Staying engaged and productive while working or learning from home can be challenging for many. Microsoft has done research into this and found that the average attention span for most people is now a mere eight seconds.
With difficulty focusing, even in environments made for work, it’s no surprise that tuning out distractions at home can feel near impossible. This is because the brain processes information and focuses on tasks in two distinct ways.
First, there’s willful focus; this is the focus required to do school work or complete tasks for your job or profession. The other type is more automatic. Willful focus is referred to as a “top-down” signal, and automatic focus is referred to as a “bottom-up” signal. These two signals perform and move differently in the brain and even have different brain frequencies. So, when you’re focusing on a task, your mind can easily be distracted by something else automatically and seemingly at the same time.
If our brains can sabotage our productivity and efficiency by trying to multi-task and responding to numerous distractions, how do you stay on task while working and learning remotely?
1. Make things interesting.
When students and workers are genuinely engaged in the content they’re learning or working on, it’s much easier to stay productive. Companies with engaged teams reported 22% higher productivity measurements. If the material you’re learning or working on feels boring or unengaging, talk to your manager or teacher about other resources or learning methods that may suit your learning style or interests. Some examples of ways to make things interesting are:
- utilizing entertaining videos as instructional means;
- infusing humour in directions;
- asking for feedback; and
- switching things up often. Don’t just sit on a zoom call for an hour. Step away for an activity, break out into smaller groups for discussions, or incorporate an interactive quiz.
2. Manage your stress levels.
Stress acts like a wall for productivity. Stress causes our brains to pull finite resources away from executive control functions (responsible for focus, memory, organization, and self-regulation) to deal with the immediate threat — or the cause of the stress.
For these reasons, you must find healthy ways to manage your stress during these times before you can return to a productive and engaged mindset. Try breathing exercises and techniques, walking, talking to family and friends on the phone, or journaling.
3. Create more structure and routine.
There are two crucial things to remember when learning or working from home: boundaries and goals.
It can be hard to leave the classroom or the office when you’re doing everything at home. Studies have found that remote workers end up logging more hours for this reason. Good mental health practices mean setting boundaries and prioritizing downtime. When the office is in the living room, you need to find a way to shut down and ignore it when the workday is done. Creating end-of-day routines to signify that you’re done work for the day can help.
4. Stay connected.
Oxytocin is our brain’s chemical that enhances human social connection, commonly referred to as “the cuddle hormone.” As it turns out, this hormone could also be an integral part of your ability to be productive as well. Social bonding is a critical component of building trust and security, which releases oxytocin in the brain. Research suggests that oxytocin is also responsible for helping to assist with motivationally relevant stimuli.
Put simply, this means that oxytocin can help you remain on task and productive as a kind of motivational and reward mechanism within your brain.
Research by Dr. Paul Zak has also found that oxytocin plays a significant factor in productivity and engagement. Specifically, feeling trust can release oxytocin. Staying connected and feeling cared for by your coworkers, classmates, and teachers can help you remain productive and engaged.
5. Have healthy tech boundaries.
Working and learning from home has one thing in common for everyone: it involves technology. This means communicating through video, submitting work through email, and even tracking your hours through a project management system. With all this tech, it can be easy to get tech fatigue or distract yourself throughout the day with unhealthy tech.
Have you ever been working on something and become distracted by social media only to find you lost 30 minutes? This kind of tech use can end up making you feel awful about yourself, and it means you just lost 30 minutes of productive work time.
Learning the difference between healthy and unhealthy tech is the first step to being more productive in a home office or classroom to stay on task with healthy tech. My new book, The Tech Solution, goes into extensive detail on healthy and unhealthy tech usage and how you can find the right balance and solution for you and your family. Pick your copy up today.