Working from home is not all instagram and bon-bons. It’s often more like crying babies, house chores, and hours of time wasted reading articles on Wikipedia. Unless you’re one of the few disciplined people who can stay focused in a distracting environment, you will likely not be nearly as productive as you could be. Especially if you’re new to working from home.
So here are some tips for staying focused and productive when working from home.
Make a mental separation when you go to work.
A big part of staying productive when working from home is the mental game. Our brains are designed to associate actions with places. So when we’re at home, we’re pre-disposed to do actions we do at home, and not actions we would do at the office. This leads to losing focus more easily and getting sucked back into home life. The best ways to avoid this are to create mental and physical steps of going to work. Here’s what that can look like:
Dress like you’re going to work
The act of dressing up for work helps prepare your mind to be in work mode. Although it’s fun to loaf around in your pajamas, you might find yourself eating cereal until 11am. Just wearing your work clothes reminds you that you’re “at work” and helps you stay focused. In the same way, changing your clothes when you’re off work can help you relax.
Work at a desk
If you plop down on the couch or in front of a TV, this will strengthen the idea that you’re at home, and thus it will be harder to focus on work. You may not have a desk, but even if you designate an area where you will work (even just a certain chair at a certain spot) this can help you mentally “go to work” and be more focused while you’re there.
You’re not home
It is incredibly easy to get sucked-in to normal home life when working from home. Obviously, if you hear your partner struggling with the baby, you will feel guilty if you don’t rush over and help. Or if someone knocks at the door, you may feel guilty if you don’t answer. This is perfectly understandable and exactly what will kill your productivity. It is difficult, but it will help a lot if you can agree with your family or roommates that you have to focus on work during your work hours. The best way to do this is to have a room designated for your work and close the door. In lieu of that, noise canceling headphones or just normal headphones are a good way to indicate that you’re working and you need to focus. If complete isolation is impractical, it may help to agree on times when you’ll take a break and help out with the kids.
Have a plan for your work
The old saying is true: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. This is true even at the office, but much more so in your home. When there are lots of distractions around, there is an even greater need to be clear about what you plan to get done today. A little intentionality in this area can go a long way.
To fight off the many distractions you will face, take the first 10-15 minutes of your day and plan out what you will do. Basically, all you need to do is brainstorm a list of your important and urgent tasks. Then put a time estimate next to each one. Then add them to your schedule for the day. This will help you stay on track when you find yourself 10 cat videos deep into a YouTube binge “research session.”
The Action Plan pad is specifically designed to help you plan your tasks and maximize your daily productivity.
Here’s a video we made to help you plan your day and be 100% more productive:
Here are some tips for sticking with your plan:
Keep the plan right next to your computer, so it can act as a gentle reminder of what you want to be doing.
Set a timer so that every thirty minutes you are looking back at your plan to make sure you’re still on track
Don't abandon the plan, modify it. When you deviate from the plan, which happens often, don’t entirely abandon the plan, just edit it to reflect your new priorities. If you get far off the plan, it can be easy to decide to completely disregard it, but at the end of the day, you’ll wish you had stuck with it. So just physically edit it: cross out the task you skipped and, if it’s important, try to adjust the plan to fit that task in elsewhere.
Studies have shown that trying to maintain focus for multiple hours on a task is a losing battle; your brain gets exhausted and becomes less efficient and more easily distracted. You’ll have BETTER results if you work in smaller chunks and take breaks. Just like physical exercise, this gives your brain the rest it needs to keep going stronger, longer.
A handy productivity method that incorporates breaks into your schedule is the Pomodoro Technique. This is simply a method of organizing your time into 25 minute chunks of work (called a pomodoro), separated by 5 minute breaks. Here’s the technique:
Step 1. Decide what to work on next
Step 2. Set a 25 minute timer, and only work on that thing for the next 25 minutes (stiff-arm any distractions that come up, or schedule them for later).
Step 3. Make a check mark on your action pad, celebrating your completed work
Step 4. Take a 5 minute break
Step 5. Every 4 pomodoros (~2 hrs), take a longer 15-30 min break.
Working from home sounds fun, but it can be challenging to be as productive as you would be at the office. Employing these tips will help you focus on what’s important and get more done. If you need a tool to plan your tasks and keep your day on track, try the Action Plan pad! It’s the best $12 you’ll ever spend on being more productive.