Need to tame your brain for home-based productivity?
A lot of us are shifting to a remote work setup these coming months. And in a way, that’s a blessing, right? Because many people don’t have the option to bring income in right now at all…
But staying focused and productive while at home in your pajamas brings its own unique challenges. We’ve worked with many thousands of remote workers, digital entrepreneurs, and students – the pattern is very clear:
People expect a home working environment to liberate them. Instead, a lack of oversight and team cohesion – not to mention a world of digital distraction at their fingertips – leads to well-intentioned work sessions slipping like through their fingers like sand.
Just like that, weeks, months, even years can disappear.
The Key to Cracking the Whip on Your Mind for Better Home-Based Results?
Getting productive is about setting up mental frameworks that make productivity easy.
And that condition your mind to thrive in any environment.
Essentially, you have to “outsmart” your subconscious mind if you want it to behave.
Here are 27 proven mind hacks for doing just that.
Mind Hack #1: Create An “Unschedule”
It’s common for procrastinators to move the fun things in life to “later” because they always have work to catch up on…
Then they don’t do the work anyways. And so they put off the fun again too.
This creates a demoralizing situation where they’re constantly in work mode but never actually get anything done. And since they never catch up to leisure, life becomes one long tedious chore of non-accomplishment…
The Unschedule is a concept popularized by the book, “The Now Habit.” The core premise is to fill your planner with recreation FIRST. Wall off your weekend. Plan time off and activities for rest and recreation throughout the week (and the day).
Remember Parkinson’s Law. Work tends to swell or shrink to the time you give it. So staking off free time first forces you to get work done in tighter windows…you know, so you actually have to do it.
And it gives the brain rewards to look forward to while providing the downtime it needs to be most productive.
Mind Hack #2: But Don’t Identify with Procrastination
It’s difficult to write an article about productivity without talking about “procrastinators”…
But we have to be cautious about the mental labels we give ourselves.
When you accept an identity, you subconsciously tell yourself that’s just the way things are. Labeling yourself creates an easy excuse for not changing. Worse yet, it can make you feel like changing is impossible.
Don’t breathe more life into this challenge than it deserves.
Everyone procrastinates. And there are proven ways to get better at managing your time, focus, and energy.
You are NOT a procrastinator.
You are someone who procrastinates sometimes. And getting more focused is a skillset that CAN be learned.
That starts with…
Mind Hack #3: Embracing Beginner’s Mind
Often, the true source of procrastination is perfectionism.
In our heart of hearts, we often don’t begin something because we’re afraid of not getting it right or looking stupid, or even being seen as an “imposter.”
The best pressure release valve?
Give yourself the permission to be flawed.
Before beginning work, remind yourself that getting it wrong (or at least wrong on the first go) is okay. You are imperfect. And mistakes are lessons you can redeem with trying again.
Open your computer, close your eyes for a moment, and create a silent intention to begin the work session with “beginner’s mind.”
You’re there to learn and grow through your work.
Liberate yourself (and your results) through this mindset shift and you might tap into your best source of creativity yet.
Mind Hack #4: Create Accountability
One of the simplest accountability hacks is putting a whiteboard on the wall and standing up to mark a tally for each hour completed. You could also just use a notepad beside your computer.
Of course, this only makes you accountable to yourself, but those tallies function as a “proof of progress” that is very powerful for your brain – and a hit of accomplishment with every hour that you log.
You could even create a system of rewards and punishments for yourself based on your tally accumulation in a certain time frame.
Of course, making yourself accountable to friends can make this more powerful – partner up with someone and jump on a call every morning or evening to discuss goals, challenges, and progress. Share your daily tally if you like.
There are even websites where you can obligate yourself to donate cash to a cause you hate if you don’t follow through.
Even just filling your spouse in on what you intend to do, and then having them check in at a certain time to make sure you’re doing it, can help keep you on track.
Mind Hack #5: The Power of the “Next Task”
A helpful metaphor for work and life is to imagine yourself on a dark flight of stairs. You don’t know where it’s going, but you can see just that first step in front of you.
And once you step onto it, the next step reveals itself.
Keep doing that and step after step reveals itself in turn…eventually you arrive at your destination.
Work (and life itself) is like that. We often don’t know where a project will take us, but it seems we always know the first small step to go there. So focusing just on just the first thing you need to do creates momentum and widens your perspective as you go.
