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5 Tips for Better Work-From-Home Productivity

Season 10, Episode 10  | April 8, 2020

In an effort to social distance and slow the spread of COVID-19, many of us have transitioned to working remotely. In this episode, James O’Reilly, president of Life Time Work, offers his top five tips for keeping your days and space productive, engaging, and healthy, as well as addresses the benefits and challenges that come with working from home.

Man Working From Home On A Laptop.

02:23

Our guest this episode is James O’Reilly. He is the President of Life Time Work, Life Time’s co-working spaces, and an expert on new model work spaces and optimizing productivity.

03:19

For those of us who don’t typically work from home, we’re figuring out this new way of operating. O’Reilly discusses some of the challenges that may come along with that.

04:55

Along with the challenges, there are also a number of benefits to working remotely, such as more (and different) time with loved ones and greater opportunities for deep work.

08:48

O’Reilly has five tips for helping people stay productive, healthy, and engaged while working from home. His first is around the importance of creating a designated work space.

10:18

O’Reilly’s second tip is around being planful. If you have kids at home, this tip can be particular important.

11:41

O’Reilly’s third tip urges us to create — and do our best to stick to — a routine. Something that’s been helpful in informing his routine is understanding his personal chronotype and looking at how that affects the way and times he works.

14:20

Using efficient technology is O’Reilly’s fourth tip, and is a critical aspect of working remotely. Some platforms he recommends are Microsoft® Teams, UberConference®, WhatsApp, Zoom, and Slack.

17:34

David Freeman asks O’Reilly about his last tip: exercising. O’Reilly details his workout routine and how he finds movement positively impacts his day.

20:15

In addition to the benefits that come with working remotely, O’Reilly has noticed additional silver linings that have presented themselves during this unusual time.

22:21

O’Reilly discusses his boundaries around his news and media intake, as well as what he’s found helps support his mental well-being at this moment in time.

Transcript: 5 Tips for Better Work-From-Home Productivity

Season 10, Episode 10  | April 8, 2020

Jamie Martin

Welcome to Life Time Talks, the healthy living podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor in chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole life health and fitness magazine.

David Freeman

And I’m David Freeman, the signature program lead for Life Time’s Alpha program. We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we are working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.

Jamie Martin

In each episode we’ll cover the foundational elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, health issues like sleep and stress management, and mindfulness and community.

David Freeman

And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond who’ll share their insights and knowledge, so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.

Jamie Martin

Hey everyone, David and I are so glad to be back with you, even though it’s a little sooner than we were planning. In early March, we were just starting to finalize details of Season 2 for Life Time Talks, and then all of our lives were turned upside down by coronavirus.

David Freeman

So, we decided to extend Season 1 and bring you some additional episodes on coping with this new normal. With all the worries, the changes, the challenges, and the opportunities.

Jamie Martin

Like many of you, we’re in our respective homes. I’m in Minnesota . . .

David Freeman

And I’m in Texas . . .

Jamie Martin

And we’re recording in the quietest rooms we could find. I’m in my home office and there’s a good chance my daughters will come knocking sooner than later.

David Freeman

And I’m in my man cave. My kids are probably thinking I’m playing hide and seek, and they’re “it.”

Jamie Martin

We know that a lot of people are concerned and worried about coronavirus and its effects on our family and friends, our communities, our world. We are too. It’s impacting every aspect of our lives.

David Freeman

And while we’ll be leaving it to the local and state officials, along with public health experts and the CDC, to revive the latest information about the illness, we’re here with the intent of offering some ideas, information, and inspiration that we hope helps you navigate the days ahead.

What I’m excited about is all the different creativity that we have had when it comes to working at home. We have a special guest today that’s going to definitely dive in deep to what it is to be working away from basic workspace, and what it is like to be working remotely from home, so I’m excited about today. And, go ahead and let’s introduce our special guest, Jamie.

Jamie Martin

Yeah, we’re super excited to have James O’Reilly with us today. James is the president of Life Time Work, Life Time’s coworking spaces and he knows a thing or two about hybrid and new model work spaces and optimizing productivity, so he’s here today and he’s going to share his kind of top five tips for working from home, along with talking about what the challenges and the opportunities are with that. So, James, welcome to Life Time Talks.

