13 MIN READ
Staying Focused When You're Working From Home
Deal With Distractions to Get Everything Done
Mark's boss has agreed that he can work away from the office three days a week and, this morning, he set up his laptop on the kitchen table, ready to tackle the long list of things he needs to do. But, eight hours later, that list hasn't changed much! What's he been doing all day?
Working from home can be highly productive, but it can also go badly wrong. Without a proper office space, a prioritized schedule, and on-the-spot supervision, it's all too easy to be distracted, and to get very little done – like Mark!
In this article and video, we explore ways to avoid the pitfalls, conquer distractions, and stay professional and productive while you're working from home.
Cutting yourself off from domestic distractions can help to improve your productivity.
Benefits and Challenges of Working From Home
Increasingly, home is being seen as the most productive place to work. A 2019 survey of 1,004 full-time employees across the U.S., including 505 remote workers, found that employees who worked from home worked an average of 16.8 more days every year than those in an office.
The benefits of home working include:
- Not suffering the distractions of office life, such as phone calls, meetings and interruptions from colleagues.
- Being able to adjust your working environment to match your preferences and needs, which can help you to stay more relaxed and boost your morale.
- Doing tasks in the way that suits you best, allowing you to work more efficiently, creatively – and enjoyably.
In an experiment at Ctrip, a NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency, home working was shown to deliver a 13 percent improvement in performance. There were other positives, too, including greater job satisfaction, and significantly less staff absence and turnover.
However, there are also several challenges to consider if you're going to work from home:
- Home-based work comes with its own distractions, especially if other people – or even pets – are nearby.
- You may struggle to be productive when you're unsupervised.
- Working from home can create an "always on" mindset, causing people to work too long and too hard.
- Consider whether working from home is really for you. It may provide a welcome respite from a busy office environment, but it could lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation in the long term.
If you decide that home working is for you, the rest of this article explains how to do it well. You'll need to create suitable conditions, and also get into the right habits, to keep focused and effective throughout every day you work from home.
One way to find out whether home working would suit you is to take The Big Five Personality Traits Model test. This analyzes aspects of your personality that will have a big impact on your success, such as how conscientious and independent you are.
Stay Focused at Home
The distractions of home, along with the isolation that often comes with remote working, can cause you to lose focus and to damage your productivity.
Here are five key ways to stop that happening:
- Motivate yourself. Self-motivation techniques can help you to boost your confidence, think positively, and set clear goals.
- Minimize distractions. Which distractions tend to affect you most? Maybe you get caught up doing household chores, or suffer interruptions from family or friends. Beating these distractions could be as simple as shutting the door!
- Reward yourself. Find ways to make each task more enjoyable and rewarding in itself, as well as giving yourself "treats" when they're done. For example, allow yourself your favorite specialty coffee for completing a task successfully.
- Control your social media. Think carefully about which notifications to keep on, and which to mute until later. Allocate time slots for checking your phone. And, if you're still struggling, see if tools like Freedom® or Cold Turkey Writer™ help you to control your time online.
- Know your goals. Along with short-term, task-related goals, make sure that you're also clear about the wider career goals and purpose you're striving to achieve. Keeping these in mind will motivate you to do your best work, whatever your location.
Create a Workspace That Works!
Creating an effective workspace is essential if you want to stay on track and get things done.
Make it a place where you'll enjoy spending time. However, you also need to be clear that it's a place of work. A few "office" touches might encourage you to be more productive – but you can still personalize your workspace, with fun posters or family photos.
Check that you can sit comfortably. If not, you'll likely find plenty of excuses to get up and go somewhere else! A high-quality office chair is one of the best investments you can make.
The other important piece of equipment is a door that you can close! It's almost impossible to work effectively at home if there are other people nearby. So, if you have the available space, be assertive and shut out potential distractions.
At the very least, arrange your work area so that distractions aren’t in your line of view – including any partner who’s also working from home!
The next essential element of focused home working is getting organized.
Start with your desk. Is it big enough? And is it suitable for the work you do?
Next, make sure that you have everything you need within easy reach.
It's easy to lose focus if you're working on several different projects at once. Even when you're at home, organize your work into clearly defined Action Programs, with specific deadlines to help you to stay on track.
