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Why making yourself to be productive is counter-productive

Here are the scientifically confirmed tips to make yourself productive working remotely.


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Jane Dolskaya

3 years ago | 6 min read

Due to the COVID-19 quarantine, you, probably, work remotely from home. And, possibly, you’re struggling to be productive, as there are so many distractions at home!

As a writer, I’ve been working remotely for a long time. And I believe I know something about super productivity, as I always complete my assignments within a deadline.

I see a lot of articles now that share advice like “create a suitable clean environment”, “minimize multitasking” or “don’t be distracted by websites”. The thing is, all these pieces of advice are useless when it comes to productivity.

I believe that when you master time management, you manage your energy, not your time. And you have to be attentive to your body in the first place to be highly productive. In other words, when you feel that you’re exhausted and need to take a nap, you have to take a nap. Then you’ll have a second wind and will be able to work as hard as you wish.

The point of this post is not to share my opinion on the subject. As a former science journalist, here I want to reference some scientific studies on that topic to persuade you not to be very strict to yourself.

So, here are the scientifically confirmed tips to make yourself productive working remotely.

1. Allow yourself to think about anything but work

According to some measures, almost 50% of the time your mind is wondering.

Some time ago, daydreaming was considered to be a problem when it comes to focusing. However, nowadays some psychologists are prone to think that daydreaming is essential for our psychic as it helps it to function properly.

This is how it works.

A network of brain sections responsible for resisting distractions and your desire to do something for fun requires more energy than the brain sections that are active when you get distracted and think about something unimportant. So, when your mind is exhausted, daydreaming enters the game. Just like your home appliances switch off when they overheat.

Yet, it’s not very healthy to work until your brain shuts down. You can manage this process proactively.

So, when you understand that you don’t have very urgent tasks, you can just dream or, at least, think about something not connected with your work. This will allow your brain to get a necessary rest and to continue to work with renewed vigor.

2. Practice meditations

But what if you don’t have anything to think about? Is it necessary to make yourself come up with something worth reflecting on? Won’t it be the same efforts you make while thinking about the job assignments?

Well, it’s actually not necessary to figure out something. You can just meditate concentrating on your breath for 10 minutes. And that will do!

According to this research, sustained-attention failure is a decline in perceptual sensitivity with increasing time on a task. The thing is when you train any skill it becomes better. And focusing on your breath is good training of your attention skills.

So, meditations will help you become much more focused.

3. Don’t stress and relax

Not only meditation will help you to focus your attention for a longer time, but it will also allow you to become more relaxed overall, which is particularly important during times of global panic.

The prefrontal cortex plays a critical role in the ability to switch attention. And this study shows that the prefrontal cortex goes “off-line” during stress. So, if you concentrate on bad news about the epidemic, you guarantee yourself that you will be concentrating on it further, as it will be very difficult for you to switch your mind from the neurobiological point of view. Stress is the worst enemy of a targeted concentration.

So, try to calm down before you start working or you will just waste your working time.

4. Watch funny videos a couple of times during a day

Watching funny videos about cats and stuff is, probably, the easiest way to calm down and cheer yourself up. But if you watch them, it doesn’t mean that you harm your ability to focus.

From a scientific perspective, humor has an energizing effect and a good laugh can increase your willpower necessary to concentrate on the execution of long complex tasks. For instance, this study shows that people who had watched a funny video were more persistent in completing an impossible puzzle than a control group of people who watched a relaxing video but not a funny one.

Besides, funny videos decrease cortisol, the hormone of stress, very dramatically, which is especially important in times of worldwide fear. There is even an opinion that laughter is pleasant stress, which means laughter is a stress that has a positive aspect and gives you refreshing and powerful energy.

But to boost your efficiency, dose watching funny videos. Devoting the whole day to this activity won’t help you much to be productive.

5. Create a mess on your desktop

What can be better than funny videos? Well, messing around is, probably, my favorite way to get concentrated!

Do you think it’s counterintuitive and contradicts all the pieces of advice you read before? Well, it is. But this advice is science-based.

According to Nilli Lavie’s “Load Theory,” the ability of your mind to process the information from the outside world is limited. As soon as all of the processing ‘slots’ have been filled, the brain’s attention system enters the game to decide what to focus on.

The idea is to create some distractions around you deliberately to make your attention focus on the most important task. So, it might be better to work not in the clean and silent surroundings, but in those that are messy and confusing.

Or to listen to music while working. Or figure out any other distractions. Try to find something that works best for you. For me, the mess on my table is the best and the easiest option.

6. Get distracted to do some exercise

Laughter and mess are not the only things that can give you the energy to concentrate on work for a long time. Physical exercises influence your cognitive abilities positively too.

Cardiovascular fitness can boost your memory and improve your brain plasticity. Repeated during the day moderate physical activity helps you to concentrate better. Also, exercises seem to be a slightly more effective way to treat depression than psychological or pharmacological therapies. In the long run, when you are old, your mind will function much better if you do regular exercise during your life.

So, do exercise during a “work from home” day. There are no colleagues around you to be shy of.

7. Just drink some coffee

By the way, if you follow your training with a caffeinated drink, you will improve your sustained attention and energy level even more.

OK, I know that you, probably, won’t do exercise during your working day, as it is time-consuming and simply because you will be lazy to do that. So, what about a cup of coffee without training? Will it help you to achieve the necessary concentration level?

Well, yes. Caffeine, in doses up to approximately 300 mg, enhances a wide array of basic cognitive functions with minimal side effects by preventing alertness and attention decrements. Besides, according to this study, moderate caffeine in-take at a dose level of 400 mg day won’t harm at all the well-being of healthy adults.

So, if you are lazy to do all the previous steps (even watch cat videos?), you can still keep yourself productive with minimal efforts and maximal pleasure.

Are you productive, working from home, guys? What tactics do you use to stay focused? What works for you personally and what does not? Share your thoughts in the comments.


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Jane Dolskaya

Jane is a B2B marketing blogger and content marketer, sales funnels architect, digital marketing consultant. She is fond of in-depth analytics and good coffee. You can read more of her articles on Medium: https://medium.com/@jane.dolska


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