James O’Reilly

Thank you very much, it’s great to be here with you guys.

Jamie Martin

Everybody’s been busy, we’re all figuring out this new way of working, for those of us that are setting up offices and workspaces at home. So, I want to start by, you know, addressing what those challenges might be because this is a whole new way of operating for a lot of people. Even though remote work has become a more popular thing over the last, you know, five years or so, being at home all the time and having that be a primary space is new for a lot of people. So, can you speak to why that might be tough for people?

James O’Reilly

I think many of us who work a 9-to-5 and who, you know, leave our home in the morning to go to work, we’re conditioned through years of this process where we sort of pull on our trousers, put on your jacket, maybe our tie, and we go somewhere to be productive during the workday. I think this shift in breaking this habit that we’ve created over time is what causes people just lack of visibility or transparency into how they should continue to operate efficiently around home, which as an environment reminds them of where they are relaxed, where they socialize, where they connect with their loved ones. And I think it’s getting used to bringing the work world home and that has definitely changed obviously over the last few years with technology and working off our phones, but this is a different level of professional interaction where we’re hunkered down at home five days a week, you know 9-to-5 working. And, you know, that requires just a different thinking process. And for many people that causes friction. And then when you compound what’s going on in the world today around the anxieties with this pandemic and the associated economic impacts everyone’s feeling, it just becomes a lot to digest. And, you know, I guess that’s why we’re here today, to really dissect what it means to be productive at home.

David Freeman

So, James, to kind of go off of that, a lot of times what we have seen is, to what you just said, you can see some benefits from actually working at home to as it relates to being productive. Even in some countries, we can tell like stress levels and things of that nature are going down because of at home work and being able to have the access of being able to do it from home. So, what are some other benefits that you’ve seen over the years of working remotely at home that people might not be aware of?

James O’Reilly

Sure, you know, I think one of the big draws for many people is flexibility. Right, so all of a sudden, we find time that we might otherwise had spent either commuting or preparing to commute, getting into work, setting up, there’s a lot of this lost time in moving from one mode to another. I think when we’re spending all of our time at home, that time that you require to get to your desk and set up is just compounded and we are able to get set up straight away. I think, for many of us, it’s this idea that we have more time with our families, and even, beyond just more time, I think it’s different time. What I’m hearing from a lot of my colleagues is that, “Oh I drop little Johnny off at school and then, you know, he has this whole other life that I don’t see, and then I pick him back up in the afternoon.” And, I think, sharing these moments that we typically don’t get with our loved ones, whether it’s your husband, or your wife, or your kids, or even your pets, I think that’s a benefit to us and I think many people are starting to see that.

I hear from other people that this time away from the office or the traditional workplace gives them time to refocus or think around deep work, to sort of step back from that day-to-day minutia, to reassess and understand how we’re prioritizing our time and what projects we should be working on. So those kinds of things. I think now that we’re kind of almost two weeks into it, depending on where around the country you are, people are starting to settle in and say, “OK, I need to start thinking longer term about some of these things and how we’re going to be impacted.” And I think working from home gives us a little bit of that flexibility.

Jamie Martin

Yeah, it’s funny it’s interesting that you mentioned deep work, because I find when I’m working from home I’m able to really focus in on something that maybe in a traditional work environment — because there are always things happening around me — I don’t have kind of the same mindset. So, what I’ve found in the last few days is that I’ve been really able to give my full attention to different things that maybe I haven’t been able to do for a while. I even sent an email to my team recently, like what have we been wanting to do recently that we haven’t been able to but now we have the space to focus on? So, anyway, that’s just my personal experience with it, but I think it’s really interesting this concept of deep work is something that has been written about a lot and I think that we can learn a lot from this point.

James O’Reilly

Yeah, I think both places, whether at home or at work, there are distractions that take away from the ability to get deep into a problem or to get focused on something. And you know, I think when we’re at work, it’s trying to limit those distractions during moments of deep focus. And equally at home it presents a different kind of distraction and obstacle to getting deep focus done. But, in either mode, whether at work or at home, it requires us to think about creating space for deep work and for moments of real focus.

