It’s who-knows-what day of social distancing and, if you’re like many people, you’re struggling to keep yourself focused.
You may have started this work-from-home experiment with high hopes of calibrating both your work responsibilities and your downtime aspirations, but instead, you’re just plain distracted.
The logistics of finding a comfortable space, carving out time to concentrate, and making it clear to your roommates/spouse/children that you are working is a painstakingly learned art, rather than a formulaic science.
Moreover, amid the current COVID-19 crisis, our definitions of productivity are going through a transformation. A lack of physical office space and casual conversations have collapsed the normal structure of what keeps us collectively on task, or what some experts call “private paternalism.”
Looking to master your focus and cut out all those remote-work distractions? The following expert tips will steer you in the right direction.
1. Fight the urge to multitask
There are a million distractions when you are hunkered down at home—that pile of dishes from this morning, the siren call of Netflix on your computer, and, scattered around you, your devices buzz with notifications.
But when you get down to it, not all of these distractions are important. More likely, your mind is assigning significance to tasks and activities that should be several notches down on your to-do list.
People prone to constant multitasking are not, as assumed, short on attention, but more likely need to improve their prioritization skills. If this sounds like you, pinpoint your most important tasks and make sure you address them before the day is over.
2. Schedule your time
An extension of prioritizing, clearly attributing time for tasks is one way to limit distractions. If you break down your day into defined blocks of time, you’re less likely to get distracted.
To excel at this, allow yourself a mix of both work and social interactions. Fill your day with a mix of practical check-ins with your employees or managers—but also include time to socialize with coworkers. Casual run-ins with colleagues are now missing, so you may have to be intentional about making up the difference by piping up on Slack, or taking a walk and calling your mom (which she will appreciate too).
3. Let go of what you can’t control
Live and let live. This tip may seem out of a self-help book, but it applies to time management just as much as shedding emotional baggage.
As Kyle Cease, author of I Hope I Screw This Up: How Falling in Love With Your Fears Can Change the World, told Fast Company, the more you try to exert control over something completely out of your hands, the more stress you will feel.
To avoid these uncomfortable feelings, your mind will seek out distractions. Sometimes this will mean diving into a huge time-waster that leaves you confused at how you ended up off task for hours. Says Cease, “Something outside of you is pulling you away from yourself or a goal. But the distraction is actually on the inside.” By letting go of what you can’t control, you will “open yourself up to opportunities.”
4. Warm up your brain
It’s okay to need some time before you get started checking things off your to-do list. If you allow your brain to warm up a bit before “eating the frog,” you’ll feel more motivated and less tempted by distractions.
Aaron Britt, who leads the editorial team at Herman Miller, told Fast Company that he and his coworkers always start the day with a few rounds of a word game before diving into their need-to-do’s. Granted, Britt points out the game delivers very little output, but what it does do is maximize a time of the day where distraction can easily swoop in.
5. Establish clear boundaries
Do external forces—such as in-person office meetings—usually help dictate your schedule? If so, develop strict parameters for yourself when working from home, focusing on guarding the time when you’re “on the clock.”
Consider what characteristics of the office suit you best, and adapt them to your new work space. This can apply to the organization of your home office, or how you set expectations with family or roommates.
Laura Stack, the founder of the Productivity Pro, says personal quirks are important. She tells Fast Company to “create and maintain the boundaries that will acknowledge your personality and allow you to be your best.”
Along with your space, consider the times when you are naturally most productive. Career coach Elizabeth Whittaker-Walker says, “If your freshest thinking is before noon, save meetings or intense work periods for the first part of the day. Cross off the day’s objectives as you complete them.”
6. Know your triggers
To that point, be aware of certain workplace stressors, which trigger your most time-wasting behaviors. Oftentimes, you’re not able to recognize these stressful emotions immediately, so pose a few helpful questions to yourself, such as “What was it that stressed me out just now?” and “What am I trying to avoid here?” A purposeful amount of self-reflection will prevent you from falling down a rabbit hole of YouTube playlists instead.
7. Turn off your devices for deep focus
If you’re prone to reach for devices when the stress sets in, try your best to create safeguards to ensure you aren’t tempted by technology.
This can be particularly difficult when working from home, considering it’s all on you to fight off these urges. Michael Dermer, founder of the Lonely Entrepreneur, previously told Fast Company, “You have to bring the discipline to keep these distractions away from you at home just like you would in the office.”
Fast Company contributor and seasoned freelance writer Lindsay Tigar takes things to another level by turning her Wi-Fi off entirely when she needs to deeply focus.
8. Listen to your body
Just as there are times when you are at your best, there are times when you genuinely hit a wall. Eliminating distractions can come down to knowing when you’re no longer able to focus. So when your body feels less than energetic and your brain has reached its limit, listen.
Colin Doherty, CEO of software platform Fuze, told Fast Company that it’s important to pay attention to when it’s time to wind down, since your body needs time to reset for the more productive hours: “Being engaged is very important, but taking time to decompress can help you make your time online more valuable.”