Charlotte Rush9 March 2023

How to hack your habits for hybrid work

It was Thursday, and I was dreading the spanish speaking date I had scheduled with my Peruvian neighbour. I’d been learning spanish for six months and despite willingly booking this date in, I found myself considering excuses that ranged from good old fashioned (“My dog ate my notes”) to the more COVID-appropriate (“I’ve got a sore throat… *cough cough*”). 

We are now into our second or so year of working hybrid and yet, many of us continue to grapple with the motivation to make hybrid really work. Many of us are still struggling to find routine amongst the flexibility, connection amongst the distance and motivation at home when we could instead put on a load of washing. 

Discomfort often serves as a signal to stop what you are doing. So, was now a good time to quit my spanish goal? And should we all just give up on hybrid and head back into the office to save our motivation once and for all? 

No, we shouldn’t. 

Because in this case, the goal is not the issue – our habits and mindsets are. So, here are three hacks I’m using to boost my motivation as I embrace hybrid work (and spanish):

1. Reframe your discomfort

Research from Cornell University and the Univeristy of Chicago found that across various areas of personal growth such as learning improvisation, seeking discomfort as a signal of growth motivates engagement and increases perceived goal achievement. Simply reframing negative cues (that is, discomfort) as a sign of achievement can be motivating when you need something to keep you on track. 

In the same way that my journey towards spanish fluency is fraught with discomfort, the challenges of adapting to hybrid work may instead be reframed as growing pains that are just shy of uncovering something great. Now is a good time to reset your mindset around hybrid work and instruct yourself that feeling uncomfortable is a sign that progress is occurring. 

2. Pre-load your decisions

Flexibility is at the heart of hybrid. But when we invest in flexibility, we can lose consistency and find ourselves overwhelmed with the multitude of decisions we need to make on any given day.

If you find yourself procrastinating, pre-load your decisions before your workday begins. The best way to do this is via ‘timeboxing’: look through your to-do list, and a day or week in advance, allocate specific time blocks to tasks in your calendar. 

By pre-loading our decisions we reduce the likelihood of procrastination and can instead jump straight into work, regardless of where we are working. Every time I book in a spanish speaking date, I also book it in my work calendar. Timeboxing is just one more strategy I use to keep me motivated towards my goal. 

3. Commit yourself 

Working with others in the office can create motivation by keeping us accountable, just like a gym buddy. When we announce to a friend that we are going to the gym, this public pledge forms a “soft” commitment that increases the psychological cost of failing to meet this goal. Research shows that “soft” commitment devices increase motivation and goal progress.

Booking in a spanish speaking date with my neighbour serves exactly the same purpose – it’s ‘easier’ to go along with my commitment rather than dealing with the ‘cost’ of failure. 

We can leverage this same effect when working hybrid by hosting “Virtual Caves” – a name inspired by Simply book a virtual meeting with at least one colleague and at the start, announce what you intend to do for the next ~40 minutes (what we call a ‘sprint’.). Then, jump straight into that task, with cameras on and sound muted. The simple act of announcing what you intend to work on can be the motivation you need to avoid the washing for just one more hour.

Shifting to hybrid work is not easy, but neither is learning a foreign language. Hacking your habits and your mindset may be just what you need to keep you committed to your goal of realising the benefits of hybrid work.