Finally, the days of hibernation are over, and spring is here. In Japan, springtime is marked by sakura or, as we say in the States, “cherry blossom” season. The delicate pale pink petals are in bloom for just 10 short days before they fall or are swept away by wind and rain. As I hanami, which is a Japanese term for “enjoying the transient beauty of flowers”, through the streets of Gion, I am reminded howI need to conquer some spring cleaning so that my workflow and productivity could bloom, too. What about you?


Here are Hardly’s tips to help you eliminate stressful chaos and bring order to your workday this spring season:

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Declutter your desk to destress

A clear desk equals a clear mind. Common sense tells us that a cluttered workspace literally prevents us from getting as much work done in a set amount of time. Everyone knows searching among a sea of papers for notes from a specific meeting or having to stop your workflow to clean up yesterday’s coffee you elbowed and spilled is a waste of precious time but the Harvard Business Review shares how a mess at your desk can affect your mind too. Research has shown


“cluttered spaces can have negative effects on our stress and anxiety levels, as well as our ability to focus, our eating choices, and even our sleep.”


In 2009, an American study found levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to anxiety and depression over time, were higher in mothers whose houses were cluttered.


Scientists at Princeton University found that our brains respond best to order. In fact, they have proved constant visual reminders of disorganization such as pens strewn about and overstuffed filing cabinets deplete our cognitive resources and reduce our attention span.  Therefore, it’s not surprising that when you clear your desk the results are positive; you are more likely to focus, process information, and manage your emotions effectively. The moral of the story is to get rid of the distractions!


So what’s the best way to go about cleaning your workspace? 

Step 1: Assess what gadgets you frequently reach for and which ones are in the way. Then determine what is working for you and what isn’t. 

Step 2: Sort through all the papers and cabinets and return everything to its rightful home.

Step 3: Purge! Ruthlessly throw out anything that is not helping you be productive, feel good, or is a duplicate of a tool you recently upgraded. 

Step 4: Actually break out the cleaning products, the broom, the mop, the wipes, and the soap and water. A fresh start is best when it smells fresh.

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Organize your emailing for smooth sailing

One of the biggest headaches of remote working for me is emails. I feel like I receive 10,000 emails a day; some important, some from a subscription I signed up for just to get 10% off three years ago. The worst is when I am looking for a prior email to or from coworkers that was not clearly labeled in the subject line so I have to sift through one by one to find what I’m looking for. 


What’s the solution?


I highly recommend unsubscribing to anything you no longer read. Fewer emails coming in means fewer notifications, which means less anxiety from your phone or computer buzzing. Next, creating digital folders and having emails automatically file into them is a godsend. Last but not least delete all the emails that you no longer need. I know, this last one is crazy time-consuming, but the peace of mind you gain from having 1,000 emails instead of 10,000 emails is blissful and will definitely take your work stress from an 8 to a 4.

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Get your apps in order for a productive quarter

The more apps the merrier, right? Wrong. There is an app for everything these days and it’s up to us to make sure they are helping not hurting our workflow. Take stock of how frequently you use the applications you have. If you are using them less than once a week, chances are they aren’t that helpful and there is a better solution out there that meets your needs. In addition, try to find apps that serve more than one purpose so that you aren’t wasting time checking multiple apps throughout the day.


Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Renew your routine so you can be a lean, mean, working machine

Now that you have gotten rid of all the things that no longer benefit your workday, it is time to recreate your daily routine. Take the hint from nature and make some changes with the season. It could be as small as switching from hot coffee to a cold brew or as impactful as clocking in and out an hour earlier. Additionally, look at your habits such as how often you need a break to step away from the computer or what times during the day you are connecting with colleagues the most and gauge whether adjustments can be made to streamline your schedule.


Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Refresh your mind to redesign

Finally, you made it to the fun part! You have done all of the hard work of spring cleaning and now it’s time to re-envision your home office. Breath in the freshness of the space and think about how to curate a space that encourages clarity, calm, and creativity. For example, an aromatic diffuser or picture of the ocean. Maybe reposition your desk to get more light or swap out the bookshelf for a comfy reading chair. The important thing here is to not replace junk with more junk. So be judicious with your choices and go for more of a minimalist aesthetic. 

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As a blogger, learning to overcome writer’s block is a necessity. For me, it’s not so much the blank page. It’s the lack of creative triggers around me that make it difficult to get into a good writing flow. Companies and employees have always been focused on productivity (which seems like the right choice if Maslow had a business world hierarchy). However, creativity is also a key ingredient for success. While shoving a desk against any wall with an outlet might have worked at first, it is time to upgrade our home office into a permanent setup that inspires creativity.

Home Office, Creativity, Hardly

It's about balance

Over the summer, I picked up watercolor as a COVID-19 hobby to replace the time I would normally be out and about. One of my friends who frequently produces artistic genius told me:

“The secret to igniting creativity was to have the perfect balance of nothing and something around you.”

I know. It didn’t make any sense to me either at first. However, after reflecting upon this list of strategies, I’ve found her words summed it up perfectly. Check out our suggestions for how you can level-up your home office to a chamber of creativity:

Home Office, Creativity, Hardly

Stimulate your 5 senses

Fast Company claims that sight might have the greatest impact on our state of mind. Anything from painting an accent wall in your office to changing the color of your computer screen can help you elicit a new idea. Bringing visually stimulating artwork into space can spark creativity as well, as long as it’s not distracting.

If inspiring images aren’t your thing, try decorating with words of wisdom. Sometimes an inspirational quote or a profound poem is just what we need to get the creative juices flowing.

While sight might be Fast Company’s first pick, I would argue sound is the most powerful tool in inspiring creativity. It could be the soothing sounds of Bach or the poppy, feel-good beats of Dua Lipa that put you in the right headspace to bring new energy to your work. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found ambient noise is the best sound to evoke creativity. Try typing in sounds of the forest or beach on YouTube, and play it on a low volume.

For scent, try lighting a cinnamon or vanilla candle to enhance your creativity. In terms of touch, make sure the temperature of your workspace is ideal for you. If you are too hot, you will feel agitated. But, too cold, and your body will be using so much energy to stay warm. There won’t be enough energy to engage in out-of-the-box thinking.

Also, don’t forget to literally fuel your creative mind with the right foods (aka, taste!). Junk food can make us feel sluggish. Instead, prime your mind with healthy carbohydrates and natural sugars from fruit to keep you alert and energized.  

Home Office, Creativity, Hardly

Declutter your home office

A mess of a desk is a mess of a mind. Creativity requires clarity, which means a clear workspace. While this doesn’t mean your home office should be void of personality, making sure everything is in its place before you brainstorm will help you focus on the project rather than the coffee-stained stack of papers from an assignment that was completed weeks ago. I’ve found the easiest way to keep my workspace clear is storage. Shove stray items into some high-quality plastic bins that fit perfectly under your desk. This simple action will help you fake cleanliness on days when you just can’t Marie Kondo your life. A couple of items from The Container Store will help your creativity go from zero to 100 real quick!

Home Office, Creativity, Hardly

Go green

No, don’t paint your office green; what I mean is to breathe some new life into it with plants. Medium even calls potted plants creativity heroes. Prominent CEOs, such as Tim Cook, and leaders in tech like Amazon claim that surrounding themselves and their employees with nature inspires innovation.

Not convinced? CNN reports environmental psychologists have a growing body of research that suggests biophilic design supports cognitive functioning, stress reduction, and well-being, which can all contribute to ingenuity. Don’t be discouraged if gardening is not your thing. Even a small succulent that only needs to be watered once in a blue moon will do the trick!  

Home Office, Creativity, Hardly

Choose a window, instead of a wall

At the very least, if you are trying to increase creative vibes, move away from the blank wall. Not only is natural light better for our functioning, but a view of the outdoors can help us expand our minds.