Even if you don’t know how you’re going to do something, or don’t have a bigger picture of the project, don’t let it intimidate you. Choose the first small task you do know and start.
The rest will unfold in time.
And by doing this you create an invaluable habit of always starting.
Mind Hack #6: Designate a Dedicated Office Area
Sleep doctors often say you should only use your bed for sleeping or getting intimate – never laying around watching TV. Why?
Well, the brain likes to compartmentalize things. Once it categorizes the bed as the sleeping place, you lay down in it and your mental and biological systems immediately start to relax and drift off.
If possible, set aside an entire room for your office, commit to using that room for work and study only, and honor that commitment. Same thing happens. You step in the room and your brain slips into work mode.
Some people’s dream is to have a beautiful view from the home office, but don’t let that hold you back. You may actually find it to be a distraction – for me, putting my desk in front of a blank wall forces me to either work or, well, stare at the wall.
It’s also a lot easier to shut other people out when you have a designated work room.
Which brings up another important point…
Mind Hack #7: Train Your Brain to Train People Not to Bother You
People who haven’t worked remotely won’t understand how important it is to preserve your mental focus. And may not realize how demanding knowledge work can be. After all, what could possibly be so challenging about looking up from the computer to answer a quick question, right?
A lot, actually.
All it takes a microsecond of getting pulled out of the zone and you may have to spend 10, 20, 30 minutes, an hour working on getting back in that mental sweet spot again. If you can get back there at all.
And a well-meaning family member can easily interrupt you several times an hour with a “harmless” question. There goes the day.
But here’s the real danger. If you fall into the habit of indulging these small interruptions to be polite, you train YOUR OWN brain to accept them (instead of staking off work off as the sacred mental construct it must become).
Warning: you WILL get pushback when you start setting your foot down.
But it’s imperative you get the point across; you are NOT to be bothered while working. Make it a rule, and protect that rule (or no one else will).
Again, work time is sacred.
Turn off phones and other notifications. Lock the door to your home and put in your headphones. Lock the door to your office if you live with others, and put up a custom-made sign letting people know interruption is only allowed in an emergency.
One idea is to leave the door open when doing less demanding stuff but close it during deep work sessions.
This creates an expectation pattern for yourself and others – the door open means come on in, and door closed means enter at your own risk.
Mind Hack #8: Move Around the House Too (Sometimes)
A designated office is crucial, but at times you do need to move around to avoid mental stagnation.
For example, in more normal times I often hit a coffee shop or restaurant for changes of scenery if I’m in a slump. It’s often the only creative injection I need to get running again.
If you’re stuck at home right now, you don’t have that option. Try moving around your house instead.
Do less demanding work, like fielding emails with clients or making social media posts, at the kitchen table. Or bring the computer out to the balcony or back yard and do some work there if you have the luxury.
Of course, it’s trickier to keep people from bothering you when playing musical rooms, but it can be worth it to keep the mind fresh.
Just choose your battles wisely.
Mind Hack #9: Hold Yourself to A Rigid Work Schedule
Just because you “can” make your own hours doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have set hours to work by. Keeping a strict schedule leaves you with a lot less choices to contend with and potentially pull you off track.
It also conditions your routine-loving brain to gear up for work at the same time every day.
“Clock in” every morning at a specific hour, put in your time, and then “clock out.”
You don’t necessarily have to work in 8-hour blocks, though. Once you get productive at home, you may find a lack of office distraction means doing more with less time.
You could also break your day in two.
For example, get up in the morning and put in your five good hours between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Take some hours off to enjoy the day. And then finish your remaining hours in the afternoon or early evening.
Figure out the best schedule for you, but then stick with it most days.
Mind Hack #10: Get Dressed for Work
Getting dressed for success has a similar effect.
Sure, you can lounge around in your pajamas all day if you want…
But there’s no pride in that. Act like a slob and you will feel, and work, like one.
Try getting up to take a shower, make yourself look put-together, and put on at least casual business clothes. It just gives your morning routine a serious air and leaves you feeling like a professional.
Rituals like this have a profound effect on how you take on the day…
And the results you get over time.
Mind Hack #11: Put Yourself in the Right Headspace on Command
Speaking of rituals…
A technique for getting yourself primed for work fast is to use the same exact set up of steps, or ritual, every time you sit down in front of your computer.
Here’s an example.
- Set out your coffee or tea, so you don’t have to get up again.
