How to stay motivated whilst working from home
Homeworking tips according to the experts
Sometimes it’s difficult to stay motivated whilst working from home. You might feel tired, isolated, or distract yourself by procrastinating. Homeworker Hub has assembled the most useful homeworking tips, supported by academic and scientific research.
Homeworker Hub’s top tips for staying motivated whilst working from home
It’s easy when you’re at home to work through lunch or eat ‘al desko’. Scheduling breaks for food, drink, and headspace is vital to sustaining productivity. In the same way that you can run further if you rest intermittently, you’ll have a better attention span and commitment to task if you take reasonable breaks throughout the working day. Disrupting constant stimulation with a break from task actually serves as a re-set button. Our brains are configured to respond to change, and scheduled breaks help us reinvigorate brain activity (Alejandro Lleras, 2011). Having a break scheduled in for a specific time helps you stay motivated whilst working from home because you can give yourself a target amount of work to do before that timed-break deadline. You’re far more likely to feel like you can complete an hour of work if you know a coffee break is at the end of it than if you have a daunting eight hours stretched out in front of you.
It’s also a good idea to move in these breaks. Physical movement can recalibrate an anxious or stagnant mind. According to Harvard Medical School, ‘movement therapies are often used to […] gain access to a “back door” to the mental changes that you desire without having to “psych yourself” into feeling better’ (Pillay, 2016). That is, physical movement resets our mood and mental state as a happy biproduct, rather than to trying to rationalise ourselves into being motivated.
That might seem like a given, but we mean really breathe. A study conducted by Trinity College Dublin determined that ‘Breath-focused meditation and yogic breathing practices have numerous known cognitive benefits, including increased ability to focus [and] decreased mind wandering’ (Michael Melnychuk, 2018). Taking moments before, during, and after work to concentrate on breathing, increases focus whilst at work as well as encouraging a calm, mindful approach to your working life. Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and embrace a pause in your day when things feel hectic.
Refresh your workspace
The feng shui of your workspace is a vital component of a happy, productive and motivated working day. Rearranging your desk, repositioning your chair, or any kind of feng shui shake-up invokes what psychologists term the ‘Novelty Effect’ – the increase in productivity or receptiveness incurred by a novel set of circumstances. A home office overhaul can help keep you motivated when things start to feel stagnant.
A new houseplant for the desk might refresh more than just the air. According to a study by TruSpace, workspaces that contain natural features cause people to feel 6% more productive, 15% more creative at work, and report a 15% higher overall sense of wellbeing (Dahir, 2019). Adding some nature to your workspace can revitalise you and your work, kickstarting a refreshed sense of motivation.
Remove or compartmentalise distractions
Smartphones can distract us to a point where we are unable to achieve a state of flow at work (Duke & Montag, 2017). Most of us need phones for work, but our phones are also where all of our distractions reside. Sometimes, we’re like children being asked to do our homework in a sweetshop – our inbox is nestled between every social media app. Ideally, a work phone and a personal phone helps to compartmentalise these things, but this is a luxury option and not one viable for everyone. For those who struggle with having their personal life and working life on the same device, it's possible to uninstall the most distracting apps during working hours.
Write a ‘To Do’ list
A 2011 study by Masicampo and Baumeister showed that while tasks we haven’t done act as distractions (hindering productivity), the act of planning to get them done assuages this worry (allowing more productivity). Writing a ‘To Do’ list is an easy and effective way to do this. It visually lays out your tasks for the day, decluttering the mind and motivating you to tick each task off – something you’ll find much easier to do without the anxiety and pressure of disorganised thought.
Bookend your day with gratitude
In a study at Berkley University, scientists prompted corporate employees to write weekly gratitude letters. Another group were instructed only to list their daily activities each week. Notably, relative to employees who only listed their daily activities, employees who wrote gratitude letters felt moved, uplifted, and inspired to be better people, which then increased their productivity at work and boosted their sense of autonomy at the end of the study. These findings suggest that elevation—that is, feeling inspired and uplifted—may motivate us not only to become healthier, more generous people but also better, more productive workers (Armenta & Lyubomirsky, 2017).
