit shared by most successful people. In a poll of 20 executives cited by Vanderkam, 90% said they wake up before 6 am on weekdays. This makes sense from a productivity standpoint — you will have fewer distractions and a close to a peaceful environment to focus on.

Believe it or not, one way to work from home productively is to dive into your to-do list as soon as you wake up. Merely starting tasks first thing in the morning before the rest of your family or roommates have woken up can be the key to making real progress.

Plus, according to one study, waking up early can also make you happier. Some evidence suggests that morning light exposure, which results in a phase advance of the sleep/wake cycle, improves depressive symptoms in seasonal affective disorder.

Dedicate Mornings to High-Value Work

Work on your high-value tasks first thing in the morning — cut the planning and start doing real work when you are most active.

Don’t waste all that mental clarity and energy on planning what to do for the next eight hours. If you are a morning person, you can get a tonne done in the early morning hours. It pays to focus on essential tasks for the day during your morning.

A plan from yesterday makes it easier to get started right away when you get up. Kenneth Chenault, the former CEO and Chairman of American Express, once said in an interview that the last thing he does before leaving the office is to write down the top three things he needs to accomplish tomorrow. Then he uses that list to start his day the following morning.

If You’re Not a Morning Person, Work When You’re Most Productive

When you’re working from home, it’s important to recognize when you are most focused and energetic and to plan your schedule around that. Energy is the critical component we all need to consistently produce our best work, no matter where we are.

For example, if you’re a morning person and are most clearheaded, creative, and productive from 9 am to 12 pm, use that burst of energy to get things done at that time.

If you are a night-owl and need a few hours to ease into the day, leverage your afternoons and evenings. If you are productive between the hours of 3 pm and 11 pm, plan your tasks accordingly and make those your work hours.

The point is that you can increase your energy by working with your body rather than fighting against it and forcing it to fit into anybody’s clock other than your own internal one. It’s better to concentrate your energy into a specific period than randomly insert it across chunks of time.

To capitalize on your most productive periods, save your harder tasks for when you know you’ll be in the right headspace for them.

Prepare For a Successful Morning in Advance

Planning your day the night before will give you back a lot of wasted hours in the morning and lower your stress levels. The first quiet hour of the morning can be an ideal time to focus on meaningful work without being interrupted.

Try this tonight. If you’re happy with the results, then commit to trying it for a week. After a week, you’ll be able to decide whether you want to add “night-before planning” to your life.

Structure Your Day As You Would Normally

When working from home, you manage practically everything — calendar, projects, tasks, and breaks. Without a proper structure, you can quickly lose focus or burn out.

“I make an hour-by-hour contract with myself that basically says, ‘When nap time starts, what are the two things I’m going to do?’” Martin said. “I write it on a piece of paper. A lot of people like to keep digital notes, but then when I sit down, there’s no question like, ‘what am I going to do?’” says Laura Mae Martin, Google’s in-house productivity expert.

To stay on schedule, segment what you’ll do and when over the course of the day. Use an online calendar to create personal events and reminders that tell you when to shift gears and start on new tasks. If your mornings are for writing while in the office, use the same schedule at home.

“Try to stick to some semblance of your original routine from before you started working from home,” says Eric Lam, a cross-asset reporter for Bloomberg. “Give yourself a little bit of time before you start to wake yourself up, have a coffee, make breakfast. Especially for those of us — like me — who are not morning types.”

You could even dress the part and remind yourself you are in work-mode. That means comfortable work clothes — not pajamas. “It makes me feel awake, fresh, productive, and less slovenly,” says Kristine Servando, deputy head of Bloomberg Asia digital. “It was part of the mental trick of demarcating between work and the rest of your life.”

And remember to take breaks, refresh and recover. When you live in your office, it’s easy to overwork. Log off when you’re supposed to. And resist the urge to come back to your computer after dinner.

Separate Work Zones From Relaxing Zones

When you work from home, it’s easy to curl up in bed with a laptop and pretend that you’re “working”.

To improve your efficiency, build a separate home office/desk just for work. This sets your brain up for enhanced productivity — your brain gets spatially wired to think of the office as the place where work happens.

“By working in the same space each day, your brain starts to associate that spot with working. If you work in a different spot every day, your brain has to retrain itself every day to get work done in that spot,” says Martin.

Cancel Noise For Focus

The closest thing to magic for your money when working remotely is noise-canceling technology. I bought my first pair of noise-canceling headphones years ago. And I’ve never regretted the decision.

Working from home may expose you to sounds that become irritating or unbearable over time: traffic and street noise that penetrate through windows, the tick of a clock somewhere, etc. If you have kids, they probably would be playing close to your workspace.

Noise-canceling headphones or earbuds are great at removing those sorts of sounds almost entirely. They can also dull the sound of talking if you’re in a place in which other people (like your family or roommates) have to also function.

Combined with music, they work even better. The absence of background noise effectively enhances the music, and you can work without the distraction during your “focused” period.

Keep Socialising

Connecting with other people is needed more than ever to stay healthy, productive, happy and sane. You can hold virtual meetings, jump on a phone call, or send a friend a text. Reach out and support one another — and laugh!

“If you’re the kind of person who’ll miss your colleagues when you work from home, build opportunities for socializing into your day,” says Karen Eyre-White, a productivity coach and founder of GoDo business organization, who recommends trying to call colleagues rather than using email or Slack messaging.

Modern technology has made it insanely easy to stay connected. Use tools like Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Facebook Workplace and Trello to stay connected with friends and colleagues at work. Positive social support can improve our resilience in coping with stress. Check-in with your friends, family, and neighbors regularly.

