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Case Study

Psychological Changes to Improve your Remote Work Performance

October 25, 2021

Because of how important your state of mind is for everything you do, scientists created a whole field of study to understanding the human mind. You guessed it (hopefully), it’s psychology.

Getting into a mental state that enables you to produce your best work is crucial to levelling up your performance. This mind state separates the big dogs from the tiny, adorable puppies. Woof.

External and internal factors influence your psychological state. Super-performers know that and use both factors to their advantage. Because without knowing how to use it, freedom can be detrimental.

As you’ll know about remote work, getting motivated relies heavily on your internal abilities — not on external structures like office hours, dress codes or in-person teams.

Super-performers give back some responsibility to the external structures they design (here’s how to do it). With that, they maximise the freedom of working remotely.

So, to level up your game, you’ll learn how to make changes to these things:

  • First, your environment. In this sense, the multidimensional space where you take on your work.
  • Second, flow state. The mental state you achieve when your skillset/challenge matches your excitement.
  • Third, mental toughness. The ability to do stuff even when it’s uncomfortable. To keep pushing despite (internal or external) resistance. Habit.
  • Fourth, introspection. The process of continuously examining and giving feedback to yourself to make improvements. Gamify.

Your Environment

Is your work setup reducing your performance? Affirmative, if your desk is full of clutter and things you don’t need to do your job. As a work habit, take the time to empty your desk of unnecessaries before you begin.

Planning to work extensively on a couch or in your bed is a marvellously bad idea — they were built to help you relax. I’m not against relaxing (I’m a raving fan, actually), but trying to multitask relaxation and work isn’t exactly the best use of your time.

The goal of improving your work environment is to leave fewer decisions to your brain, mood and mind. That means using external things that can affect your mood to motivate you. In addition to this other blog, here’s what that looks like:

Designating Spaces

Dedicating a space just for work is most useful to help remote workers easily switch off from work. After maintaining focus for hours, being able to get into a state of wholesome rest and relaxation is the only guarantee that you won’t experience burnouts and reduced quality of work. Moving to a different environment after work tells your brain that it’s time to do something else.

Remote work routine

You may or may not have the extra space or room for your home office. But you can create a feeling of separation through wall dividers, curtains or wallpaper. Or you could just never use your workspace for anything other than work. It should help you get into a mental state of work.

That means that once you’re done, you can get up and close for the day. It simulates what would happen in a conventional office, so we can take much-needed breaks.

Recharging Zones

When the going gets tough, the tough (take a break before they) get going. Really. After high stress or periods of intense focus, or when you need to brainstorm, you’re gonna need a space that inspires, relaxes and recharges you.

You could decide to meditate, do some yoga or indoor exercises. You could also use this space for recreation and hobbies. I meditate with the Meditation Studio app and do some keyboard practice there.

How you use your space should reflect your needs. It should feel calming and recharging if you experience high stress, and if you have to brainstorm frequently, it should be energizing and inspiring.

oman holding her art
Creative work can improve remote work performance

If you’ve been daydreaming about your childhood in a treehouse or an outhouse, you get to relive it now. Or you could just set up a beanbag chair or even a hammock at an empty corner of your office if napping is your thing.

Filling it up with creative-juice-inducing stuff will keep you inspired and full of creativity and ideas. And if you’re ever experiencing a creative rut, this change of environment may be what you need.

Clothing, surprisingly

The interesting discoveries in the theory of enclothed cognition show that what we wear alters how we feel. Different types of clothing create differences in our confidence levels, levels of attention and abstract thinking.

It depends on what those clothes mean to us. That means you might not be as productive in pyjamas and a blanket.

But on the contrary, dressing up a little like you have a formalish meeting will help you get more work done. In this other research paper, you’ll find insights on how we can use clothing as a way to translate the psychological benefits of in-office work to remote work.

It gets your mind in work mode and you out of bed too. That way, you do more work in less time from home, with better levels of focus.

Flow State

The United States of Flow come together to make distractions disappear, shift you into hyperfocus, convincing you for a short while that time doesn’t exist, and turning your work into pure excitement.

It’s also known as being “in the zone”. The flow state is a half internal, half external factor that can improve your work experience and output quality.

According to Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (couldn’t spell his name to save my life), flow state results from a perfect match between challenges and abilities.

In other words, if you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll keep doing it. The recipe to enjoy doing your work is to alter the tasks or skillset to match each other.

Here’s a well-coloured (bringing out my inner 4-year old) chart to discover how you might feel about your work.

Model of flow related to challenge and ability

If you find yourself experiencing apathy, worry or anxiety over your work, you should talk to a doctor, but it’s possible that increasing your skillset is what you need.