Jamie Martin

Well, that moves us into our tips. So, you have kind of five tips for helping people work productively at home and it really started with that one you said, creating a designated workspace. Can you speak to that a little more?

James O’Reilly

Sure. I think one of the things to bear in mind as we think about being super intentional about working from home is creating cognitive separation between some of the spaces that we would usually associate with relaxation, with sleep, with eating, and separating the work space from those places of either distraction or temptation. And so if you have the ability to create — or if you have the luxury to create — that dedicated work space where you can easily manage the distractions or the temptations away, even if it’s visually just separated space, that can really help in channeling that focus we were talking about and being productive.

David Freeman

When you think about at home again, I have two little ones, Jamie you can speak on this as well, having the kids at home, so that could be, you call it a good distraction, but at the same time it can start to consume a lot of your time because you’re paying attention to the kids. So, whether they’re little or grown, they need your attention at some point in time, and it’s usually during the time that you are deep into something that you probably have been working on all day. So, what would you suggest as far as balancing work from home while two attending to kids?

James O’Reilly

Yeah, I think, and this is one of the things that I mentioned in the next point, is around being planful. If you have a partner that you can lean on to tag team, and based on your workload and their workload, figure out what parts of the day you really want to carve out for, whether it’s deep focused work — and I know for me, I’m a morning person, and my wife is almost the inverse. And so we sort of balance things that way, and that, you know, requires some conflict resolution, too, when you have two people who are different chronotypes, but I do think it’s important to try and tag team and identify areas of the day that you need to protect, and that your partner also needs to have for his or her self.

Jamie Martin

Yep, and that really goes to the idea of boundaries, right?

James O’Reilly

And sorry, I should caveat this with, I don’t have kids, so I’m probably not the right person to ask. I do have two beautiful little, sorry, I have 5 nieces and nephews, but two of those live downstairs in the building that I live in as well, so we do our fair share of tag teaming.

Jamie Martin

I love it, I love it, we all do our parts, right?

James O’Reilly

Absolutely.

Jamie Martin

I think, I mean the planfulness really comes down to also setting boundaries. And we talk about that, we’ll talk about that a little bit more later too, but how do we, you know, start and stop our days or shift? Like I have been working right in the mornings, right away, and then taking a break around lunchtime, checking in with my family about how they’re doing and kind of going  back. But I’m also, my husband is in a position where his job has a little more flexibility than mine, so it’s just, I think to each situation, it’s just like figuring out what are those unique routines for each of us, to get through this really strange period we’re in.

James O’Reilly

Yeah, totally. And I think, you know, prior to this period of time where we were going somewhere to work, we were almost on auto pilot, a lot of the actions that you take, whether it’s your lunch break or your morning coffee, or your exercise regime — a lot of those you’ve already built into your lifestyle. You don’t have to really think about how you’re going to plan an average day because you’re doing that five days a week and you’re on autopilot. I think now, in this new world that we’re in, hopefully temporarily, we have to be a little bit more thoughtful about how we plan our days. And that means being planful about work, but as importantly, it’s being planful about your breaks, about your meals, and your workouts as well. So, I think it just requires, again, a different level of thought.

And I know I mentioned chronotypes before, but there is a great online quiz around understanding your chronotype and that’s sort of whether you’re a night owl or a day time person, actually they have four different chronotypes and I think understanding what time of day your body is naturally most engaged, most energized, is important because it allows you to plan when you want to be doing deep work. So, typically you don’t want to schedule just running through emails when your body and your mind is most engaged and most productive, you probably want to be working on a difficult problem. And so, being mindful about when you’re naturally inclined to be alert and to be engaged and planning around that is really helpful.

Jamie Martin

We want to touch on a couple of, a few more things. Well, we’re obviously recording a podcast virtually right now. Technology — how we’re set up to operate from home is really important, so, one of your tips is also to find reliable technology. So now, you know, we’re figuring this out, how do you suggest people do that in their own spaces?

