Working from home may be a blessing or curse depending on how you look at it. On the one hand, you have the luxury to work in your pajamas and save time, gas and money on a long commute. On the other hand, staying focused on critical tasks is certainly not without its challenges. Dishes pile up in the sink. Spouses, kids, pets or anyone else who lives with you can become a distraction. How can one stay focused and productive while working from home? Here are 7 ways.
1. Know your productivity patterns. What times are you most productive? Do you find yourself getting more done in the morning or the evening? If you don’t know, time track your activities for the next three days and take note of your energy levels during those tasks to hone in on when you do your best work. Then you could allocate that time slot to activities that require more eagle eye focus than others.
2. Designate regular working hours and stick to them. Sure, you’re the boss and can do whatever you want. However, if you don’t set some clear boundaries on when you work and don’t work, you may find yourself working all the time. By establishing office hours for yourself, you let housemates know when you’re not to be disturbed and clients when you’re available to answer calls and inquiries. By the same token, clients will know not to bug you at 9pm on a Saturday night when you’re coming home from a movie with friends and family.
3. Distraction-proof your workspace. Find a space in your home where you can close the door behind you for those designated work hours. Ideally, this would be a spare room or guest bedroom with space for a desk. Have no space where you can close the door? Find a quiet corner or a place where you can work undisturbed. Have noise cancelling headphones you can put on while you work to tune non-work related noises, such as lawnmowers, barking pets or sirens depending on where you live. Still distracted? Play your favorite music, use your white noise app or coffeehouse background. The Spotify app also has a playlist for productivity and coffeehouse themed music.
4. Declutter your work space regularly. While not a super-urgent task, clutter can act as a visual distraction and keep you from doing your best work. During breaks and downtime, take 5-10 minutes to delete unnecessary emails, apps and docs on your computer desktop. Also get rid of any junk mail or non-important papers that can cause an eyesore and distract you from the task at hand.
5. Complete your Most Important Tasks (or MIT’s) first thing. Limit these to 3-4 task items before getting through everything else on the list. Of those tasks, include one “frog” or more difficult task. Personal Development Expert Brian Tracy coined this phrase “eat your frogs” and this will help you get productive. Once you get those done, it’s all smooth sailing. Like if your main goal this quarter includes writing a book to promote at your next speaking event, then spend the first 30 minutes of the day writing 3-4 pages. If social media marketing for your brand is your focus, allocate the first 30 minutes learn how to improve this skill on apps like Coursera or Skillshare and decide how to apply to your own business.
6. Use the Pomodoro Technique. using the “sprint-rest” approach. Set a kitchen or iPhone timer for 25 minutes where you concentrate on the task at hand, and follow up with a 5-minute break. (You could also opt for 50/10 minutes or set your own focus time/rest intervals.) During the focus session, strive not to get up, check social media or use the restroom. Put your cell phone on airplane mode and work through until the timer goes off. Once the timer goes off, take 5 minutes to go outside for a quick walk, use restroom, stretch check the phone, get a snack etc.
7. Reward yourself for all your hard work. While it’s great to finish one huge task, it’s also great to appreciate the incremental tasks to keep you going. Upon finishing all your tasks for the day, treat yourself to something nice (preferably non-workrelated), like a long walk in the park, dinner with friends, a trip to the movie theater, whatever your pleasure. Scheduling downtime is great for recharging the batteries and keeping stress levels low.
While working from home is great, distractions are inevitable, especially if you share a home. Having a game plan in place can help you keep interruptions to a minimum. What one tip will you work on this week to help keep you focused and productive?
Lori Rochino is a Freelance Writer and Marketing Communications Professional based in the greater Philadelphia area. Her work has appeared in both national (SUCCESS, Huffington Post, YFS Magazine) and local outlets. She’s the author of Fifty Shades of Simple: How to Prioritize in the Age of Information Overload. Her own struggle with overwhelm and information overload led her to the declutter coaching and productivity world where she aims to use the 80/20 rule in almost everything she does. Connect with her at lorirochino.com or listen to her podcast Simply Designed Life on iTunes.