How to Stay Focused Working from Home
Working from home can be extremely liberating. No daily commute, no unnecessary meetings, and you can work in your pyjamas!
But working from home can also be full of distractions and intensely lonely.
As someone who works from home a lot, I’ve had to learn how to be disciplined and focused, as there is no-one else to keep me on track. Being your own boss sounds like a dream, but getting up and arriving at your desk, ready to work each day, isn’t always easy.
What We Do Today Matters
We are gifted with a finite amount of mental energy each day by the gods of sleep.
We all have personal and professional projects that we’d like to get through. But it is so easy to procrastinate and be distracted.
So how can we dedicate our mental energy towards important pursuits? Can we achieve our goals efficiently, calmly and with a smile on our face?
Life should not be entirely based on work and productivity. But life is also simply a collection of days, so what we do today to reach our goals matters.
Here are my top tips for staying focused when working from home to help make each day count. It’s especially handy to remember when there are things you do not want to do but have to!
1. Write a timed daily schedule
If you are working for yourself at home, write a timed daily schedule for yourself, from 9am to 5pm.
Include all your personal tasks and errands too, as well as meal times and exercise times, to make sure you are staying healthy and well-rested throughout the day.
Remember – there is no point in being your own boss if you treat yourself badly!
When you chunk up your day like this, you clearly set out what you want to accomplish and allocate a sensible amount of time to deal with tasks.
Of course, unplanned interruptions occur and some tasks take longer than expected, and this is ok! The schedule does not need to be followed by the minute, or even by the hour. It is there just to help you focus.
2. Schedule breaks, meal times and exercise
I put this as a separate tip because it is so important for someone that works from home.
I’m not exactly sure why, but I’ve always felt guilty about having breaks.
To combat this, I had to schedule breaks into my daily schedule, as I would often work until I had no more energy left to give. I was skipping meals fuelled only by tea and coffee. Unsurprisingly, I would be left in a state of sheer exhaustion and brain fog by mid-afternoon.
Get away from work by taking a walk, having a nap or popping to the gym. Brain fog is something we all struggle with, and I seem to get it every day!
When this happens, it is easy to take a break when you work from home. Working to your own rhythm and looking after yourself is what it’s all about!
3. Understand your most and least productive times
Capitalise on surges of productive energy. Do work which you feel inspired to do at the time. When you feel that spark or a sudden rush of motivation, harness it. That is when the magic happens.
Schedule your most important task first and batch similar tasks together. Do menial tasks after lunch. Think about your own patterns of working. And don’t be overly ambitious. Be realistic about what you can achieve during working hours.
Sometimes it is not effective to work at all. No matter how long you stare at the screen, nothing of value gets produced. When this happens, try not to chastise yourself for being unproductive. Get a change of scenery and come back when you feel better.
Remember – move, rest or eat – to improve your physical and mental energy.
Know your best working hours and protect them at all costs. For me it’s the hours of 9am to 12pm. This is my most productive period, and I avoid meetings or phone calls during this time.
Although I don’t always stick to this, I try to only reply to emails and look at social media at set points in the day. Harnessing your attention and productive energy is the ultimate goal when it comes to working from home, and social media steals this away from you.
Once you start working from home more often, you will start to understand your natural working rhythms and be able to create a schedule around this to maximise your most productive times.
4. Have a dedicated work space (not your bed!)
A clear desk makes for a clear head.
Make sure your workspace is well lit, ideally with natural light, and open the window once in a while to get fresh air in. Have meals prepared in the fridge for lunch, so you are not distracted by having to go to the shops.
Make your workspace at home a haven for work. Treat yourself to nice stationary and a good laptop. If you like to work with music, get a good set of speakers or headphones. Have a nice work mug and a comfortable office desk chair. Organise your files properly.
By keeping things tidy and organised, working from home will happen a lot easier and you will approach it with a lot less dread. There will be fewer barriers to arriving at your desk and starting important work.
If you work from home, you will spend many hours here, so make it as nice an environment as you can.
5. Just starting
This is probably the hardest part of working from home – arriving and starting work. But once you start, soon you’ll want to carry on.
It’s a vicious cycle when you feel unproductive and unmotivated. The less you do, the worse you feel, and the less you do.
But a little positive action in the right direction helps to break the cycle. I’ve procrastinated so much having to write course materials, blog posts and emails. But starting small always helps me to get back on track.
If you write your daily schedule and lose momentum at any point (this happens to me most days), think about the small wins, and start with them first. Move on to the bigger tasks as you gain momentum.
6. Focus on one task at a time
See each task to completion the best you can. Then move onto the next.
Avoid flitting between two or more tasks. Close down multiple open tabs on your internet browser and focus just on what’s in front of you.
Try not to rush work. You will end up doing the same job twice! What feels like being hyper-productive at the time will cause you more problems in the end.
Mono-tasking is the best way to make progress on your daily schedule and will help you to avoid feelings of overwhelm and overwork.
Enjoying Working From Home
Working from home certainly isn’t for everyone. But it can have enormous benefits for work-life balance, mental health and wellbeing to work from home once in a while.
Being your own boss means you get to decide where and when you work. For a low-cost option to renting office space, perhaps consider creating a home workspace?