Working from home can be challenging for many people. How you choose to face that challenge won’t just determine your productivity — it will determine your mental health and even your happiness.

Gratitude makes you happier, healthier, and more popular

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What does it mean to “give thanks?”

Well, it depends. It depends on who, where, when, and how.

If you were around in October 1621 at the Plimouth Plantation, you might have been part of the “First Thanksgiving”. Here, the Native Americans and Pilgrims came together to celebrate the first harvest in the New World.

The settlers had struggled the previous winter due to a lack of supplies and food. Many had starved or became ill and died as a result. Yet, a number survived. Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag tribe, had given the colonists food to get through their first winter.

After the snow thawed, the Pilgrims gradually learned to live off the land. Squanto, from the Patuxet tribe, taught them how to grow corn and catch eel. After this successful harvest, they threw a three-day feast that included waterfowl, turkey, venison, corn, and various shellfish.

Although such festivities were held intermittently in the years since, Thanksgiving finally became a federal holiday in 1863, thanks to Abraham Lincoln. Since then, Thanksgiving has been celebrated in the U.S. on the fourth Thursday of every November.

Fast Forward to Gratitude Today

While roast turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce are staples for the Thanksgiving holiday today, how often do we really practice gratitude?

We complain about this and that. We get agitated when deciding what to wear if we’re not served right away at a restaurant, and after a store doesn’t stock our favorite brand of coffee. But is it a surprise, given we live in an age of abundance?

When it comes to our everyday needs and wants, we have variety right at our fingertips. We can have any type of food delivered right to our doorstep. Our phones ping notifications on today’s trending news. And if you’re looking for entertainment, just open up your internet browser. While these are all good things, we easily take what we have for granted.

People’s acts of kindness often go unrecognized. In many cases, the recipient fails to say a simple “thanks” or give any acknowledgment. In an everyday quest to get things done, people are consumed by their own lives and forget to take the time to thank others.

It seems as if the original intent behind that first Thanksgiving feast has been lost with time.

The Benefits of Gratitude

Both giving and receiving thanks are important. But in order to understand why we need to see the benefits.

There are three main benefits to being thankful:

1. Strengthening social relationships

Gratitude can help us befriend others, improve existing relationships, make amends, and recognize others’ good deeds. In romantic relationships, practicing gratitude for the little things can make all the difference. In one study, expressing gratitude towards the partner improved the relationship quality for both people.

Letting someone know that you’re grateful for the person’s actions, or simply for being in your life, can improve your relationship. It doesn’t matter whether the person is a stranger, friend, parent, relative, or whoever. Thanking others breeds positive feelings all around.

2. Improving our personal sense of well-being

In a study, one group of participants wrote about the things they were grateful for, a second group reflected on the daily things that irritated them, and a third group wrote about their week with neither a positive nor negative slant. 10 weeks later, the grateful group was more optimistic and happier about their lives, while the group that focused on negativity was more likely to visit the doctor.

Giving thanks is not only rewarding intrinsically, but it also helps us feel better about what we have. We’re more joyful overall. Even if you’re having a bad day or things don’t go the way you want, there are definitely some things that you have to be grateful for.

3. Maintaining good health

According to one study, gratitude is linked to the quality of your sleep. People who reflected on the positive things that happened in their day had a better night’s sleep than those who with a negative outlook.

The quality of your sleep is directly related to how you feel during the day and your overall health. Those who were less grateful were more stressed, anxious, and depressed. The opposite was true for those who were more grateful.

To sum it up, here’s a quote from the Wall Street Journal article “Thank You. No, Thank You” on how gratitude affects our lives:

“Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections, and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics.”

How to Practice Gratitude

Now that we’ve seen all the benefits of gratitude, we need to incorporate more of it into our lives Practicing gratitude can easily be done using these three ways:

1. Keep a gratitude journal

Jot down a few things you’re thankful for. Place a notebook on your bedside table so that it’s convenient. The best time of the day to write in your journal is right before sleeping. That way, you can reflect on everything that’s happened during the day and you get a happier night’s rest.

To start and end your day on a good note, try The Five Minute Journal.

Remember to be specific. Instead of writing that you’re “thankful for your friend”, think of a specific example, such as “my friend shared her own experiences with work conflict, which helped me navigate a similar situation.” Thinking of particular instances forces you to think hard about the good things that have happened.

2. When in doubt, say “thanks”

We often forget to thank people for the little things, such as lending a pen. Sometimes, we even forget to say “thanks” for the bigger things, such as gifts or loans. If you’re not sure what to say, a simple word of thanks does wonders in making the other person feel valued.

If you met someone interesting at a networking event or completed an academic course, reach out and send an email to the person to thank them for what they taught you. Opening up the lines of communication can lead to opportunities down the road.

3. Use positive phrases

When you’re faced with a dilemma, switch out those negative phrases for positive ones. For instance, I had a power outage that lasted for days. While it was definitely inconvenient, at least I had a chance to interact with people, free of electronics, and catch up on good old-fashioned books.

Whether something is a problem or an opportunity depends on how you look at it. And the way you look at things changes your mindset, attitude, and actions.

A Simple Act of “Thanks” Can Blossom into Something More

The Pilgrims held a feast to celebrate the promise of a bright future. They made it through a difficult winter and recognized how much they had to be thankful for. They saw a place where they and their descendants could thrive.

It’s interesting how such a simple, seemingly insignificant event would go on to become an important annual tradition. If only the Pilgrims who celebrated in those early days recognized the weight of their actions then.

Who knows what significant events can unfold from the small actions you perform today?