Working at home has a lot of benefits, but without the office setting we often lack structure and discipline. If you are having some difficulty staying focused while working from home, this article is for you! Leigh walks you through 10 strategies to remove distractions and boost your productivity so that you can get the most out of your workday.
By: Leigh Hall
27 Sep 2020
Remote work distractions used to be the death of me. Like a little puppy, I could stray off course at the slightest sight or sound of anything remotely interesting. If an ad popped up, I’d click on it. Phone rang? I’d answer it. If I heard a tiny bit of noise outside, I’d run to the window to see what it was. I struggled to get into the same rhythm of productivity at home as I was used to in the office.
There was always another activity distracting me from the task at hand.
When I first transitioned to working from home, I was watching TV constantly, doing household chores during team meetings, and ended up with millions of open tabs— social media, online shopping, and news articles. These habits were like gateway drugs to getting nothing work-related accomplished.
Instead of working a typical 9-5 work day, I was working 12-hours a day because it was taking me so much longer to finish the assigned tasks.
This meant there was no separation between personal and professional time and work was always on my mind. A month later, my inability to focus caused me to miss a concert my boyfriend had planned for date night. I realized if I was going to be a successful remote worker, I needed to learn to remove distractions before I got fired! So, here are my 10 tips to ditch the distractions and enhance your focus to better your productivity.
Day 1: Create a dedicated workspace for remote work
Environment is everything.
If I can see the messy kitchen or busy street, I set myself up for failure. But everyone is different! Gaining an understanding of the type of environment you need to be successful is key. While a private, home office complete with color-coded stick notes, two screens, and a home espresso maker is out of reach for most, we can dedicate an area of our apartment or house as a work zone. In my 650 square-foot apartment, my workspace is my dining room table. It faces away from the television, forces me to sit up straight, and gives me enough space to spread out my tea, laptop, and any books I might need to reference.
Day 2: Create a morning ritual
Our brain works in patterns.
To signal bedtime, most of us brush our teeth, turn off the lights, and set an alarm. By doing these activities every night, our mind and body already know what to expect. To set yourself up for success you have to train your brain to know it is time for work— no distractions allowed. Every morning before work, I drink a cup of hot lemon water, listen to John Mayer, and call my Mom. When the conversation is over, I know it is time to get down to business. As long as my routine isn’t interrupted, I can get into a work groove right away.
Day 3: Create a plan of action
If you don’t know what you are doing, the universe will find something for you to do. In other words, making a schedule at the beginning of the day is crucial to staying focused.
Write down everything you plan to accomplish during the workday and when you plan to execute each task.
Make this fun by writing your schedule on a chalkboard or using an app like ToDoist where task creation and completion are interactive. You know you are an adult when there is nothing more gratifying than crossing items off of a checklist.
Day 4: Get your sillies out
I learned this trick from tutoring kids who struggled with ADHD. Before getting started and about halfway through our session I would have my students stand up and shake their entire body. They could fall on the floor, make funny faces, or run around as long and they were releasing that extra energy all of us have that makes it hard to sit still. Now, the adult version of this could look like working out, taking a walk, or dancing to your favorite song before you sit down to begin remote work. The key here is to set a time limit for the activity so that playtime doesn’t spill into work time.
Day 5: Remove Social Distractions
As embarrassed as I am to admit it, I’m a scroller. I can spend an hour looking at Instagram, watching videos on Youtube and TikTok, and reading posts on Facebook without noticing time has passed. Chamath Palihapitiya, former VP of User Growth at Facebook says that social media leverages the very same neural circuitry used by slot machines and cocaine to keep us engaged. In simple terms, it’s addictive. Even if you have the intention of just checking up on one friend, logging onto social media can derail your entire day.
If stopping remote work distractions “cold turkey” isn’t your thing, try enabling a screen timer to help you become more aware of how much time you are spending on social media and slowly pare down your usage. Or, check out the Hardly app! Hardly helps you customize your notifications across all the apps you already use. Your attention is your choice!
When I made the switch from in-office work to remote work, my natural inclination was to figure out how I could weave dishes, laundry, and vacuuming into my workday. Boy was that a mistake. I found myself spending nearly 50% of my time on household chores and continuously interrupting my workflow to attend to domestic duties.
At the end of the day, I felt more burnt out because I was exhausting myself by burning the candle at both ends.
Day 7: Don’t multi-task
I believe effective multitasking is a myth.
David Burkus, a best-selling author and speaker, finds task switching is more similar to juggling than multitasking in that we are not doing two or more tasks with the same sufficient focus, we are instead going back and forth paying just enough attention to each to not drop the ball. At home, there are even more activities vying for our attention than in the office so it is important to commit to a task, laser in on it, and complete it before moving on to something else. Try enabling the “do not disturb” feature on email and chat platforms to prevent the urge to move from one task to another. Believe us, controlling your alerts helps! We created an app to help you customize the alerts you want to receive at any moment. Check out the Hardly App here.
Day 8: Set micro-goals
Have you ever noticed that you perk up and get a little boost of energy when you accomplish a task? Well, that isn’t a coincidence; it is neurological. Your brain releases a load of dopamine, often known as the “feel good” transmitter when you finish an assignment. James Clear, an author whose theory on the power micro-progress is rooted in Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, preaches that breaking down tasks into small achievable goals leads to higher productivity. In an interview with CBS News, he says
“If you can see yourself getting these small wins, then you have a reason to continue working, and if you start in just a small way, you’re going to want to keep going.”
So, instead of telling yourself to complete an entire client deliverable by the end of the day, just focus on completing one PowerPoint slide in 10 minutes then pat yourself on the back. You’ve conquered your remote work distractions!
Day 9: Use the Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro technique is a popular time-management method created by Francesco Cirillo. I can confirm it’s a winner. I was able to stay focused and subsequently finish work in about three-fourths the amount of time I thought they would take. Essentially, the goal is to work in timed intervals that are spaced out by short breaks. The technique trains the brain to work in short sprints which ensures you are consistently productive. Set your timer for 25 minutes. For 25-minutes, you cannot let yourself succumb to remote work distractions. When the “Pomodoro” rings, put a check on your paper and take a 5-minute break. After four sets, take a slightly longer break for about 15-30 minutes. Wash and repeat! (So simple, a monkey could do it?)
Day 10: Incentivize yourself
As much as we would all like to consider ourselves to be complex multi-dimensional beings, we are as simple as dogs when it comes to our reward systems. To stay focused throughout the day, treat yourself to a coffee break or your favorite TV show but only after you reach a specific milestone. The anticipation of the reward will keep you on task and keep distractions at bay.
Try all of these tips in one day or introduce each method one at a time for ten consecutive days to improve your level of focus. You can even split the list in half and share it with a friend. Each of you can experiment with one task Monday through Friday and report back which ones worked best for your remote work situation. Remember doing something for 21 days straight creates a habit. We love to hear from our readers, so if you have any focusing tips to add or if you tried these tips, leave your comments below and let us know how it is working for you!
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