COVID-19 Response: Work from home productivity data pulled from 1000+ ultra-successful entrepreneurs

This isn’t going to be another “me too” work-from-home guide. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably know to get dressed like you’re going to the office and to take walks. 🙄🙄🙄

(And if you have kids, you’re probably as sick as we are of gurus talking about how much more  time you have to work on your business now!) 

This guide will be completely different. 

I’m Peter Shallard and I’m the founder of Commit Action. And I’m working from home just like you right now. Here’s my cobbled together setup that has nothing whatsoever to do with my actual focus and productivity:

What really makes the difference? For the last 6 years, the Commit Action team has conducted weekly one-to-one conversations with thousands of entrepreneurs working in varying states of isolation. We’ve collected data on their focus and productivity habits. 

We know exactly what tactics for boosting effectiveness work best.  

(If you want to know about how Commit Action’s service helps entrepreneurs, click here.)

This guide will break down three work-from-home mindset optimizations. These aren’t cutesy hacks, but mental shifts to your work process you can make each and every day. 

Our data shows that thousands of entrepreneurs—across dozens of industries—have used these small mindset changes to successfully skyrocket their focus, performance and actual bottom line results. 

Let’s get straight into the how-to… 

#1 Radically and strategically shorten your to-do list—both it’s total length AND it’s task size

To-do lists and project plans as long as your arm correlate strongly with overwhelm and self sabotage. This is especially true for entrepreneurs faced with volatility and uncertainty — something we’re all living with right now. 

A maximum of just three high-leverage priorities for the week is optimal. 

These should be three tasks you have to execute that will drive growth in your business. Or at least give you the best odds of creating that growth. 

It’s not that you can’t do more than three things each week. You simply need to decisively set three specific goals to move forward on your most important (and often scariest!) projects. The other stuff—the email, and small firefighting tasks—will still get done. 

Ask yourself what three chunks of work you have to complete in order to make the next seven days feel like a huge victory! 

The seven day horizon is the second key factor here. 

You won’t be mentally optimized if you’re pushing yourself hard, today, on a task that won’t be able to get finished for six weeks.

The idea is that the human mind naturally deals with a certain size of goal or challenge better than others. You need to break your big projects into these “right size” chunks. If you fail to do this, you will notice a tendency to procrastinate and feel stressed about starting work every day.  

To put these approaches together: 

  • Once a week, review your wider to-do list and project plans. 
  • Pick three objectives, and jot down a specific sub-objective for each that is realistically achievable within the next seven days. 

By doing this, you have created an ultra focused short term objective set. You are following psychological best practices and your execution potential will skyrocket as a result. 

Get to work and only look at your 7-day 3-objective plan, for the entire week. Other stuff will still get done, but those three mission critical objectives will benefit from your laser focus. 

(Fun Fact: The number three isn’t random: The US Military ran studies to assess what number of mission objectives was psychologically optimal for “in the field” performance during elite special forces missions. Three objectives conclusive showed up again and again as the best number for enhancing focus and execution.) 

#2 Set appointments with yourself to do “deep work” 

Have you ever wondered why—even with competing priorities, screaming kids and all the distractions in the world—you’re still showing up like clockwork for scheduled video conference meetings

Human beings have a natural tendency to perform better—and be more committed—when an appointment is involved. 

It’s partly due to the accountability of a third party (more on this in a second) but have you ever wondered why you expect yourself to do your most important work in the gaps left between time-wasting meetings? 

It shouldn’t be that way. And for elite entrepreneurs, it isn’t. 

The highest performing business owners we’ve worked with all conditioned themselves to do the opposite: They avoid meetings like the plague but are religious about blocking out committed time to do deep work, each and every day. 

The world’s most effective people treat work appointments they set with themselves as sacred. 

The other truth our data shows is going to be a relief to hear: Even ultra successful entrepreneurs only spend 2-4 hours a day doing focused “in-the-zone” work. And that’s on a good day! 

You’ll surprise yourself by how much you’ll get done in even a 20 minute “deep work” session if you simply have these key pieces in place: 

  • A clear objective for the work you’ll execute 
  • A defined starting place to begin from

This takes your most important, growth-driving and mission-critical work from something you do when you feel like it… and turns it into a scheduled work session you can just show up to. Like a professional. 

For overloaded parents, this approach is critical, because let’s face it: No one is doing a full eight hour work day uninterrupted. 

This technique puts bounded constraints around your work sessions and lets you bargain with your spouse and/or kids to carve out the time needed to execute. 

Start carving our dedicated, project-specific sprint time on your actual calendar now. If you’re a parent—or just extra prone to distraction—begin with 20 minute chunks and work your way up to an hour. 

Stop lying to yourself that your boldest projects—that rely solely on YOU executing—will happen in the little gaps here and there. 

Schedule like you’re serious: The most important appointment on your calendar is the meeting between you… and your most important project. 

3. Stack multiple layers of accountability to defeat the negative side-effects of isolation 

Human beings are social, political primates. As a species, we have thrived by developing sophisticated communication and team work strategies. Relationships with other humans were a tremendous advantage for our evolutionary ancestors and our brain structure reflects that heritage. 

You could say that we are literally “wired” to work better when we feel accountable to another human. 

That’s why ultra-successful entrepreneurs – who’ve surrounded themselves with empowering webs of supporting advisors, investors, staff and accountability coaches – do not experience the overwhelm, procrastination and self sabotage caused by isolation. 

Entrepreneurs with professional, reliable accountability in their lives are able to hit home run after home run without having to exert enormous amounts of time and mental energy. With accountability, they don’t have to endlessly push themselves to execute—instead they easily show up as the best version of themselves. Day after day. 

The brain circuitry that drives optimal focus and performance is naturally activated and sustained by accountability, not willpower. 

At Commit Action, we offer a dedicated accountability coaching service AND we also encourage all our clients to stack as many layers of accountability as possible. 

Right now in the COVID-19 situation, some business owners are staying mentally clear and rocketing ahead by: 

  • Setting up virtual “co-working” Zoom calls 
  • Scheduling weekly goal setting/accountability check ins with peers 
  • Instituting family accountability practices by setting goals with spouses and kids 

The truth is, the environment we’re working in right now is so weird and new that we should be stacking as many forms of human connection as possible. Think of accountability as productivity insurance. And sanity insurance. 

You can’t have too much. 

The done-for-you option is to hire a coach. At Commit Action, our one-on-one accountability coaching service will: 

  1. Walk you through a weekly cornerstone ritual that dials in an optimized 7 day game plan. 
  2. Schedule deep-work commitments to yourself via an actual sync-able calendar. 
  3. Hold you accountable via phone, email and SMS check ins with a dedicated, highly trained coach. 

We’re sharing our best-practices in the spirit of helping anyone who needs this stuff right now. 

If you’re not ready for coaching but want more, we have an entire video training library with all our best productivity research available free. Just scroll down and click the “Send Me Everything” button.