How to overcome inertia in a home office setting

For months, many of us operate in a home office setting, often feeling slightly disconnected from the rest of the team and maybe over time even feeling exhausted. Personally, I have to admit that at the beginning of the first lockdown the simple idea of arranging the setting at home in a way that espresso machine, toaster and refrigerator are within reach was indeed exciting and yes, I have to admit that for this particular purpose I purchased a minibar for my home office. However, after months of operating from home, I recognised that a certain laziness came out of nowhere and prevented me from being productive. Read here some tips that I found helpful over these last months to overcome an increasing mental sluggishness. 

In one of his latest blogs, my colleague Erich Schimmel wrote that we Germans have the colourful expression „innerer Schweinehund“ to describe this phenomena. Literally translated, the expression means „inner pig dog“, but actually has the meaning to vanquish the inner temptation. Many of us have to get used to working from home and are trying hard to adapt to this „new normal“. But how do you deal with situations, when the desire to stay on the couch is more powerful than the drive to get your work done? These moments, when you think, “Ah, I’m so close to the couch and TV set. I wonder how the next episode of my favourite TV series will continue… I’ll do my work later.“ After you have watched 3 episodes in a row, you determine that now it is too late to start any meaningful work packages. Well, I have news for you: It’s called LAZINESS. And don’t worry, you are not alone. It’s very common. Especially people who suddenly have to change their routine find themselves now in a situation where they have to organise themselves.

‘I’ve heard that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance?’ Ronald Reagan

But what is laziness? It’s a state of idleness and resistance to take action. It’s a state of passivity based on the assumption that things can wait a little bit longer and stay the way they are. Sometimes we like to be a little lazy, like after hours of hard work or on a very cold or hot day, but if this condition occurs repeatedly (or even permanently), we need to do something about it. 

In order to complete our duties, to work efficiently, and contribute to our team’s success, we need to learn how to overcome this feeling. Here are some simple tips for overcoming laziness: 

1. Overview and slicing: break a large task into smaller tasks 

Get an overview of your work packages. Use a method that suits you, e.g. a to-do list, a mind map, a Kanban board, or a situation analysis. 

There is nothing wrong with using or even combining several methods. Personally, I recommend combining a simple mind map with a Kanban board to visualise work, context and progress. In the end, it is only important that you know your way around and that you can quickly and easily get an overview of the state of affairs.

It is quite common for us to avoid a particular task because we think it is too big. Splitting (or „slicing“) the task into several smaller tasks can solve this problem. Not to mention that it won’t seem that difficult or intimidating. Instead of having one big task, you now have a number of small tasks that each for itself don’t require a lot of effort. This approach will help to reduce inner resistance and laziness. 

2. Focus: prioritisation, impact and visualisation

Many people organise their time by capturing all tasks in a comprehensive and long „to-do“ list with the good intention not to forget anything and work step by step through this long list. This method easily reaches its limit, as we have to recognise that there is always more to do than we have time available. I have seen colleagues, who took so much time to keep the comprehensive list updated, that they had no time to do the actual work which was on that list. That can’t be helpful! So rather than trying to work through a list from top to button (task oriented) it is much more motivating to think about the expected outcome and to prioritise those activities which provide the highest value. Key question is not „what do I have to do“, but „what do I want to achieve“. This is a different mindset, leading to different results. 

Focus: concentrating your energy on doing just one thing at a time helps a lot to gain momentum and fight lethargy. Manage your time well. If you feel like you are too busy, you are more likely to feel overwhelmed and let the laziness voice in your head get louder. 

In some cases, the reason for being lazy is a lack of motivation. You can strengthen your motivation through visualisation. Think about the impact the results of your work will have for your team and your organisation. Impact feels much better than ticking a box on a comprehensive to do list. Think about the benefits you will get from overcoming your laziness and taking action instead of thinking about difficulties or obstacles. If you focus on the difficulties or the weight of the task you might become discouraged. 

3. Reduce distractions

Try to work in a place where any opportunity for distraction is reduced to a minimum. While the majority of research to-date has only investigated workplace distractions in an open office space, distraction in the home office is very real. 