Donald Rattner writes that design strategists—in conjunction with psychologists—have found that our perception of the expansiveness of our physical space dictates our perception of our mental space. In simplistic terms, the more physical space we think we have, the more inclined we are to generating original and useful ideas.  You can’t get more expansive than the great outdoors, so facing a window or opening up french doors to your backyard could be a game-changer.

Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is contagious, pass it on.” Following this spirit, share this article with friends and coworkers so they can foster creativity in their home offices, too!

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Most of us are our absolute best work selves when we start a new job. Our boss says “jump,” we say “how high.” We show up early, over-prepared, and volunteer for every opportunity for growth. Then a couple of weeks or months go by and naturally as we get more comfortable a few bad working habits tend to rear their ugly heads. Our transition to remote work probably followed a similar pattern. In fact, we might have developed some new unfortunate habits in the process.

I started forgetting all about my body language during Zoom meetings. Being in a room surrounded by people dressed in business attire commands a certain level of attention. Being alone in my apartment with sweatpants and headphones on is a different vibe. I was catching myself mid-doodle, looking down at my paper, and suddenly remembering I was on camera! I hadn’t made eye contact with the current speaker or given any signs that I was engaged in the conversation in ten minutes. While I had been listening, it looked like I was completely zoned out to my coworkers. Realizing my habit could come off as disrespectful and unprofessional, I knew I had to nip it in the bud.

To save you from having to learn some hard lessons on your own, here are our top 5 bad working habits you need to kick in 2021:

Perfectionism is the enemy of good habits

He was right! Let go of meticulously going through the small stuff at the expense of making headway on the project as a whole. Instead, create a comprehensive rough draft where all the content or “meat” of the deliverable is there and then go back and make necessary corrections if time allows. Don’t let your fear of criticism keep you from pulling the trigger. The sooner you send it out, the sooner you can receive feedback, the sooner you can make it better.

Tardiness doesn't pay

One of my New Year’s commitments was to be on time for everything. Showing up when you are supposed to says you value your time and the time of others which can be hugely important in business since time is money. 

To avoid being late to any Zoom calls, set the alert for 5-10 minutes before the actual meeting so that you have time to go to the bathroom, close out of your email, or get a glass of water before it begins. Shoot for sitting in front of your computer with a smile on your face one minute before the start time.

Overpromising is a habit that will catch up to you

I am definitely guilty of this one. With good intentions, my default is to say “yes, yes, yes” to everything forgetting that I only have time for so much work. While setting boundaries might be difficult at first, it is better than disappointing others when you have to admit you bit off more than you could chew. Instead, set realistic expectations from the beginning and if you finish early, reach out and offer to take on more.

Tunnel focus is bad

Laser focus is a valuable skill however, in virtual work environments being accessible via online platforms is key. Coworkers rely on email and Slack to let you know they require your attention. Tuning everything out and working in isolation is not an option— and is definitely a bad working habit. Deeply focusing on one task for an extended period of time can cause you to miss time-sensitive messages from others on your team. You don’t want to be the one that people can never get a hold of. 

Prevent this by placing a time limit on your tunnel vision and scheduling email, Slack, and phone checks a couple of times per day so that you are attuned to all your tasks in the background.

Resisting new processes or software

Even if a change is for the better, there is always a learning curve. Being a stick-in-the-mud and unwilling to adapt is a sure way to make yourself obsolete. Don’t be the team member that is looking backward rather than forwards. Instead, take on a positive attitude and welcome the opportunity to add a new skill to your repertoire and resume. Just think, it will make you more competitive in the long run!

If you and I can ditch these bad working habits, we will be sure to excel in our current positions. Not to mention, our coworkers and bosses will thank us for being productive, punctual, honest, aware, and adaptable. Let us know if there are other bad habits you intend to improve this year and share your plan of attack!

