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This article was originally published by Men’s Health

By Dr. Amantha Imber

March 23, 2022

Roll out of bed. Stumble into shower. Caffeinate. Eat. Open up laptop. Work. Eat. Work. Eat. Netflix. Sleep. Repeat. If this sounds like a typical work-from-home day for you, you have probably been experiencing a couple of years’ worth of Groundhog Day. And even though offices are opening back up and many of us are being forced to reintroduce a daily commute into our lives (at least a couple of times a week), many people are still working from home too.

Boundary setting can be a nightmare when working from home. Your “work” space is also probably doubling as your “home” space, and it can be oh-so-tempting to return to your laptop after dinner to knock out a few more emails or little tasks. There is always one more task that you could be doing.

But here’s the thing: to-do lists never end. You will never have finished everything there is to do because that’s simply not how work works. There is always another email to respond to, another report to complete, another phone call to return.

1. It’s time to shut down your day

To maintain boundaries between work and home life when working from home, it is critical that we deliberately shut down our day. An effective Shut Down ritual creates a clear distinction between when your workday ends and when your non-work day (or evening) starts.

A couple of years, ago, my consultancy ran a study that examined the impact of a very simple Shut Down ritual. We asked participants to finished every workday for two weeks by writing two sentences.

The first sentence was: “Today I made progress on ….” for which people wrote down the things they made meaningful progress on. It might have been a report, a presentation, strategy work, anything, really.

2. Why focusing on progress is important

Research from Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile shows that making progress on projects that matter is the biggest contributor to our motivation and engagement at work. But when our at-home workdays all blur together (as they have a habit of doing), we don’t naturally stop and reflect on the progress we have made. Asking yourself to deliberately reflect on your daily progress should make you significantly happier at work.

The second sentence was: “If I get X done tomorrow, it will be a great day.” This sentence was designed to help people focus on the most important thing they needed to achieve the following day to make meaningful progress. It also eliminates the overwhelm that can often characterise our day when we have a million things we feel like we need to achieve.

3. Timebox your most important task

Once people had identified this one thing, they were instructed to put it in their diary for the following day using Timeboxing – that is, schedule a meeting with yourself in your diary to do this activity. By scheduling it in the diary, it prevents co-workers from blocking out your time with their needs and ensures you can prioritise the most important thing that you need to get done.

Through writing these two simple sentences at the end of every workday for two weeks, productivity increased by a massive 46% and participants also experienced a 23% increase in wellbeing (that is, they experienced more positive than negative feelings).

If you are struggling with the monotony of working from home and work and life boundaries are blurring together, try this simple strategy every night for a couple of weeks and turbo-charge your productivity and feelings of happiness. 

Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, Australia’s leading behavioural science consultancy and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful people.