The Chimp Inside: maintaining productivity whilst working from home

It’s Monday morning, it’s the beginning of the work week, the alarm rings as you prepare for a busy day ahead. A voice in the back of your head says “just 10 more minutes”, “you can start a little later today”, “maybe we should have a lazy day today”. You’re settling into your ‘new normal’ of working from home, sitting in bed with your pyjamas on would be easy, maybe you can take it a little slower than normal today. That would be easier, right? Let me introduce you to that voice inside your head: that voice would be your “limbic system” otherwise known as our inner chimp, as described by Professor Steve Peters. You should give him a name because our “inner chimp” is a part of us and won’t disappear, it’s just important to know how to keep him suppressed and happy to ensure we remain productive and happy.

To keep things simple, our inner chimp acts beside the frontal lobe, known as our “human” and more rational side. The two constantly clash together, based on the human reacting on rationality and thinking, whilst our inner chimp likes to think impulsively, without regard for emotion or thinking. That’s why the voice in the back of our head wants us to stay in bed, we feel tired after the weekend, waking up early and resetting ourselves for the week ahead seems hard, so why not just relax and sit back? Our human side knows that we shouldn’t be lazy, it makes sense to get up and start working because we have a team to help, we have a job to do, but isn’t it easier to do all of that in bed still? You’re not alone in this thinking, we all deal with our “inner chimp” and the easier way of doing things, it’s not about suppressing those feelings, it’s about working with your inner chimp to give it what it wants without giving in completely and letting it run riot!

So, how can we remain productive whilst working from home? It’s about a balance, we don’t want to fight the chimp, we simply need to nurture him. We need to understand what way we are thinking and if our human side is talking or our chimp. By waking up in the morning and asking ourselves “Do I really want to be sitting in bed for another 10 minutes?” or “Do I think it’s a good idea to not work hard whilst my other colleagues work hard?”, we can understand what part of our brain is talking. If the answer is “no”, it’s important to make sure that we can direct those irrational thoughts back to our human side, where we can think rationally and smarter. Just by being in touch with our inner chimp, we will find ourselves in a position to supress any negative thoughts from manifesting into actions.

However, this does not necessarily mean that every thought about being unproductive is our “inner chimp”, there will be circumstances where we need to take a break and allow ourselves space away from the screen. Being productive does not equate to spending 8 hours next to your computer and 5 minutes for toilet breaks, this will just be unconventional and quite frankly, unproductive. When we are working from home, we should be taking regular breaks away from the screen, working in 10-15-minute blocks before taking a walk around the house or doing a quick chore like cleaning the dishes. This allows us time to mentally refresh ourselves and avoid becoming bored and easily distracted. But, what this also allows, is our “inner chimp” the time to vent and express itself. Our human side knows and understands there is no positive rational behind sitting in bed, watching Netflix and doing bits and pieces of work, but our “inner chimp” still wants us to think about it. By taking the time to have regular breaks and do something other than work, our “inner chimp” has an influence but that influence does not negatively affect us and, if anything, it positively helps us.

It’s important to understand that productivity is not working from 9-5 like you’re working in an office environment and it should not be expected of you to work in those conditions. There are many intrinsic and extrinsic factors that prevent us from being completely focused at home, so having time to take breaks away from the screen will not only help with productivity but more importantly, will improve our mental health. Take regular breaks, communicate with colleagues, engage in exercise to increase our productivity and allow our “inner chimp” the time to vent but prevent him/her from self-destructing.

In summary, just remember to embrace your “inner chimp” and take time to reflect on when he/she may be taking too much control. Whether it may be stopping us from getting out of bed or becoming irritable at a piece of work that just doesn’t seem to be going right, understand and take time to reflect. It’s not just about our “inner chimp” or productivity, it’s about maintaining a strong and positive mental well-being and that starts from understanding ourselves.