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I have now lived through two iconic New Years. The first was from 1999 to 2000. I brought in the new millennium with close family friends dancing around the basement to the YMCA and drinking sparkling cider. It was a seven-year-olds dream.  

The second was a couple of days ago, again in a basement (bar), but this time with a shot of sake, a bunch of ski bums, and friends in Hakuba, Japan. Even with the language barrier, it was clear everyone was ecstatic that the year from hell was finally over and hopeful that 2021 would bring new beginnings. But, when the clock struck midnight, the masks didn’t come off, COVID-19 did not disappear, and quarantining did not end.

Change doesn’t just come about; we have to set goals and then actively pursue them to evoke it. But sometimes achieving our goals is not so easy. Raise your hand if you’ve made a New Year’s resolution and then woken up three weeks later and realized that you’ve fallen back into old habits. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Which is why I’m letting you in on my top two secrets for successful goal setting.

Setting Goals, Hardly

Keep it small, in fact, make it micro

If you’re a high achiever you might be tempted to skip this tip, but sometimes the more ambitious we are, the more likely we are to fall into a self-defeating cycle. High expectations of ourselves lead us to set whale-sized goals when our plates only have room for shrimpy ones. But just because you don’t go big doesn’t mean you have to go home. I suggest breaking down a monstrous goal into a micro one. Tim Herrea in the NY Times describes it simply:

 “For any task you have to complete, break it down into the smallest possible units of progress and attack them one at a time.”

For example, one of my goals is to drink more water. My initial thought was to shoot for a gallon a day. While this might not be unreasonable for some, it is a significant amount for me (I know, I’m so bad). Just thinking about it, the goal started to feel troublesome rather than motivating. I already knew I was on the wrong track.

I remembered Sabina Nawaz wrote in HBR the key to micro-goals is making them “ridiculously small” and attaching them to a daily habit you do without thinking. By doing this, you take away barriers to getting started which is the hardest part of building habits, according to James Clear. James uses Newton’s Laws to hack productivity. Therefore, an appropriate micro-goal would be to drink one bottle of water while driving to pick my husband up from work each evening.  Not only does this require minimal effort, but it’s also connected to a mindless task.

Setting Goals, Hardly

Make it SMART-R

This one is a tried and true classic, but I have a spin on it. I was reminded of the SMART technique a couple of weeks ago when it was part of the curriculum I taught for my Healthy Thinking group. It goes like this: S is for specific, M for measurable, A for attainable, R for relevant, and T for time-bound.

While these are must-haves, I have found that the added R for “rewarded” has a huge effect on my success rate. It all comes back to behavioral theory. If you reward a behavior, your brain tells you to do it again. If you punish a behavior, your brain tells you to reevaluate your actions. While some may say there is enough satisfaction in achieving the goal itself, I say the more incentive the merrier. But, watch out for counterproductive rewards.  You don’t want to treat yourself to three slices of cheesecake if you have been working towards eating clean.  Instead, reward yourself with something in line with your goal such as a new outfit or a Vitamix.

With these tips, you’ll be able to achieve whatever you set your mind to this year. And remember, all gains are gains, no matter how small!

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The holiday season is in full swing – families are gathering (virtually or while social distancing?) to eat turkey, christmas trees are going up, and we are all about to put on the holiday 15 as if we haven’t been comforting ourselves with uber eats for the last seven months to get through this pandemic.  Well, we have put together a list of holiday snacks that are healthy-ish to keep you energized as you work from home through the festivities.

Apple Pie Protein Smoothie

Holiday Snacks, Hardly

If you are on a health kick, this holiday snack is for you. Perfect for those mornings you want to feel energized and motivated to take on the day or replenished from a hard workout, the apple pie protein smoothie is easy to make and packed with nutrients to keep you satiated for a couple of hours. It tastes like dessert but minus the guilt or the need to run around the block five times due to a sugar rush.

