The woman who advises Google’s top executives on productivity gives her 6 tips for structuring your day when working from home

Google's Executive Productivity Advisor Laura Mae Martin

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The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way white-collar workers work, with many sleeping, working, eating, and resting within the same four walls.

Workers have adapted surprisingly well. In an IBM study of 25,000 people, 54% of adults said they would opt to work from home most of the time after the pandemic.

That trend is similarly reflected at Google, which recently found that less than 10% of its employees wanted to return to the office full time post-pandemic. In the survey of more than 15,000 Googlers across its Europe, Middle East, and Africa offices, 60% of Googlers said they would like to work from their assigned office between one and four days a week.

With the white-collar workforce looking increasingly unlikely to return to a pre-2020 model, Insider sat down with Laura Mae Martin, Google’s in-house executive productivity advisor, to hear her thoughts on maintaining — and increasing — productivity in the new hybrid world.

1. Know if you’re running a sprint or a marathon.

“There are two broad groups in this whole situation,” Martin said. “Some people stopped all travel, and it’s just them at home and they feel like: ‘Wow, I’m not commuting, I have more time than ever.’

“I call those people the marathoners, and they feel like, ‘I wake up, I work, I decide when I’m done, I make dinner, and I go to bed.’ There’s not a lot of breaking up the day for those people.” 

But for others, she said, it will be a lot harder to keep up a constant churn of work throughout the day. 

“We also have the opposite group: ‘My kids are home all the time. I have never had less time in my life. I am trying to cram in my work in between naps or virtual school or whatever else.’ And those are our sprinters. 

“If you’re a sprinter, more than ever you need to know — during that two hours you have while your kids are in virtual school — what are you going to accomplish? It’s not sitting at your desk, reading emails, trying to figure it out. The time is wasted very quickly.

“For marathoners, you can’t just work all day. Think about what you plan to accomplish. It’s not just about working but working on the right things. I think we’ve started to realize that we have both types in our working groups.” 

2. Take time to decompress.

“At the outset of the pandemic, none of us knew how long this would last, and we kind of just threw our laptop on the kitchen table, and a couple of months in, we’re like: ‘Wow, I need to find a way to structure this for myself, and learn how to unplug,'” Martin said. 

She recommended that people introduce something like a “No Tech Tuesday,” where you shut off all electronic screens after lunch and take time to focus on the smaller things.

“I think people are so invested in their devices that it can weigh up on you,” she said. “I’ve had thousands of Googlers sign up to this challenge where they try and give themselves something else to do, whether it’s cleaning or reading or board games or something you can do with your family.

“The No. 1 feedback from that is people say they sleep better and they feel more refreshed, just from taking a few hours off before bed.”

3. In stormy times, fashion yourself an umbrella.

“We all have pressures from family or work or inefficiencies in our departments, but I think about it like an umbrella,” Martin said. “No matter how treacherous the weather, and the pandemic has been a particularly big storm, how can I put up a little umbrella to slow the storm a bit?

“One thing I do working with executives is taking some of these principles, like finding balance within a team, is there a way of making sure we can block off one night a week that works for everyone in a team to meet, so everyone knows when to expect it? Or do we institute a ‘no-meeting Friday’? These can all help make you feel like you’ve got a bit more control.”

4. Employees want the recipe for success — why not use snack-size to-do lists?

“When I think about planning my day, I equate it to reading a book about healthy eating,” Martin said. “You know, you start with these chapters at the beginning about the science around health and so on, but what do people flip to? The recipes. They want to know straight up: How do I implement this in my daily life?

“My worksheet is like that, it includes: my top three priorities for the next day, including how long they might take, as well as snack-size to-dos. These are things that take 10 minutes or less. The point of those is, if a meeting ends early or something, you just know you can make this quick phone call or send this email and just tick them off.

“A lot of people have a to-do list and suddenly they have a packed schedule, and it’s all over the place.”

5. Remember President Dwight Eisenhower’s take on ‘urgent’ versus ‘important’ issues.

“Sometimes things come up out of nowhere, and then that becomes the main focus for the rest of the day,” Martin said. “Dwight Eisenhower distinguished between ‘urgent’ versus ‘important’ matrix, and using language like that can help: Is it urgent? Is it important? If it’s the former, then it’s OK to blow out the rest of your day for it.

“One particular exec I met did this thing where he would block after lunch, between like 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., where he would deal with urgent matters. And if there wasn’t anything urgent on the slate, then he’d already freed up some time.” 

6. Step back and look at the bigger picture.

“I really think that managers, being responsible for checking in on employees and measuring their performance, should be thinking about wider macro goals that others aren’t used to,” she said. “Maybe there are days where an employee sends no emails, but there might be some where they send 100. There’s not a lot of point in looking into daily performance if you’re not stepping back and thinking about the bigger picture.”

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