Whilst you may not necessarily have the time, inclination or circumstances to write letters of gratitude to peers, the sentiment still stands. Writing down something you're grateful for at the start of the day commences your work time in a positive way; ending your workday with a statement of gratitude provides positive closure on your workday. This practice allows you to take stock and reinvigorate your sense of motivation.
Have your goals visible
Setting SMART goals are a great way to feel motivated, as you feel like you’re working towards a realistic and exciting sense of achievement. Even if you have a multitude of goals, it’s easy for them to operate in the background of your working day. Bring them to the forefront by making them visible. Perhaps a corkboard of your aims or a mood board of the things that motivate you. Seeing them every day transforms them from abstract hopes into a motivating force.
Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury explains the science behind visual prompts for goals:
‘Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a part of the brain that plays a crucial role in regulating our goal-setting actions. The RAS is a cluster of cells located at the base of the brain that processes all the information and sensory channels related to the things that need our attention right now. RAS gets activated by the simple act of putting our goals in pen and paper. Seeing our aims written in clear words before us, feeling the touch of the pen, or engaging in the thinking process of writing the targets trigger the RAS functions and ensures that we go for it.’ (2020)
Listen to your body and practice self-care
Stress is a motivation killer. We’ve all felt overwhelmed to the point of paralysis at some point. In fact, a survey conducted by Everyday Health found that 57% of Americans have felt paralysed by stress (Connolly and Slade, 2018). Self-care is the key to minimising and managing stress, and by extension, staying motivated whilst working from home. Self-care will look different to everyone. It might have a reputation for being facemasks and lavender oil, and whilst that works for some, that’s not the only way. Self-care is simply putting the needs of your mind and body first. That might look like 5K run to one person, and having a tea break under a blanket for someone else. It’s easy to consider self-care a non-essential practice, until the effects of not doing it inhibit our work and motivation. Checking in with our stress levels and adapting our behaviours as a result is the key to sustaining productivity and keeping motivation alight.
Review what works for you
Review, evaluate, proceed. Different things work for different people. Make sure to check in with which homeworking tips have been effective and ineffective for you. Reviewing how changes affect your motivation levels helps you learn what things work for you so that you can do more of them!
If you have your own homeworking tips and tricks that help you stay motivated whilst working from home, tell us!
Armenta, Christina N. and Sonja Lyubomirksy. “How Gratitude Motivates Us to Become Better People”. Greater Good Magazine: Science-Based Insights for a Meaningful Life, 2017.
Chowdhury, Madhuleena Roy. “The Science and Psychology of Goal-Setting 101”. Positive Psychology, 2020.
Connolly, Maureen and Margot Slade. “The United States of Stress 2019”. Everyday Health, 2019.
Dahir. “Biophilic Design: The Benefits of Nature in Office Design.” TruSpace, 2019.
Duke, Elish and Christian Montag, “Smartphone Addiction, Daily Interruptions and Self-Reported Productivity”, Addictive Behaviors Reports, Vol. 6, 2017.
Lleras, Alejandro. Brief and rare mental 'breaks' keep you focused: Deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements. Cognition, 2011.
Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. “Consider It Done! Plan Making Can Eliminate the Cognitive Effects of Unfulfilled Goals”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011.
Melnychuk, Michael Christopher, Paul M. Dockree, Redmond G. O'Connell, Peter R. Murphy, Joshua H. Balsters, Ian H. Robertson. Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayama. Psychophysiology, 2018.
Pillay, Srini. “How Simply Moving Benefits Your Mental Health”. Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School, 2016.
Established in 2021 by a collective of interdisciplinary homeworkers, Homeworker Hub is an online space for remote working professionals. It provides resources to educate, support and guide individuals working from home. It also offers a sense of community and a social springboard for people satellite-working away from a centralised company workspace. Homeworker Hub gives a platform to topical issues and spotlights homeworking professionals.
Homeworker Hub is the brainchild of Victoria Gibbs, who has many years of experience working from home. After observing the absence of a comprehensive, inclusive and holistic resource for the thousands of professionals around the world who work from home, she decided to create one.