What you need to make this delicious dessert:

¾ cup almond milk (add more if you would like a thinner smoothie)

1 frozen banana, peeled

¼ cup old fashioned oats

1 apple, chopped in large chunks with the core removed

½ tsp ground cinnamon, or to taste

1 scoop vanilla protein powder

¼ tsp ground cloves, to taste

¼ tsp ground nutmeg, to taste

Instructions: Throw it all in a high powered blender and let the magic happen! Pro tip- a smoothie always tastes best with a straw.

Gingerbread Loaf

Holiday Snacks, Hardly

Nothing sums up the smell of the holidays like a gingerbread loaf. This spicy, moist slice of cake is the perfect mid morning snack to indulge in with a cup of tea when you are feeling a bit peckish before lunch. Not only will the scent of ginger and molasses waft through your home office, but this loaf will last you all week. The recipe below is adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction. She has never steered me wrong when it comes to baking!

What you need:

2 cups of all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup unsulphured molasses or dark molasses

¾ cup hot water (my grandmother used to use orange juice for added flavor and extra moistness)

½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick, softened)

⅓ cup brown sugar

1 large egg (room temperature)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease your 9×5 inch loaf pan. Mix the dry ingredients together (flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt). Next, in a separate bowl, whisk the molasses and hot water together. In another bowl, mix the butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla extract together (I know, it’s a lot of dishes but apparently this is all part of the art of baking). Then, slowly in three additions, add the dry ingredients to the molasses/water mixture. Mix each addition just until incorporated. Finally, BAKE!

Irish coffee

Holiday Snacks, Hardly

After all that baking, a long day’s work, and a lot of family time, I greatly enjoy an alcoholic beverage that is also warm and cozy. Not to mention, the Irish coffee is the perfect 5 o’clock beverage. It has the caffeine you need to re-energize while also getting you in the mood for a virtual holiday bash. The best part is, this classic holiday snack only requires 4 ingredients you probably already have at home.

What you need:

2 teaspoons brown sugar if you are a stickler for making things the OG way or 2 oz of Baileys Original Irish Cream

4 oz of your favorite coffee (the stronger the brew, the better)

1.5 oz Jameson Irish Whiskey

1 oz of heavy cream, whipped

Instructions: Fill a heatproof glass mug with boiling water to warm it up, then brew your favorite coffee. Dump the hot water out of the mug and put in the brown sugar. Separately, whip your heavy cream until you like the consistency (I prefer mine on the thicker side). Next, pour the hot coffee into the mug and stir until the sugar dissolves. Then add in the whiskey and stir again. Finally, top it off with a heaping dollop of cream.

Sweet and Spicy Holiday Nuts

Holiday Snacks, Hardly

This next snack is full of healthy fats and is sweet and spice and everything nice. These nuts make great holiday gifts and nibbles when you are looking for something to pop in your mouth every couple of minutes. Keep them on your desk for convenience so you can easily grab handfuls while you work on a powerpoint or a long proposal throughout the day.

What you need:

A mix of nuts – any kind you want including macadamias, walnuts, pecans, cashews, Brazilian nuts – except for peanuts

1 cup sugar

¾ teaspoon cayenne or chili powder

1 teaspoon ginger

¾ teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cinnamon

2 Egg whites with a tablespoon of water or melted butter (this is just to coat the nuts so the spices stick)

Instructions: Mix all of the spices together. Secondly, in a separate bowl mix together the egg whites and water (or oil) and coat the nuts. Transfer them to the spice bowl and mix all together. Finally, spread them on a sheet pan and bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Peppermint Bark

Holiday Snacks, Hardly

This is actually my personal favorite. It seems like someone is always trying to justify eating more chocolate by saying it is healthy for you and I’m not gonna be the one to argue otherwise. Plus, studies show that peppermint can help increase your focus and memory. Either way, this holiday snack is delicious and making it always puts me in the holiday spirit.

