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Unproductive at Home? The Most Common and Surprising Work from Home Habits of Highly Productive People

April 22, 2020 – Provo, UT – In corporate America, March was the month work went remote. According to research from VitalSmarts, a leader in corporate training and learning development, of the majority of employees sent home to work, 9 out of 10 were given less than a week’s notice. And 1 in 4 were given less than a day to pack up their comfortable, fully-equipped offices and head home with the expectation to be productive—all while on the cusp of an economic recession and amid a global pandemic.

According to the survey of 1,465 people, this stressful situation has taken a toll on productivity. Specifically, more than 1 in 3 employees (34.2 percent) say they feel much less, or less, productive working from home. The five biggest challenges they’ve encountered in being focused and successful in their new environment include:

  1. Not connecting with colleagues (47 percent)
  2. Available technology (36 percent)
  3. Too many distractions (32 percent)
  4. Lack of focus (29 percent)
  5. Feeling disorganized (27 percent)

And researchers say these results aren’t all that surprising.

“While some people prefer remote work, it’s not for everyone,” says Emily Gregory, Vice President of Development and Delivery at VitalSmarts and co-designer of The Power of Habit™ Training. “Working from home requires people to be highly self-motivated, proactive in their outreach to colleagues, and content with some amount of isolation. This environment can be disorienting and difficult for those who don’t fit this mold. And in these unusual times, employees are having to fit work in between home schooling children and caring for a full household of family members.”

The good news is that while a third of respondents have struggled to stay productive, 1 in 4 say they are more productive at home. Another 37 percent say they are equally productive at home as they are at work. Participants even report unforeseen advantages to working from home including having more time to themselves without their standard commute, improved health, and more time for family.

Justin Hale, productivity expert and co-designer of The Power of Habit™ Training says it’s possible to find success at home, even in these unusual circumstances. Productivity is just a byproduct of our behavior.

“Being thrown into a new environment is going to require new behaviors,” says Hale. “Expecting the same results when the behavioral cues and rewards have changed drastically is a recipe for failure. The one in three who are struggling to stay productive at home may try identifying a new routine or finding different cues and rewards that help them stick with their existing helpful routines. The good news is our habits are as adaptable as we are.”

Gregory and Hale asked the 1,465 respondents to identify behaviors and best practices they’ve uncovered for staying productive at home. Respondents shared more than 2,300 ideas for making their time at home successful.

The 7 Most Common Habits for Staying Productive While Working from Home

  1. Routine Rules All. The most common work from home habit, shared by more than 300 people, is to keep the same routine at home that you had at work. Schedule your day just as you would if you were headed to the office and be consistent in how you plan your day and spend your time throughout the work week.
  2. Break Often and Well. Without the meetings and interruptions found in an office environment, people who work from home can find they work hours on end without actually taking a break. Avoid burnout by scheduling regenerating breaks throughout your day. Take a walk, get a healthy snack, or connect with a friend or colleague.
  3. Arrange Office Space. Don’t underestimate the value of finding and creating a designated workspace. The ideal space has a door, a desk and a comfortable chair that will enable you to focus and separate you from home distractions. Even if you don’t have a lot of space, carve out an area in your home where you can set up your equipment and leave it intact at the end of each day.
  4. Connect Consistently. Communication is always important, but paramount when distance is involved. The most successful people checked-in frequently with colleagues, managers, and direct reports. The medium of communication didn’t matter as much as the consistency.
  5. Dress for the Job. Productive people get ready and dressed for the day as if they were headed to the office. Putting on “going out” clothes, rather than lounging in pajamas, tells your brain to act and behave more professionally. It also helps delineate work time from the rest of your day.
  6. Tackle Your To-do’s. To-do lists, project plans, and strategies are ubiquitous to success. Productive people relied heavily on their organization and effectiveness habits while working from home. They have curated to-do lists and project plans that help them stay focused on the most important tasks at the most important times of the day. Lists were also helpful as way to stay engaged and motivated when you’ve lost some of the peer pressure to help you do so.
  7. Start, Stop and Reset. Successful people start and end their workday at the same time, each day. Since work is never literally out of sight, they find it vital to be strict about “clocking out” so they can regroup and get ready for the next day.

In addition to these pragmatic and somewhat obvious habits, researchers also uncovered a handful of surprising habits that help people stay productive while working from home. Respondents who adopted these uncanny habits were more productive, engaged, and fulfilled.

The 3 Most Surprising Habits for Staying Productive While Working from Home

  1. Get Out. It’s easy to get sucked into a busy workday that is often void of coworker distractions, lunch outings, and casual breaks. Successful people found one of the best ways to rejuvenate themselves during a long day at home was to simply go outside.
  2. Stretch. Finding a few minutes to get up from the desk and stretch was a common habit. Blame it on the less-than-ideal office equipment, but people seemed to rely more on stretching sore backs, necks and legs at home than they do at the office.
  3. Manage Stress. Due to the unusual circumstances surrounding COVID-19, many people were diligent about managing their stress. One of the most common habits was to simply avoid watching the news. People also relied heavily on meditation and exercise.

Based on the New York Times best-selling book of the same title by Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit™ training course teaches the skills to learn and adopt new habits for working from home.


About VitalSmarts: Named a Top 20 Leadership Training Company, VitalSmarts is home to the award-winning Crucial Conversations®, Crucial Accountability®, Getting Things Done®, The Power of Habit®, and Influencer Training®, and New York Times best-selling books of the same titles. VitalSmarts has consulted with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies and trained more than 2 million people worldwide.

CONTACT: Josh Bird at +1-801.461.9783, or