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How to stay motivated to work at home when, uh, there’s a lot going on

Mary Grace Garis

Mary Grace GarisApril 2, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/lechatnoir

The transition from office life to a work from home life can be tricky to navigate, even for those of us who are used to working remotely. That’s because it’s not so easy to figure out how to stay motivated to work at home, especially when you’re just a few feet away from your bed at any given moment.

Since at-home distractions from work abound (like your sweet bed calling to you for a nap), your work ethic might be compromised, which may then affect your quantity and quality output as well. While it’s okay to enjoy some benign distractions—Play music! Watch TV while you eat lunch!—do be wise about how many of those distractions you ultimately engage. Because there will always be a tomorrow, and the work you complete today (at home or otherwise) may impact how your “tomorrow” looks, professionally speaking.

Luckily, career coaches are here to offer tips to help you learn how to stay motivated to work at home and also be productive with your time. Check out the tips below.

Here’s how to stay motivated to work at home, in 4 easy steps

1. Evaluate what motivates you in the first place

For a very long time, it might’ve been your to-go Starbucks order that kicked you into high gear before embarking on a brutal commute into work. Now that your reality is a bit different given your WFH status, put aside a moment to reassess.

“Most of us haven’t formally soul-searched to know what really motivates us. It’s crucial for staying motivated so we can keep performing in our jobs despite distractions at home.” —career coach Maggie Mistal

“Most of us haven’t formally examined or soul-searched to know what really motivates us,” says career coach Maggie Mistal. “Yet it’s crucial [to do that] to stay motivated so we can keep performing in our jobs despite distractions at home, from the news, from our own concerns.”

2. Learn your top values

Distill what’s most important to you in a work setting by examining what values in general are most important to you. This exercise can function as a tool for figuring out how to stay motivated to work at home. “Work values are the rewards we get from our work,” says Mistal. “It’s these values that get us out of bed in the morning, excited for the workday ahead.” So take a moment to rank those desires yourself.

3. Identify takeaways from your values

“Knowing your top five motivators helps you adjust your work situation and approach so you can be more motivated,” Mistal says. “For example, a client of mine…is motivated by change and variety and prefers projects outside the regular workplace in a different environments.”

4. Likewise, be aware of what does not motivate you 

You might not even consider that for everything that can fuel you, there’s an opposite thing that can drain you and cause roadblocks in your workflow. For example, examine what drives you for sure, but also realize which things are directly opposing your values.

“Sitting too long in front of the computer at home was starting to demotivate my client I previously mentioned, so we brainstormed ways he can mix it up—such as changing the position of his desk, changing the art on his walls, taking regular breaks to go for a walk, even changing the color pen he was using,” says Mistal. “These changes, though seemingly small, can provide big boosts of motivation.”

Once you’ve figured out how to be stay motivated to work at home, here are 3 ways to work productively

Now you’re mastered how to get out of bed and keep your Slack light green, how do you actually keep the workflow itself streaming efficiently? Below, career coach Erin Hatzikostas shares a few ideas.

1. Work in sprints

It’s hard to know how to stay motivated to work at home when there’s no “clock in, clock out” time to follow. So make sure to work in sprints, and give yourself breaks, rather than turn every day into a 14-hour marathon. The brain needs time to refocus—after every 50 minutes seems to be a sweet spot, but take your own productivity temperature—so give yourself a break by working in “sprints.”

To do this, designate a window of time for working hard, then a smaller window for doing other, unrelated tasks that’ll give your brain a break. Maybe that’s folding laundry, having lunch, doing an at-home yoga video—whatever. “Your workday may expand in totality, but you’ll likely find yourself more productive overall,” Hatzikostas says.

“Your workday may expand in totality, but you’ll likely find yourself more productive overall.” —Erin Hatzikostas, career coach

And if your boss doesn’t seem keen on this idea of you working on a slightly alternative schedule, ask to “pilot” the idea on a trial basis to see if it may actually work for everyone involved. “Let them them know that during this unique time, you won’t always be working during normal work hours, but instead working in mini ‘sprints’ that allow you to manage both home and work more effectively,” says Hatzikostas.

2. Schedule tasks in your calendar

Drafting a traditional to-do list is definitely a start to being productive, but it doesn’t go the extra mile for really maintaining the order and structure necessary for a productive working situation. “Those lists don’t ever properly manage our time,” says Hatzikostas. “Instead, place your major to-do items in your calendar at the beginning of the workweek. Estimate the time each will take you, and stick to it.”

This is a technique called time blocking—and, BTW, it works. Even executives with the most jam-packed schedules—hi there, Elon Musk, you productive disaster, you—rely on it to get things done. Time blocking doesn’t require you to micromanage every little task in your life, but rather, it provides an extra sliver of accountability. “Often things take less time than it seems,” says Hatzikostas. “We just don’t always have the discipline to stick to the task-at-hand. If you’re like me, once something is in your calendar, it becomes a game to try and get it done early. Then you can use that newfound extra time for whatever you want!”

3. Grant authority to those around you

If you share space with anyone else working from home—whether that’s a roommate, a partner or anyone else—coordination and cooperation are key. Have an open dialogue about everyone’s best schedule for productivity, and then be mindful of each other. Healthy boundaries make for great productivity, and also hopefully keep all parties involved happy with each other.

Ultimately, motivation is so essential to staying on task—whether you from home, a corporate office, or anywhere else—because without it, you stand to lose focus on…well, what matters. So by accessing that fountain of motivation and channeling it into optimum productivity, you’ll be sure to be a professional powerhouse no matter the geographic location of your office.

Social distancing with someone in your “office”? Here’s how to play nice when isolating with anyone. And these psychologist-backed tips will keep you from falling down a worry spiral 20 times a day.

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