- Lock doors, or set out a “hard at work” sign if needed.
- Place a notepad beside your computer (see Hack #16).
- Sit down.
- Write down 5 things you intend to accomplish when you open your computer. So there’s no question what you’ll be focused on.
- Open your computer.
- Log in to any programs you’ll be using. Open any docs.
- Put in your headphones and start your “work music” – for me it’s usually binaural beats, meditation music, or smooth jazz. It probably doesn’t matter as long as it’s consistent.
- Mark down your starting time or start your timer.
- Start working.
Again, it’s all about training your brain. You want your subconscious mind to recognize this as a primer to switching on the right gear.
Follow the same steps every time, like a pilot enacting a launch sequence.
Eventually that mode switch comes faster and faster.
Mind Hack #12: Track Your Time
Track your time or work to a timer to train your brain for focused sprints with no getting off task.
You can keep your work blocks short at first and make them longer as the habit normalizes.
Tracking what you’re actually doing with your time, or where you might be wasting time, also creates opportunities to improve your metrics. You can’t know what you’re doing wrong if you don’t record what you’re actually doing.
You can use a simple spreadsheet for work tracking. Or a notepad.
Record date, time started, time finished, and what tasks you worked on.
If you want to create accountability here, pair up with a friend to share work tracking in the same spreadsheet on Google Drive.
Or track actual computer use, work-related or not, with FocusMe’s handy tracking tool, which presents a colored graph of where your online time goes.
Great trick for spotting problem areas with very little effort.
Mind Hack #13: Batch Multitasking
In general, multitasking is a bad idea.
It really bogs down your brain and makes you far less effective.
However, reality often doesn’t give a choice, and we’ve all got a handful of bite-sized tasks that we need to address eventually.
Give your brain a break on this one – but don’t let them creep into work blocks!
The best way is to reserve multi-tasking time specifically for these tasks. Keep a list of small things you need to do, hit a timer, and just start knocking them off.
Do it once a day or a few times a week.
Valuable deep work time should always be protected just for deep work.
Mind Hack #14: Schedule (and Limit) Your Email
Don’t ever let email checking become a reactive activity!
If you do, the part of your brain that craves being told what to do will have you checking into email a few times per hour to see if anything important comes in. This leaves you chasing unimportant but urgent tasks and allows way too many potential digital distractions in.
Email is a simple one to solve, thankfully.
Just give yourself 30 minutes, twice a day – less times or more, depending on your industry needs, but it SHOULD be set in stone.
No emails outside that time. Period.
Face it: for most of us, the world will NOT stop if an email sits half a day waiting for an answer.
You can also use web blocking software to set email limits using technology that will lock you out if you keep getting carried away. Our productivity software comes with a Launch Limit feature perfect for focus-friendly email management.
Mind Hack #15: Put a Dial on Your Social Media Time Too
If email is a dangerous foe, social media is the “boss battle” for freelancers and online workers everywhere.
And make no mistake, social media has a massive impact on your brain and the way you think.
Studies show that too much social media time actually trains your brain for obsessive, info-snacking behavior that has radical implications for your focus time even when you’re logged out.
Fortunately, there’s a simple way to stop letting social media take over without opting out completely.
How much social media do you actually need? Probably not that much.
Just designate a social media hour at night to touch bases, make a couple posts, and check your messages. Include One QUICK check in the morning if you really feel it’s crucial.
But you DO need to set rules on this.
You can even use a web blocker to cut yourself off social media during the day when you’re supposed to be working.
Mind Hack #16: Keep a “Distraction Release Valve” Beside Your Computer
If you’ll be researching during online work time, you need a proven way to avoid following distraction rabbits down their bottomless holes.
After all, who hasn’t innocently clicked a tempting link – just for a sec, mind you – only to end up spending the rest of the day reading up on some wild conspiracy theory or collecting silly cat photos?
Even if you aren’t surfing the web, those little to-dos that pop into your mind can really dilute your focus.
A great way to deal with these potential detours and mind burps is keep a small notepad beside your computer. I call this the distraction release valve.
Use it to jot down topics you want to research later, ideas you want to explore, or little quick to-dos. Anything that would otherwise drag you off track.
Then you can come back later when you’re done working and take care of them.
You’ll often find that after a bit of time passes, they don’t seem all that pressing anymore.
Let Future You be the judge of that, though.
