So Coronavirus Has You Working From Home: 5 Things I’ve Learned in 13 Years of Productivity

David Kadavy
Mar 17 · 5 min read

You’re doing your part by social distancing in the midst the COVID-19 pandemic.

But you also need to stay productive while working from home. You know, to do your part in preventing global economic collapse.

No pressure, right?

I’ve been working from home for thirteen years. Along the way, one of my first clients was a remote-work-pioneering startup, and I helped design productivity features in Google Calendar. I also write books on staying productive, even when the chaos of the world gets in the way.


Here are five of the most important things I’ve learned about working from home:

1. Productivity is about Mind Management, not Time Management

Working in an office is about getting as much work done as you can in eight hours. Working from home is simply about getting the work done, however long (or short) it takes.

There are only so many hours in the day, and so you can only get so much out of those hours. Eventually, “time management” is squeezing blood from a stone.

Meanwhile, there’s almost no limit to what you can get out of your mind, as long as you’re in the right mental state for the job.

Remember that productivity is about mind management, not time management.

Ask yourself these questions regularly: “What mental state am I in?” and “What kind of work can I most easily do in that mental state?” If you can do that work, do it.

Ask yourself: “What mental state am I in?” and “What kind of work can I do in that mental state?”

If you need to be in a different mental state, ask yourself “When was the last time I was in that mental state?,” and see if you can replicate those conditions.

If you get really good at this, you can begin to recognize mental states that match up with different parts of the work you do. For creative work, I’ve identified seven mental states.


2. Two hours is eight hours

One good thing that will certainly come out of this crisis is that many people will realize how much time they were wasting when “working” in offices.

When you’re in an office, you’re “working.” But how much of that time are you actually focused on getting things done? Colleagues are interrupting you, you’re attending pointless meetings, and then there’s all of the water-cooler chats.

The office is where focus goes to die.

If you stress out about having your butt in a chair and fingers on a keyboard for at least eight hours a day, you’ll make yourself even less productive than you are in your office. You won’t be able to think clearly, and you’ll destroy your health.

We don’t have eight hours in our workday. Most of us have a couple of prime hours, at most.

One thing I learned while working with behavioral scientist Dan Ariely on an app that is now a part of Google Calendar is that we don’t have eight hours in our workday. Most of us have a couple of prime hours, at most.

The timing of those couple of hours is different for different people. For most people, it’s in the morning. For some, it’s in the afternoon or evening.

Find your two hours, and make the most of them. The rest is gravy.


3. Shape your space, shape your mind

If being productive is about mind management, not time management, you need to have your mind at work when you’re “at work” — even though you’re at home.

The best way to condition your mind to be “at work” is to only work when you’re in your space for working.

If you don’t have the extra space for a designated home office, you can transform the space that you have.


When I was starting on my own in 2007, I had a tiny bedroom in San Francisco. There was barely enough room between my desk and my bed for my chair to fit.

So to condition my mind to be “at work” when I was working, I transformed my space. When it was time to work, I set up a room divider, changed the lighting with a lamp, and played a certain album. When work was over, I transformed the space back into a bedroom.

Do to signal to your mind that you’re starting work. When you’re done, do to signal to your mind that work is over.

You could say to yourself, ‘From now on, I’m only going to write on the back porch in flip flops starting at four o’clock in the afternoon.’ And if that feels novel and fresh, it will have a placebo effect and it will help you work. —Nicholson Baker

It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something, and you do that thing consistently. As novelist Nicholson Baker said, “you could say to yourself, ‘From now on, I’m only going to write on the back porch in flip flops starting at four o’clock in the afternoon.’ And if that feels novel and fresh, it will have a placebo effect and it will help you work.”


4. Try the 10-minute hack

The previous tips are the foundation to keep you productive while working from home, long-term. But what about getting things done ?

Try the 10-minute hack. Pick a task to work on. Set a timer for ten minutes. Promise yourself that you will work on that task non-stop for ten minutes. Also promise yourself that once those ten minutes are up, you can do whatever you want.

Here’s what will happen: You will work on that task for ten minutes. “Anyone can focus for ten minutes,” you’ll tell yourself.

Use the easy goal of ten minutes to get yourself started. Once you’re started, you can’t stop.

But by the time those ten minutes are up, you’ll have momentum. You’ll keep moving on the task.

In my book, , I call this a form of “Motivational Judo.”

In Judo, you use your opponent’s energy against your opponent. In Motivational Judo, you use your own procrastination strategies to propel yourself forward.

Use the easy goal of ten minutes to get yourself started. Once you’re started, you can’t stop.


5. Give it time

The final thing to remember about learning how to stay motivated while working from home is to give it some time.

Whatever rituals you build for getting into the right mental state to work, they aren’t always going to do the trick on day one.

When you can’t move from one location to another, you need to move from one mental state to another.

Remember that since you can’t move from one location to another, you need to learn to move from one mental state to another.

Keep triggering those mental states with whatever rituals you create. Experiment with what gets you into the right mental state for different parts of your job.

Some days won’t go as well as others, but if you keep it up, one day you’ll find that you’ll easily be able to “commute” to work (mentally) with ease.


David Kadavy

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"'The Heart to Start' is solid advice from David Kadavy. It's not too late." -Seth Godin. 4x your creative productivity: http://kadavy.net/tools

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