What you need:

12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or cut up your favorite chocolate bar into fine pieces

14 ounces white chocolate chips or chopped white chocolate

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

3/4 cup crushed candy canes

Instructions: Start out by crushing up the candy canes. Then, melt the semi sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler and mix in the peppermint extract. Line a cookie sheet or ceramic dish with parchment paper. Then, create a nice layer of the semi sweet chocolate and put it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes for it to set. Next, melt the white chocolate and layer it on top evenly. Before this cools, sprinkle on the crushed candy canes and pop it back in the fridge to set again. Finally, take it out after about 30 minutes and break it into pieces. Voila!

All of us here at Hardly hope you have an amazing start to your holiday season and that these holiday snacks bring some joy to your workday. 

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There is a lot of buzz about how working from home affects our mental health, but there is less discussion around how remote work affects our physical health. Over the past week, I have been trying to answer this question:

Is remote work better or worse for your physical health?

It boils down to whether you establish good habits or poor ones. Working remotely typically affords us more flexibility and time to make healthy choices. But with freedom comes responsibility; we can no longer justify fast-food lunches, a lack of sleep due to a commute, or back pain because the issued chairs are uncomfortable, and we are chained to our desk. While remote work provides a lot of opportunities to make better choices regarding our physical health, it can be harder to create good habits at home. For every way in which working remotely can improve your physical health, it can also damage it. To prevent you from choosing the wrong side of the coin, here are the dos and don’ts of how to make remote work benefit your body rather than destroy it.


Replace your commute with more sleep

Remote Work Health, Hardly

Skipping the commute is one of the advantages of working from home. That means a later alarm and the opportunity to catch more Zzzzs.  There is a significant amount of evidence that suggests a good night’s sleep seriously boosts productivity. One study of U.S. workers found significantly worse productivity, performance, and safety outcomes among those who slept less. In addition, long-term sleep deprivation is found to be associated with health problems like weight gain, blood sugar dysregulation, indigestion & gastric problems, heart diseases, etc. Overall, sleep quality and duration has a direct impact on our functioning on multiple levels. Those few extra minutes in the morning could make a bigger difference than you think.


Don't snack throughout the day

Remote Work Wellness, Hardly

One of the things I struggled with the most when I started working remotely was snacking. I was constantly eating anything and everything in my cabinets just because it was there. When I was working at the office, I only ate what I packed for lunch, but working from home it was like I had all the chips and granola bars at my fingertips. I gained 10 lbs after the first three months of working at home.

Limit yourself to 2 healthy snacks per day: 1 between breakfast and lunch and 1 between lunch and the end of the day.  Anything more is typically out of boredom, not hunger. Instead, focus your energy on making a nutritious lunch. One huge benefit of working from home is that you don’t have to wake up earlier to pack your lunch or be tempted by fast-food around your workplace. Remote work allows us to enjoy a healthy breakfast and lunch, which ultimately decreases the likelihood of obesity. An article in Health Magazine states people who commute through areas surrounded by drive-thrus are more likely to stop at them and have higher BMIs. This study even found commuters with the most exposure to takeout joints were almost twice as likely to be obese.


Make your remote work space ergonomic

Remote work wellness, Hardly

Step one is to get a good chair. For the best posture, make sure to get a chair that is height adjustable and has lumbar support. It might also be beneficial to have a standing desk. The more variety, the better. The optimal position is one where your feet touch the floor. Keyboard and mouse placement is also crucial for comfort and preventing yourself from looking like the hunchback of Notre Dame. Ideally, your keyboard should be positioned away from you and slightly down. Next, your keyboard and mouse should be shoulder-distance apart. This will ensure you aren’t reaching unnecessarily. Finally, position your screen where you can sit back in your chair and still see clearly. This will prevent you from craning your neck. Magical, instant remote work health!


Stay active

Remote work wellbeing, Hardly

Remote work = we are moving even less. When working in the office, you might have to walk from the metro station, get up to go to the copier machine or a colleague’s desk a couple of times a day, or walk to the coffee shop across the street every day. BGR states, “sitting for such long periods can have significant and adverse effects, resulting in higher risks of muscular-skeletal disorders, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and more.” A simple solution is to build in time for physical activity each day. Whether it is a walk or a gym session, a moving body is healthier. Don’t have time for an hour-long high-intensity session? Every hour, just get up and walk around your house for 5 minutes.


