Does Flexible Working Increase Productivity? – Part Two

Flexible work arrangements give you some control over when, where and how you work. The exciting news: pretty extensive research finds that workplaces which offer flexible arrangements are both more inclusive and more productive. Last time we looked at how the changing work landscape has made flexible working much more the norm since the outbreak of COVID. This can lead to some workers not faring well due to issues of isolation and being unable to cope with distractions. But there are techniques you can try that will increase your productivity and finally give you that work/life balance so many of us strive for. 

All of us suffer distractions at work to some degree or another. Some cope well, some not so. The key point is how well you manage them. One of the simplest (note, not necessarily ‘easiest’) is to scrupulously block time out for work. Reserve these hours for work that requires concentration. Try using the first hour at work to make headway in your most difficult project. Ask the people you live with for quiet time, and if that is not possible, put on noise-cancelling headphones with your favourite music. Reserving hours will also help you from overworking too. And try and learn some self-management skills. This will help you increase your focus and reduce stress. Peoples’ work styles are different. Some of us are naturally more distractible, or more social, or more physically restless. Rather than beating yourself up for your lack of focus, experiment to learn what works for you.

Distractions at home and flexible working

And on the subject of family interruptions, sometimes family members should interrupt you, but the key is to get them to know which interruptions are okay and when. Give them examples of things that are both urgent and important that you can be interrupted for immediately (disasters and emergencies), as well as important but not urgent things that can wait until you take a break. Urgent and important: someone broke a leg. Important but not urgent: someone needs new shoes. Neither important nor urgent: someone found the remote that went missing two minutes ago. Crucial: lunch (just kidding). 

But, if a set schedule isn’t working, you may have to break up your day or change your work hours to get real focus time. That might mean getting up earlier or working late at night. Working early seems to be the key. If you can get to bed really early and rise early (like 5am) you’ll be amazed how much you can get dome whilst it’s quiet. There’s actually science behind this. Our brains are actually physically bigger when we first wake up. Your inner-cranial volume is greater in the morning, apparently. Because the head and body are level during sleep, your brain receives more body fluid, making your brain optimal for performing in the hours immediately following waking up. This conclusion is based on studies on patients suffering from Parkinson’s. The patients were better able to perform complex tasks in the morning, but throughout the day, as the amount of fluid in the brain decreased, the patients experienced an associated decline in cognitive ability. Also, lack of sleep makes you tired, irritable and erodes your ability to focus. Drink water before getting to sleep and stay hydrated. Being even a little dehydrated will make you feel tired and sluggish – and possibly more susceptible to distractions. So, there you are, proof. Set your alarm for 5am, have a drink of water, and go to bed. 

Finally, dealing with distractions is something all workers struggle with, no matter where they work. In addition to the tips above, a change in perspective might help you when you get stressed by interruptions. The phone will ring, the kids will want to show you the latest game trailer, the dog wants a walk. It happens; embrace it. 

If worse comes to worst, you might have to leave the house for a brief stint working from a coffee shop. Lockdowns permitting… 

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