I literally live and breathe online courses (you can call me Captain Flow). Still, mentorship from someone with more experience in your challenges will probably solve your problem in a shorter time.

Job Enrichment

An HR concept that uses industrial psychology to improve job satisfaction. Enriching a job means increasing the level of motivation in a particular position by improving the whole experience.

Good and bad job graph

Skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback on the job are the metrics used to decide if a job is rewarding or not. Learn more here.

As an individual, if any of these metrics lower your performance, I recommend a video/audio meeting with HR to talk about how to improve your experience.

Once the quality of motivation for the challenge increases, you’ll be on fire.

Swapping the Goal

Another thing that can improve your virtual work experience is personalising the objectives of your work. Instead of starting your work on time because it’s your work, change the goal to something more relevant to you.

For example, you can work on time so you can have guilt-free rest. Or watch your favourite show. Once your reason for following a work schedule or structure becomes personal, it’s easier to follow.

Men practicing how to shoot

Mental Toughness

Also known as willpower, self-control or mental fortitude. Mental toughness is an individual’s mental ability to stick to a choice. In this case, it’s to focus on your work and see it through.

Mental toughness has shown to depend on environment, childhood, life experiences, self-esteem and personal choices. The good news is that mental toughness behaves like a muscle, and can be built or get depleted.

Putting less weight on your willpower while you develop it is the way to go —  by shifting some weight on to external factors.

Here’s how to leverage mental toughness with minimal effort:

Build & Destroy Habits

Yes. Fix-It Felix and Wreck-It Ralph will be featuring in this.

Our brains try to automate processes to save space for other things. And sometimes they’re not always beneficial processes, such as a phone or drug addiction. However, the potential to use your brain to automate aspects of remote work is a goldmine you should be taking advantage of.

From The Power of Habit, a book by Charles Duhigg (a fine fellow), I learned of their sewper power. In summary, habits work in this order:


Once your brain receives a cue that you want a reward you usually get, your brain plays out the automated routine to get it for you. Think about how you pick up your phone once a notification rings. Or how you check for notifications regularly.

Your brain enjoyed the dopamine hit from getting a message or reaction and stored the recipe.

Dealing with habits requires you to be proactive.

So how do you wreck most bad habits? Change the routine. That’s why nicotine patches and gums exist, for people who want to quit smoking. So when they get stressed out, they pop the gum instead. It apparently works better than going cold turkey.

In some cases, you can restrict the cue. For example, My notifications go off automatically at the same time every day, thanks to Focus Mode on the Digital Wellbeing app on my Android.

And how do you build good habits? Repetition. Aim for the reward, set a cue, and keep repeating the routine. Thanks, Charles Duhigg!

Rituals, Rituals, Rituals

With the knowledge of habits, you’ll it’s a good idea to develop rituals for states of mind you want to be in. Usually, the biggest problem with being productive is starting, so writing your goals or to-do list out will help you get started.

Consider developing a ritual to start your morning, another to begin working, another to relax & destress and very importantly, one for going to sleep. Once you keep repeating them, using habit trackers and such, you’ll be able to shift between modes and stay in them longer and easier.


Finally, we approach the end. Without quantitative introspection, we have no idea if we’re getting better or we’re kidding ourselves. Being able to pay attention to ourselves and our needs at every point is critical to hitting our goals even when we don’t feel like it.

When you catch yourself slacking off or procrastinating, ask yourself, “Why am I ___?”.

You may discover, for example, that you’re afraid of doing a bad job. Or you’re afraid of failing again after continuously failing at hitting a goal. Or your job is boring. Or something is more important to you at that time. Or you’re exhausted. Et cetera.

Write it down in your notes, or a journal.

Track your moods and provide reasons if you can for why they are. Then, at the end of the week, you can talk to someone (or to yourself), about how to respond to different situations.

Woman looking at fish tank

Gamify, my friend

My favourite feature on Google Calendar for smartphones is the ability to gamify the rituals and habits I’m developing. With the Reminders & Tasks integration, I can see how well I’m doing every day. There’s also a Goal feature that comes with more habit tracking tools than just a checklist.

Once you input all the things you want to keep achieving in your week and tick them off, the dopamine hit feels great. Looking at my to-do list for the day and knowing I did all I planned to is a high like no other. I recommend it.

If you’d rather not input them on your Calendar, an alternative is to write out your routines and rituals on paper, paste them somewhere and tick them off.

concept doodle
Routines are key to improve remote work performance

And on your weekends, you can examine (with a friend or alone) how you did last week, reward yourself, and give insights into what you could improve or do differently.

That’s how to super-perform.

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Walo Olapoju

Copywriter/Full-stack creative at Athyna. Leonardo da Vinci's archnemesis.

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