Eye health is remote work wealth

Remote Work Wellness, Hardly

Between the Zoom meetings and constant emails, all of our eyes are glued to screens for extended periods of time. The first thing you can do? Blink! This will keep your eyes moisturized, making them less irritated and less likely to feel like SpongeBob SquarePants without waterForbes also suggests using the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes take 20 seconds to look at least 20 feet away. It gives your eyes a chance to recuperate from the harsh lighting in a minimal amount of time.

Try out these tips for staying healthy while working remotely and comment below what your favorite technique is! The goal is to crush your work, not let you work crush you.

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Remote work distractions used to be the death of me. Like a little puppy, I could stray off course at the slightest sight or sound of anything remotely interesting. If an ad popped up, I’d click on it. Phone rang? I’d answer it. If I heard a tiny bit of noise outside, I’d run to the window to see what it was. I struggled to get into the same rhythm of productivity at home as I was used to in the office.  

There was always another activity distracting me from the task at hand.

When I first transitioned to working from home, I was watching TV constantly, doing household chores during team meetings, and ended up with millions of open tabs— social media, online shopping, and news articles. These habits were like gateway drugs to getting nothing work-related accomplished.  

Instead of working a typical 9-5 work day, I was working 12-hours a day because it was taking me so much longer to finish the assigned tasks.

This meant there was no separation between personal and professional time and work was always on my mind. A month later, my inability to focus caused me to miss a concert my boyfriend had planned for date night. I realized if I was going to be a successful remote worker, I needed to learn to remove distractions before I got fired! So, here are my 10 tips to ditch the distractions and enhance your focus to better your productivity.

Day 1: Create a dedicated workspace for remote work

Environment is everything.

If I can see the messy kitchen or busy street, I set myself up for failure. But everyone is different! Gaining an understanding of the type of environment you need to be successful is key. While a private, home office complete with color-coded stick notes, two screens, and a home espresso maker is out of reach for most, we can dedicate an area of our apartment or house as a work zone. In my 650 square-foot apartment, my workspace is my dining room table. It faces away from the television, forces me to sit up straight, and gives me enough space to spread out my tea, laptop, and any books I might need to reference.  

Day 2: Create a morning ritual

remote work distractions Hardly

Our brain works in patterns.

To signal bedtime, most of us brush our teeth, turn off the lights, and set an alarm. By doing these activities every night, our mind and body already know what to expect. To set yourself up for success you have to train your brain to know it is time for work— no distractions allowed.  Every morning before work, I drink a cup of hot lemon water, listen to John Mayer, and call my Mom. When the conversation is over, I know it is time to get down to business. As long as my routine isn’t interrupted, I can get into a work groove right away.

Day 3: Create a plan of action

remote work distractions Hardly

If you don’t know what you are doing, the universe will find something for you to do. In other words, making a schedule at the beginning of the day is crucial to staying focused.

Write down everything you plan to accomplish during the workday and when you plan to execute each task.

Make this fun by writing your schedule on a chalkboard or using an app like ToDoist where task creation and completion are interactive. You know you are an adult when there is nothing more gratifying than crossing items off of a checklist.

Day 4: Get your sillies out

remote work distractions Hardly

I learned this trick from tutoring kids who struggled with ADHD.  Before getting started and about halfway through our session I would have my students stand up and shake their entire body. They could fall on the floor, make funny faces, or run around as long and they were releasing that extra energy all of us have that makes it hard to sit still. Now, the adult version of this could look like working out, taking a walk, or dancing to your favorite song before you sit down to begin remote work. The key here is to set a time limit for the activity so that playtime doesn’t spill into work time.