And keep your workspace tidy. Spend a few minutes at the end of each session sorting out things like paperwork or empty coffee cups. Clear away as much of it as you can when you switch off for the day.
Manage Your Time
Effective time management is essential if you want to continue hitting your deadlines when you're working from home.
It's also a good idea to have a list of "in between" tasks. These are relatively minor jobs that should take 10 minutes or less to complete, and which you can fit into your day when a gap opens up. And don't forget to take breaks regularly.
Keep tabs on how much time you spend on each task by setting up an activity log. This lets your manager know how you're spending your time. It should also help you to see when you're at your most productive, so that you can carry out complex tasks during those parts of the day.
To learn more about how to track your time, see our article, Accounting for Time. You might also like to explore our other tools on Time Management, to help you to manage your time effectively when you're working from home.
Take Charge of Communication
To stay focused at home, you need to be in control of communication – otherwise, it might start to control you!
Find appropriate times to "check in" with your managers and co-workers. Small problems can often be dealt with there and then, allowing you to work uninterrupted afterward.
You likely need to experiment with communication in the early days of working from home. You'll want to avoid distractions, but neither should you "disappear." Over time, you'll discover the right levels of interaction that builds your manager's trust in your productivity, and so prevent micromanagement on their part.
If possible, redirect your office phone to your personal cell, and let colleagues, customers and suppliers know how best to reach you at home. That way, you'll be able to take important calls, but switch to your message service when you don't want to be disturbed.
Tools like Slack™, WhatsApp™ and Skype™ may provide a more direct means for you to contact other team members, and vice versa – and you can set your status to "busy" whenever you need to.
Staying connected can be particularly challenging when other team members are also working from home. Our article, "Working in a Virtual Team," has advice about managing communications and maintaining strong working relationships.
Balance Work and Life
If you still find yourself losing focus when you're working from home, check that you're not trying too hard! It can be difficult to resist the urge to overcompensate for not being in the office, by working longer than you normally would, or by missing out on breaks.
But it's essential that you continue to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and the following six tips should help:
- Create physical boundaries. If possible, set up a workspace that's separate from your home space. This should make it easier to shut out the everyday distractions of home life, and to cut off from work at the end of each day.
- When you're working, act like it! You might find it helps to have particular clothes for working at home. Dressing for work can set the right mental tone for the day (and avoid the awkwardness of being dialed in to a virtual meeting while you're still in your pajamas!). Also, avoid going into certain areas of the home, or sitting in certain chairs, for example, so that you know when you're in "work mode," and when you're not.
- Have "no-go" zones for technology. Laptops and cellphones can be useful for staying in touch with co-workers, but they can also leave us feeling as though we're "always on." This can lead to stress and burnout. So, try to set up "no-go" zones when work devices are banned, such as mealtimes, holidays and the two hours before bed every night, to avoid sleep disruption.
- Set break reminders. Regular short breaks can help to keep you energized and focused. Try setting a countdown timer while you do an hour of work. When the alarm goes off, reward yourself with a five- or 10-minute break – to make a coffee, or get some fresh air. It's vital that you get out of your chair during the day. See our article, Improving Health and Physical Well-Being at Work, for tips on building activity into your routine.
- Help your children to let you work. Set up the most reliable childcare you can, and encourage your children not to disturb you when you're working. However, don't be too rigid: one of the great joys of working from home is being there when they get back from school.
- Commute to your home office! Consider taking a short walk before starting your working day. Even a 10-minute stroll could energize you, and help to create a break between home tasks and work tasks.
There are numerous advantages to working from home. But there are many challenges, too, such as staying focused and doing your best work.
Find ways to motivate yourself to work positively and productively. Highlight things that will likely distract you, and take steps to deal with them. Set up a workspace that's comfortable and appropriate for your job, and do everything you can to limit interruptions.
Organize your day as clearly as you would at the office, including allowing yourself breaks. Maximize your time by creating To-Do Lists, and by managing the distractions of home life.
Keep the lines of communication open between you and your boss and other team members, but also make it clear when you don't want to be disturbed.
Doing too much at home can be as problematic as doing too little! So, create "no-go" zones for work devices, take regular breaks, and have a door that you can shut on your work at the end of the day.