Working Remotely, Better: How to Boost Your Productivity

September 14, 2020

Working Remotely, Better: How to Boost Your Productivity

Working from home—especially if you aren’t used to it—makes staying focused a lot harder than it is at the office.

Maybe you’re supposed to be working RIGHT NOW—but there’s always time to learn to be more productive, right?

For one thing, your workspace is different. Heck, you might not even HAVE a workspace to speak of. You might be at the kitchen table, or a makeshift desk in your youngest child’s bedroom.

And then there are all the things at home that demand your attention. Dirty dishes in the sink aren’t out of sight or mind anymore. Kids don’t necessarily understand the difference between “home time” and “work time.” Neither does the dog.

The point is, we’ve lost the lines of demarcation that once separated home from work.

If you’re less productive from home than normal, you’re not alone. 


One of the psychological benefits of showing up to an office every day is the clear routine. You step into your car—or train, bus, bike, etc.—and suddenly, your brain shifts gears.

Post-commute, you enter the office, where there’s an established environment with a history of focused work. Your physical surroundings cue your brain, in the same way that imagining biting into a lemon makes your mouth water.

With an established routine and physical cues, it’s relatively easy to settle into your daily work tasks. You’ve trained yourself to do it, after all.

At the office, space is static. But at home, it’s more fluid.

If you’re suddenly a remote worker, your “normal” routine is a thing of the past. Now, the space where you’re meant to focus on work might be the exact same space where you binge-watched Breaking Bad 12 hours ago.

The dining room table could be where you eat dinner with your family, host game night with friends, help your kids with homework, or run a virtual budget meeting. 

That’s a lot of different hats for one table.

The human brain isn’t good at keeping competing agendas or roles discrete—at least, not without help. 

In a fluid environment, you’re constantly context-switching. On average, a single interruption costs you 23 minutes. It’s incredibly easy to lose HOURS a day this way.

That’s why you’re exhausted AND keep wondering where the time goes


The other side of this coin is your behavior

If our surroundings trigger certain behaviors, what happens when we’re expected to do just about everything in a single space?

We all act differently based on our environments and who we’re interacting with. 

Spouse-You is different from Work-You, who is different from Parent-You, who is different from Sibling-You ….

You get the idea.

Working from home, your work persona is constantly bumping up against your home persona. Over time, there’s going to be friction.

This takes a serious hit on your ability to get things done. If you lose even an hour a day—which is easy to do without even noticing—that’s 5 hours per week down the drain. 

And that’s not counting the black hole the weekend can be these days.

With so much stimulation every day, many people use the weekends to rest and reset, so all those to-do’s end up carrying over week after week like an unforgiving ex drunk texting you at 2AM.


So if you’re struggling to stay productive outside the office, try this.

Recreate your “normal” morning routine, and “perform” it daily.

Take a shower, dress up, and style your hair as though you’re actually heading to the office. If you wore aftershave or perfume when life was more social, put it on. You might even walk out your front door, then walk back in.

You’re physically telling your body, “I’ve left home for the day. It’s time to work now.”

Sure, your workspace may still look like your kid’s desk crammed into the corner of a doorless room, but you’ll see that space with fresh eyes.

This whole “pre-work performance” might feel silly. Try it anyway, and see if it works for you.

Habits are a huge part of establishing a focused mindset. If recreating your normal office routine can help your brain get there, why not?

Yes, this routine takes some time. But it’s actually more efficient than creating brand new habits, or losing focus several times a day. 

Creating new habits is like training a muscle you’ve never used before. It takes time, and there are growing pains. With a routine you’ve already built, there’s less resistance.

Less resistance means less pain, and faster results.


Over time, acting out performative habits like your office routine will change your mindset, making it easier for your brain to switch from “home” mode into “work” mode.

Practice these routines enough, and you’ll find that you don’t need them as often. Eventually, your body establishes muscle memory in your NEW environment, so it picks up cues on its own. 

Remember—A) your brain is ALSO a muscle and B) the brain is all about context, and it gives the body cues based on environment. 

The “new normal” can live in the body, just like the old normal did. It just might take a bit of method acting to get there.
If it’s going to take more than a morning shower and dressing business casual to help you reclaim control over your time, sign up for my productivity masterclass, Calling BS on Busy, on September 16. In just 90 minutes, I’ll show you how to get an hour or more back into your day, every day, for the rest of your life. How’s that for an ROI?!

Declutter Your Life Podcast by Andrew Mellen. Available on iTunes!