Mind Hack #17: Get Real with People You Talk to Online
I’m talking about real interaction – video and voice calls.
It might seem counterintuitive to get more productive by jumping on a call…But there are plenty of reasons it keeps your brain on a tightly focused track.
For one, thing, email and chatting grinds up a lot of unnecessary time simply because we talk faster than we write – not to mention all the nuances that get missed in text-based communication and require clarification.
Sometimes it’s easier to just pick up the phone for a quick 5-minute call to get the point across.
Also, voice and video communication just feel more “real.” So you feel less alone and keep your work at home grounded in the real world.
Overall great for your emotional health.
Mind Hack #18: Stop Work and Get Your Blood Flowing
Want to keep the engines of your mind burning clean?
Rev up the engines in your body.
The human animal was born to move!
Do a set of pushups or jumping jacks if you find yourself getting bored, burnt out, or uncreative. Split your day in half with a workout or quick run.
Even long slow walks (for those of us who can get out of the house that long) can be great for giving the mind a relief from the screen. Take in the scenery and give your subconscious a chance to chew on things.
I can’t tell you how many times just setting down a difficult problem and going for a walk allowed my subconscious to hit me with the answer out of the blue.
Some of history’s greatest creative minds swore by this trick.
Mind Hack #19: Don’t Put in That Over-Time
More hours do not always equal more results!
Far from it, in fact, when you’re dealing with the brain. Because there’s definitely a point of diminishing returns with quality cerebral output.
And don’t forget the lessons of the Unschedule from Mind Hack #1.
Constantly moving forward to tackle all the things you meant to do earlier can create a demoralizing cycle that robs life from you with little reward.
So if it’s getting late and you still haven’t finished what you wanted, sign off for the day and try to do better next time. At some point just beating your head against the computer more will NOT make anything better come out of it…
Mind Hack #20: Create Artificial Deadlines
A deadline is a powerful way to get a lot more work done in a less time, and many remote workers find it’s the only way to keep moving.
If you went to college, you probably remember how Parkinson’s law dictated your life. Professors would give you way too much time to finish things, thinking it was all you could take. But you’d wait all month and get it done in one or two nerve-wracked days.
They would have served you better by teaching you and your brain the focusing power of a tight deadline.
Don’t just have a project deadline either – break projects down into small, manageable chunks and set artificial deadlines throughout. Put them right on the edge of your comfort zone to find out what you can really do.
Some people just function at their best by forcing themselves to stop the brainstorming and jump into the doing.
And finishing early leaves an emergency cushion in case you need to make big changes before the actual due date.
Mind Hack #21: Perfect the Art of Always Starting
Struggling to find your motivation to start?
Constantly putting things off for later?
Often what causes this is your subconscious associates too much pain with what needs to be done or perceives the project as too big.
Trick your brain by setting a timer for “just 10 minutes.”
Anyone can find the motivation for 10 short minutes.
And the real power of this technique is that once you start you’ll often fall right into your flow and end up working for hours.
As you get used to this habit, longer periods of time, like “just 25 minutes,” will kickstart things just as easily. The more time you spend in the flow, the more your brain wants to be there and the easier it gets.
Mind Hack #22: Allow Yourself a Little Morning Indulgence
If it really just drives you crazy to wait all day before checking social media, playing a game, or reading emails…
Okay, go ahead – check it when you first get online.
5-10 minutes max and then get back off.
This allows you to “get your fix” and catch any important messages – but get off fast so you don’t lose the whole day to it. No nagging feeling in the back of your mind that you might have missed something.
After a week of this your subconscious might accept that there’s rarely anything pressing and you won’t need to do this anymore.
Mind Hack #23: Use Pomodoro for Regular Work Blocks and Breaks
A lot of people swear by the Pomodoro technique, a time management strategy that separates work into (usually) 25-minute blocks separated by 5-minute breaks.
There are different ways to approach this, but a common method is:
- 25-minute work block
- 5-minute rest
- 25-minute work block
- 5-minute rest
- And so on…
After about 4 pomodoro intervals, you’re encouraged to take a 15-20-minute break.
FocusMe Productivity software has Pomodoro Features built right into the program, and it’s all automated based on your settings.
The power in Pomodoro is it keeps work blocks small and digestible while putting breaks on a time limit too, so you can’t wander off and get caught up in something else.