James O’Reilly

Ah sure. So, I think we sort of start off at the highest level, there are a couple different platforms that are great for collaborating on. We’ve identified Teams from Microsoft as one that works really well for me and our distributed team at Life Time Work, so we share document files, Excel sheets, there’s an instant messenger on that, there’s also a video, virtual video capabilities on there, but Slack is another great tool which is free. Anything that allows you to keep engaged and for new members of the team to dig up a thread and quickly get up to speed on a particular project is great. So, those two, Teams and Slack, are brilliant. We really like Uber conference, which is a virtual conferencing technology which is great. Zoom is also brilliant. In terms of technology, I think it’s important that you get comfortable with the various nuances between the different types of technology and I think it’s important to know that when you’re using this tech — and I’m sure we’re going to talk about communication — but it requires more regular communication than you might typically be used to when you’re working side-by-side with somebody. A lot of the subtleties of body language and tone are lost when you’re communicating by instant messenger or by email if that’s the case.

James Martin

Well I think, yeah, to your point, clear concise communication, and I think that’s why these visual tools that you mentioned are so helpful because even if we’re not in the same physical space, we can see each other and read body language a little bit better.

James O’Reilly

Yeah, the visual is just really important. And then also, so much happens at work that’s not formal meeting based. Consensus is created over by the water cooler or the coffee station, so I think it’s important to schedule times that are more social hours whether it’s a happy hour at the end of the day or coffee morning, but unstructured time that is video oriented where people can share what their experiencing and just get it off topic and get people sharing what they’re seeing in the world. I think that’s as important as the formalities of meetings which have to be very intentional and very planned and you know, structured in a way where people have solid takeaways and are clear on what their responsibilities are, so I think we have to be mindful of both of those kinds of meetings.

Jamie Martin

Well so many of our interactions at work are social, you know, that they become part of our inner circle, and so to not have those interactions like you’re talking about, like the water cooler conversations or the lunch walk or whatever it might be, I love the idea of a virtual happy hour with your team or a coffee chat in the morning because it really helps you just get back to that social aspects that we might be missing with our colleagues.

James O’Reilly

Yes, staying connecting is just super important.

David Freeman

Yeah, I mean just to recap a lot of what James and Jamie and all of us have been going over right now is, these tips, the number one that James threw out there was create a designated work space, after that, be planful within your day, we just touched on finding something that’s reliable when it relates to technology, and then being clear and concise with your communication. And last but definitely not least, we got to know exactly, what are you doing for exercise? This is one of your tips. Tell us a little bit about what you mean by exercise and what is the James O’Reilly workout plan?

James O’Reilly

I appreciate that you say that so seriously, David. You know, so, I’ll tell you what a good day looks like, and then I’ll tell you what like worst case scenario looks like. Just from the start, I find that if I can get a workout in the morning, my whole day is better, I’m less tense, I’m less reactive, I’m more . . . it’s easier to focus, it just sets me up, it’s like a foundation that I feel gives me a, at least a, 10 percent improvement in the rest of my day. So, I think it’s important to make it a priority. Obviously, there’s an inextricable link between body and mind and I think you tune up your body and that gets the mind ready to be productive and to be impactful. So, right now, I resurrected my bands, so I got two bands some years ago and they’re back out now. When I’m doing strength training, I have some space actually on our rooftop so I can get out up there without worrying about getting contaminated or contaminating anyone else. So that’s a good day and I’ll usually do that in the morning. I’ll take the laptop up and I’ll use some videos on lifetime.life. I really appreciate what’s going on there and it just takes the planning and thinking out of it. I can follow the videos that are happening there, and they’ve been working great. That’s a good day. A bad is, I don’t get in front of it in the morning and by lunchtime I’m climbing the walls and I have to go on a 30-minute run. And so that run looks like I run down Atlantic Avenue, down to the Hudson River, and I run along the river, and I come back and gain some level of sanity, and I’m back to my usual lovely self. But you know, like I said, I think worst case scenario is a walk. So, just getting outside, getting fresh air, getting natural day light, I think is really important too.

Jamie Martin

Well I’m in the boat where, I’m kind of in that, I need my workout in yet today, so I might do that walk at lunch time to, walk or run, something like that. So, one last thing you mentioned James, and this is something it’s just kind of like finding the silver lining in all of this. So, can you just talk a little bit about how you’re doing that and you know, it’s a little, what’s that little bit of positive that we can find in the midst of all of this.

