As Aristotle said, “it is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” The outbreak of COVID-19 has increased the number of professionals working from home, but many have never worked remotely and might find it difficult to focus at home. Making the switch to working remotely is one thing - doing it during a pandemic where our focus is naturally elsewhere and we’re worried about much larger things is something else.
When you’re working from home, distractions can come in all forms: our children, our pets, the news, and social media. That’s why we did our research and asked people how they stay focused when they work from home. Seasoned remote workers, health experts, and new homebodies came together to share their best advice, which we condensed into our list of ten tips for staying focused when you’re working from home.
Find Your Routine
Just as it’s important to actively disconnect at the end of your workday, so too is it important to reconnect in the morning. When we worked in a traditional office, we reconnected to work through our morning routines: Picking out our outfit for the day, getting ready and having breakfast, and commuting to the office all put us into work mode.
Now that we can literally roll out of bed and into our office chair without even changing out of pyjamas, our brains don’t have time to click into focus. Studies suggest that people who have mentally prepared for their work day start their day more in touch with their work goals and have a more focused, productive day as a result.
That’s why it’s so important to find your morning routine at home and stick to it: Take a shower, make breakfast, calmly sip your coffee and prepare to dive into the day’s activities.
Establish Clear Working Hours
When the lines between the living room and the office get blurry, it can help you focus if you establish clear working hours. According to one study, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than those who work in an office. That’s because it’s easy to keep working in the evenings, or to stretch your days longer because you do household chores during the day.
Stay focused by starting and ending your work day at the same time every day. At our office, we begin and end each day with a video chat where our team shares their goals or what they’ve accomplished. It helps to demarcate a clear time to start and end every day.
Medical Director at Mid City TMS, Dr. Bryan Bruno, recommends this explicitly: “Adjustments can be difficult, but try to find a new routine for yourself. Keep regular hours dedicated to your work, and find a space in your house or apartment where you can set up your computer.”
Creating a new routine might be hard, but settling into this new work pattern can help you focus and increase your productivity in the long run.
Take Short Breaks
Studies have shown that short, regular breaks have a positive effect on focus and productivity. The ideal work-to-break ratio was discovered to be 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of rest. You can also try the Pomodoro Technique which breaks down work into intervals (usually 25 minutes) followed by short breaks.
Finding what works best for you is an experimentation process, but muscling through your to-do list without giving your brain and body time to rest isn’t effective. Productivity, Time Management and Leadership Coach Alexis Haselberger recommends making your breaks intentional: “When you feel yourself becoming unfocused, that's a sign your brain and body need a break. So take one. But choose something specific to do on your break (like read 1 article, or check social media for 10 minutes) and stick to it.”
Set Realistic Goals
To-do lists with short goals you can quickly check-off can keep you feeling productive and focused. If you have a mountain of work ahead of you and don’t know where to start, chiseling it down to a few small tasks makes it less daunting.
That’s the advice we got from Stacy Caprio, Founder of Accelerated Growth Marketing: “One way I'm staying focused during COVID is setting a daily schedule alongside daily priorities on my to-do list and sticking to them. Setting a schedule and a few "must-do" tasks for each day keeps me focused and on-task, as opposed to bouncing around wondering what I should be doing.”
Take Time to Care for Yourself
Regardless of your work performance, it’s important to care for yourself. Self-care is anything that makes you happy, like going for a walk, crafting, watching a movie, aromatherapy, and chatting with friends and family.
Self-care has proven benefits, like improved cognitive ability (focus and concentration) and lowered stress, anxiety, and depression. The coronavirus has created a list of things we cannot do: Eat out, go to the movies, visit friends and family in person, etc. Something you can and should do is making time for yourself and finding joy whenever you can.
Designate a Workspace
When you choose to work remotely, chances are you have a designated office space in your home that facilitates focus and productivity. In this crisis period, many employees were forced to begin working from home without time to prepare a workspace.
Don’t let too many days go by without creating a space for work. Ideally, it’s in a quiet area of your house or apartment with a desk cleared of distractions. Professional Organizer and Productivity Coach, Rolanda Lokey, agrees: “Maintain a workspace that encourages focus. If necessary, adjust the lighting, declutter the desktop, and move all necessary work or study materials and supplies into the space.”
Plan Meals Ahead of Time
One of the biggest life changes people are experiencing as a result of staying home is figuring out what (and how) to cook! For those who relied on restaurants, fast food, or grocery shop subs to fuel their workday hunger cravings, cooking will now play a major role in their daily lives which can be stressful and time consuming.
Planning your meals ahead of time and having lunch waiting for you every day can keep you focused on work for longer. Meal prep was a game changer for Marketing Manager at Independent Fashion Bloggers Christian Antonoff: “Thinking about food, believe it or not, is a big distraction for me. What I will eat, how long it’s going to take me to cook it, and then the dishwashing - all of that really bothers me. So I plan these things right after breakfast or, in some cases, on the day before. It takes a big weight off my shoulders.”
Snooze the Notifications
Constant notifications - whether they’re work-related emails or Slacks or from your social media or news feeds - can be a major distraction when we work from home. Especially during the COVID-19 outbreak, our news feeds are constantly full of stressful content.
To stay focused at home, snooze the notifications! Put your phone on silent or, better yet, in a desk drawer. Haselberger recommends “turning off the notifications and instead set a few times a day to process your email and messages. This way, you can still be responsive, without losing focus.”
Start Moving or Meditating
Working from home every day has an obvious consequence: We move a lot less! Cutting out our morning commute or even walking around the office means things can get stagnant pretty quickly. That’s why it’s important for your brain and your body to get moving! Start the day with light, low impact exercise to get the blood flowing and feel a sense of achievement first thing in the morning.
If you want to switch it up, meditation has been proven to improve concentration and attention and relieve anxiety and depression. Whether you lace up your sneakers or roll out the yoga mat, caring for your physical self can do wonders for your mental health.
Socially Distance, Don’t Socially Isolate
Social distance does not mean social isolation! This time is stressful for everyone which can have an understandable impact on work and productivity. It can be helpful to realize we’re all in this together, and your friends and family are just a phone call away.
Psychotherapist and owner of JL Weaver & Associates, LLC, Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher recommends setting aside time for socializing virtually: “Jump on FaceTime or Skype each day with someone you care about - social distancing doesn't mean social isolation. Allowing yourself to socialize and knowing that you have that time set aside can actually make it easier during the day to focus on what you need to.”
Conclusion: How to Stay Focused When Remote Working
If you’re just starting to work from home and are having trouble focusing, we hope these tips will help you.
Make “work from home” work for you by creating a daily routine with clear hours for work and play, taking short breaks to do something you enjoy, setting realistic goals and rewarding yourself for meeting them with self care, designating a clear workspace free of distractions, planning your meals ahead of time, exercising or meditating, and keeping in touch with friends and family online.
Now more than ever, productivity in your professional life begins with taking care of your body and mind. Be gentle with yourself and others.