3 science-backed ways to be more productive when you work from home

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Winter storm Stella is forcing thousands of professionals to work from home today. And while working from home can be a nice change of pace, it's often difficult to be productive outside of the office.

"The home office is the worst of both worlds," says productivity and organization expert Lisa Zaslow, CEO and founder of Gotham Organizers.

"You're not at home just watching TV, and you don't have the really good office resources and environment of being in the office."

To avoid distractions and reach peak at-home productivity, follow these researched-backed tips:

1. Get dressed

One of the best parts about working from home is that you have the option to work in your pajamas. But research suggests that getting dressed for work, even if you're working from your couch, pays off.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that professionals perform better on tasks when wearing clothes with "symbolic meaning." In the study, they found that doctors were more focused and performed better at work when wearing a lab coat.

For a business professional, wearing a nice outfit may boost how you feel about work. Research by Joy V. Peluchette and Katherine Karl found, "Respondents felt most authoritative, trustworthy, and competent when wearing formal business attire, but friendliest when wearing casual or business casual attire."

Workplace expert Mason Donovan, author of "The Golden Apple: Redefining Work-Life Balance for a Diverse Workforce," echoes this thought, saying that wearing work clothes at home does increase productivity.

"Although a dress code may seem silly when you think about working from home, work clothes impact you on a business and personal level and can affect your career," he tells Fast Company.

2. Find your optimal noise level

When working at home, there are a few things to avoid. The first is a noisy work space. High levels of noise tend to reduces a person's ability to process information and think creatively, according to the Journal of Consumer Research. Intermittent conversation where talking starts and stops frequently is also bad for productivity.

So what type of noise is best? That's a bit more complicated.

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Background music has been shown to help with clearly-defined, repetitive tasks and reduce stress before and while working. But music has also been shown to have negative effects, as music with lyrics can significantly reduce a person's ability to focus.

Low levels of background noise have been shown to increase information processing and creative thinking. Other research shows that silence is best for work that requires high levels of concentration.

A growing body of research shows that more than anything else, a person's mood or feeling about a type of noise may matter more than the actual type of noise.

For example, a study where 10 people were exposed to different types of white noise, such as the sound of an air-conditioning system, for hours at a time found that did not affect work performance in general. However, if a subject found the noise to be annoying, then performance on typing, math, and verbal reasoning tests did in fact decrease.

A person's mood or feeling about a type of noise may matter more than the actual type of noise.

A study by music psychology researcher Teresa Lesuick found that IT professionals who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who didn't, because their mood was boosted by the music.

Ultimately, it's important that you determine your optimal noise-level at home — whether that's silence, mild background noise or music — and create a space to match it.

3. Put your phone away

A 2016 Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder of more than 3,000 workers found that 66 percent say they use their smartphone at least several times a day while working.

"You get a little dopamine hit from sending your friend an email or seeing a kitten video," says Zaslow. "So you do have to work hard not to be tempted."

Several studies show that the human brain isn't very good at multitasking. It confirms what we already know: Frequent Snapchat or Facebook messaging isn't helpful while trying to work.

"Put your phone away," Zaslow says.

If you need to keep your phone nearby for work-related communication, turn off sound notifications for anything other than calls or texts. All other app notifications can wait. Doing this will force you to make a conscious decision about when you check your phone.

"Working and concentrating is hard," the productivity expert admits.

But by taking the right steps, you'll be able to find your at-home work groove.

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