James O’Reilly

Yeah, you know, I think, for me personally, I’ve got to spend, you know, my wife is a works in law and she works super hard, I travel a lot with work, so now both of us are at home where we’re doing breakfast together, we’re cooking meals in the evening, and it’s just nice to reconnect on that basis. Like I said, it’s more time together and different time together, and I think we’ve been really appreciating that.  And I think during this time I think it’s reconnecting with family, so everyday we’re doing WhatsApp video calls with my folks and Katie’s folks at home in Ireland, and we weren’t doing that before and it’s a really nice way to stay connected and, again, video is different than just a regular call, it just requires different level of engagement and we’re appreciating that.

David Freeman

Awesome. So James, we always call it the power minute when we come towards an end of a podcast. What I want to throw at you is, in the times to come, obviously uncertain, when we will go back to what we consider our normal, and in our past podcast this week we were talking about how everybody was able to reset and be a little more present in their current state and how to be aware of everything that’s going on around them. So tell me some of the things that you would share with our listeners that has impacted you the most being at home with your wife and being able to reconnect with a lot of family from around the world, tell me what has hit you the most during this time.

James O’Reilly

You know, I think at the start of this period, I felt a real need and a want to be immersed in how we were dealing with this problem, like what was a problem and really educating myself and my loved ones about what’s happening around the world and staying current. I think as this pandemic has evolved, I am acutely aware that that submersion in media is not helpful for me personally. It may be helpful for other people, but for me, it just became consuming and it just became . . . I got uneasy the deeper I got down there. And I certainly still stay in touch with what’s happening around the world, but I’m just not, my immediate diet is far restricted than what it was at the start of this thing.

And in particular social media — I’m far less engaged there. And I find that just my mental well-being and overall stability is in a much better place because of that. And I think observing. For me, we try and get out of the house just a couple times during the day to get fresh air and move our bodies, but observing nature, we’re on sort of the tipping point of spring here in Brooklyn, New York, and it’s just beautiful to observe that nature continues regardless of this. And that’s a good insight that we are going to come out of this and it will be, you know, summer at some stage, right, or late spring, who’s quite sure I don’t know, but just being aware that life goes on and not getting too caught up in the day-to-day minutia in this pandemic which is just, it will get exhausting for many people, and for me, I find just stepping back from that and observing the world around me — particularly nature — is helpful.

Jamie Martin

I agree. I was telling David earlier today, because we connect before the podcast recordings typically, I looked out my window today and there were two ducks and four turkeys that walked by, and I was like, “Oh my gosh!” It’s like, those reminders that things just keep going and nature operates continually.

Well, James, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your tips with the Life Time Talks audience. We really appreciate it and hope to have you back when we’re through this and on the other side of it.

James O’Reilly

Definitely, thanks so much.

David Freeman

I appreciate you, James.

James O’Reilly

Thanks David. Thanks Jamie, I appreciate you guys inviting me on here.

Jamie Martin

Talk to you soon.

James O’Reilly

Take care of yourselves. Bye-bye.

David Freeman

Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life, what works for you, where do you run into challenges, where do you need help.

Jamie Martin

And if you have topics for future episodes, you can share those with us too. Email us at lttalks@lt.life or reach out to us on Instagram @lifetime.life, @jamiemartinel, or @freezy30 and use the hashtag #LifeTimeTalks. You can also learn more about the podcast at experiencelife.com/podcast.

David Freeman

And if you’re enjoying Life Time Talks, please subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. Feel free to write a review and also let others know about it, too. Take a screenshot of this episode and share it on social or share it with your friends, family, work buddies, life coach, you get the gist.

Jamie Martin

Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on Life Time Talks.

Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life. It is produced by Molly Schelper with audio engineering by Peter Perkins and sound consulting by Coy Larson. A big thank you to the team who pulls together each episode and everyone who provided feedback.

We’d Love to Hear From You

Have thoughts you’d like to share or topic ideas for future episodes? Email us at lttalks@lt.life.

The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.

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