Here are some of the most common challenges you’ll encounter working from home:

Increased communication

Without in-person communication, remote teams tend towards over-communication. While exchanges may become more effective, there will be a ton of them – web calls being the biggest disruptor. According to a study conducted by Owl Labs, people working from home actually have 35% more meetings than office workers.

New digital noise 

Moving all team collaboration to shared virtual spaces itself comes with more digital noise. Today, virtual collaboration leads to a multitude of in-app contextual messages, meaning you’ll get a lot of notifications from apps like Slack, Google Docs, Dropbox, Trello and Jira Messages on a daily basis.

An unfocused environment 

Your home can lack the privacy normally provided by a purpose-built office space. If you have children, you’ll obviously have one immutable source of distraction. 27% of home workers reported child care to be a huge distraction. Being immediately accessible to all family members, it’s easy for them to make entitlements, interrupt you and create noise.

Domestic temptations 

Working in a space you are directly responsible for maintaining can have a weird impact on your attention. You may feel the pull of small tasks, e.g. washing up or laundry, and do them as “productive” small breaks. Then there’s walking the dog, taking out the garbage, maybe cutting the green in the garden… Working from a home can be surprisingly diverting.

So how can you deal with these distractions? Here are a few tips:  

Set rules around communication

Contain daily communication of your team by scheduling regular times to check Slack and email. Keep your contact time-boxed so you don’t get sucked in and schedule it for a “low productivity” point of your day.  

Block notifications

Pings, vibrations, desktop pushes, texts and chat app notifications are designed to capture your attention. Block notifications across your devices when you need to focus, and use your Slack status to signal when you’re not to be disturbed.

Go hard on browsing

The lure of internet browsing and social media is just as strong when you work from home. Set boundaries around your digital procrastination, using anti-distraction apps to limit how long you can spend on certain websites. Automatically tracking all your digital activity is also invaluable for visualising and understanding how much you distract yourself.  

Publicly schedule time for deep work

Commit a 90-minute block of time each day for focusing deeply on a complex work problem. Scheduling your deep work sessions in your team calendar helps you to stick to them and ensures no one can double book you for a meeting.

Create family boundaries around your workspace

Choose a designated working space in your home (ideally in a separate room with a door), and ask family members to respect your space. Explain when you will and won’t be available, using a signalling system to let people know when you really can’t be interrupted. Turn off your cell phone and the TV, clear your desk and make sure that you can immerse completely in your work.  

4. Reward yourself

Think in advance how you would like to reward yourself when you have successfully accomplished your goals. This increases motivation and the likelihood that you will overcome your weaker self. Maybe it helps if you reward yourself with an episode of your favourite TV series (But don’t payout the reward as a retainer!). Imagine how good it will feel later this evening when you watch TV in the spirit of your accomplishments of the day.

‘The secret of getting ahead is getting started’ Mark Twain

5. Daytime Sleep and Exercise 

In some cases, laziness is due to fatigue and lack of energy. If this is the case for you, then ensure that you get enough sleep (at night… not during working hours…) Practice physical activity, however small. Walk a little, try to leave the car at home and go for a walk. These small changes bring great results. 

6. Procrastination

Avoid procrastination, which is just another form of laziness, if you have to do something and you consider it valuable and important, why not get rid of it RIGHT NOW? Why should it stay in the back of your head for another day? 

As you see, overcoming laziness is achieved by a combination of mindset, preparation and tools. The combination helps you choose to act instead of being passive. Your will grows like a muscle: every time you overcome your laziness you get stronger. Every time you decide to act, you increase your ability to achieve goals and improve your performance. 

Funny enough, working from home has always been something that a lot of people wanted – so let’s make it work!

Last comment: It is important that you also take time for your free time. Because the opposite of laziness is also as common and just as harmful. A lot of people lose track of time and just can’t stop working. So, follow the steps in this blog and keep your physical, mental health, and productivity high while working at home. What is your experience? What is your recipe of success? I look forward to the exchange. 

‘Either you run the day or the day runs you.’ Jim Rohn

Our coaching programme agile home office® has been designed to introduce agile methods in a home office environment and to help you structuring, prioritising and completing your work with high efficiency. The program is well suited for freelancers -or small enterprises- looking for a boost in efficiency.