And the 30-minute intervals (25-minute work bloc + 5-minute break) fit nicely into an hourly workday.
Mind Hack #24: How to Always Make Time for the Biggest Rocks in Your Bucket
Dr. Stephen Covey (author of “The 7 Habits of Highly-effective People”) advocated always putting “the big rocks first.”
Covey’s metaphor is filling a bucket with rocks, pebbles, and sand. What’s the best way to do it?
Well, if you filled the bucket with sand first, you’d leave no room for pebbles or rocks.
But if you put the big rocks in first, the pebbles can fill in the spaces between the rocks, and the sand can fill the spaces in between.
The “big rocks” are your most important goal-related projects. Pebbles are small, less important tasks. And sand is the “filler” tasks that often leave no time for the things that matter.
It’s an apt metaphor for why you should always tackle high priority actions first.
You just have to ask yourself – does filling your time with tasks ever pay if it crowds out the space that would have accommodated your biggest rocks?
Mind Hack #25: Give Your Mind the Bait to Keep Moving Forward
Rewarding yourself for reaching small milestones and completing projects to dangle a carrot in front of yourself.
A simple way to do this?
Write out a list of things you’ve been wanting to do or buy (even if you intend to do or buy them already). And then indulge your desires as you put in a certain number of hours or hit a particular milestone.
Your brain quickly learns that it gets rewards for working.
If you find this technique falling flat, though, because you don’t ever actually get to reward yourself, you may need to adjust. Again, remember the lesson of the Unschedule: Depriving yourself completely can be self-defeating.
Here’s how you can counteract that. Reward yourself for smaller achievements early on, so you’re not running a marathon to hit your first finish line.
Sometimes your brain just needs to learn what goal achievement actually feels like.
After you build up a bank of small wins to whet your appetite, then start demanding more of yourself.
Mind Hack #26: Give Yourself a Computer “Curfew”
Not only are computer screens disruptive to healthy sleep, but spending half your night in the digital world after work can be disruptive to happy living. Not to mention make you feel like you never checked out of work at all.
Give yourself a “computer curfew.”
For example, force yourself to shut down all computers and devices at 8:30 pm. So you can wind down and listen to music, read, or just spend time with family.
If you’re using FocusMe, you can set these rules in virtual stone, making it impossible to open your apps or browsers. You can even retain access to certain programs, like Spotify for music, while keeping yourself out of everything else.
Keeping your nights completely free not just of work but any digital activity is one of the quickest and easiest productivity hacks anyone can implement starting tonight.
Mind Hack #27: Inject Your Work with Purpose
It’s so much easier to get passionate and engaged with what you’re doing if you have a bigger why.
If you don’t have one, hey, money isn’t a horrible place to start.
List out all the things you plan to do with your money – and that you couldn’t do without it. Reading over this in the morning can instantly remind you why working hard is important, perhaps even mandatory.
But the most powerful why will be bigger than you.
Think about the bigger picture. How does your work CONTRIBUTE to the world?
How does your product or service genuinely make people more satisfied, make them safer, or help them live better lives.?
Maybe at this moment, you just can’t get excited about the impact your work has on the world. Hey, we all have to pay the bills. But often even the most mundane work in the world has an important purpose.
Imagine a world without clean floors and unclogged toilets, for instance. Most things matter, or they wouldn’t exist.
So try to connect with what makes YOUR work matter.
If that still doesn’t work, can you think of your job as a chance to master a skill that will take you where you want to go? How would seeing your work as being paid to learn change your approach?
The simple question of why can completely transform a day of work.
Perhaps even an entire career.
Bottom Line: You Don’t Need A Drill Sergeant Standing Over Your Shoulder To Conquer Worlds At Home
Disciplining the brain is like leash-training an over-eager puppy.
What happens when you try to walk an untrained dog? It constantly runs circles around your feet, right? It’s wriggling little nose yanking it (and often you) this way and that.
How do you get it to settle down and follow, then? Kick it in the ribs? Scream at it and tell it what an unproductive loser it is?
Of course not!
Yet so many people take the “kick in the ribs” approach to getting their brain to behave. Is it any wonder it fails?
No, you give clear and simple commands. Reinforce them by gently but consistently guiding it back on track again and again. Maybe even the occasional treat.
Just like with the puppy, your mind needs the right guidance and conditioning.
This list of mind hacks can help you do it.
Now go teach your brain to behave.