Day 5: Remove Social Distractions

As embarrassed as I am to admit it, I’m a scroller. I can spend an hour looking at Instagram, watching videos on Youtube and TikTok, and reading posts on Facebook without noticing time has passed. Chamath Palihapitiya, former VP of User Growth at Facebook says that social media leverages the very same neural circuitry used by slot machines and cocaine to keep us engaged. In simple terms, it’s addictive. Even if you have the intention of just checking up on one friend, logging onto social media can derail your entire day.

If stopping remote work distractions “cold turkey” isn’t your thing, try enabling a screen timer to help you become more aware of how much time you are spending on social media and slowly pare down your usage. Or, check out the Hardly app! Hardly helps you customize your notifications across all the apps you already use. Your attention is your choice!

I promise, if you put the notifications on pause, your productivity will skyrocket.

Day 6: Avoid doing household chores

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When I made the switch from in-office work to remote work, my natural inclination was to figure out how I could weave dishes, laundry, and vacuuming into my workday. Boy was that a mistake. I found myself spending nearly 50% of my time on household chores and continuously interrupting my workflow to attend to domestic duties.

At the end of the day, I felt more burnt out because I was exhausting myself by burning the candle at both ends.

Day 7: Don’t multi-task

I believe effective multitasking is a myth.

David Burkus, a best-selling author and speaker, finds task switching is more similar to juggling than multitasking in that we are not doing two or more tasks with the same sufficient focus, we are instead going back and forth paying just enough attention to each to not drop the ball.  At home, there are even more activities vying for our attention than in the office so it is important to commit to a task, laser in on it, and complete it before moving on to something else. Try enabling the “do not disturb” feature on email and chat platforms to prevent the urge to move from one task to another. Believe us, controlling your alerts helps! We created an app to help you customize the alerts you want to receive at any moment. Check out the Hardly App here.

Day 8: Set micro-goals

remote work distractions Hardly

Have you ever noticed that you perk up and get a little boost of energy when you accomplish a task? Well, that isn’t a coincidence; it is neurological. Your brain releases a load of dopamine, often known as the “feel good” transmitter when you finish an assignment. James Clear, an author whose theory on the power micro-progress is rooted in Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, preaches that breaking down tasks into small achievable goals leads to higher productivity.  In an interview with CBS News, he says

“If you can see yourself getting these small wins, then you have a reason to continue working, and if you start in just a small way, you’re going to want to keep going.”

So, instead of telling yourself to complete an entire client deliverable by the end of the day, just focus on completing one PowerPoint slide in 10 minutes then pat yourself on the back. You’ve conquered your remote work distractions!

Day 9: Use the Pomodoro technique

remote work distractions Hardly

The Pomodoro technique is a popular time-management method created by Francesco Cirillo. I can confirm it’s a winner. I was able to stay focused and subsequently finish work in about three-fourths the amount of time I thought they would take. Essentially, the goal is to work in timed intervals that are spaced out by short breaks. The technique trains the brain to work in short sprints which ensures you are consistently productive. Set your timer for 25 minutes. For 25-minutes, you cannot let yourself succumb to remote work distractions. When the “Pomodoro” rings, put a check on your paper and take a 5-minute break. After four sets, take a slightly longer break for about 15-30 minutes. Wash and repeat! (So simple, a monkey could do it?)

Day 10: Incentivize yourself

As much as we would all like to consider ourselves to be complex multi-dimensional beings, we are as simple as dogs when it comes to our reward systems. To stay focused throughout the day, treat yourself to a coffee break or your favorite TV show but only after you reach a specific milestone.  The anticipation of the reward will keep you on task and keep distractions at bay.  

Try all of these tips in one day or introduce each method one at a time for ten consecutive days to improve your level of focus. You can even split the list in half and share it with a friend. Each of you can experiment with one task Monday through Friday and report back which ones worked best for your remote work situation. Remember doing something for 21 days straight creates a habit. We love to hear from our readers, so if you have any focusing tips to add or if you tried these tips, leave your comments below and let us know how it is working for you!

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