Career Development

How to Stay Focused When You Work from Home

Jun 30, 2020

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Previously, working from home was an attractive option for many professionals. Today—as the coronavirus outbreak rages around the world—it is official government guidance. Any job that could conceivably be done remotely, should be. It’s a measure that was unthinkable just a few months ago, yet the benefit for homeworkers is clear: 1) Remote work means protecting yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19. 2) You still have a job. (Thousands—if not millions—of people across the food and drink, hospitality, leisure and entertainment sectors globally aren’t so lucky.)

The advantages don’t stop there. There’s the extra comfort, distinct lack of commute, and luxury of setting the temperature to the precise degree you like; no compromise. And yet, homeworking is no party. Doing your job outside a traditional office brings its own set of challenges—like dodging distraction, bad habits and staying focused. In this article, we’ll outline five steps to improving the way you work from home. Follow the advice, and you’ll ensure you don’t merely survive your new work environment, but thrive.

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How to boost productivity when working from home

1. Have a designated workspace

Whether your new office is a quiet room with a door, or a small corner in your kitchen, be sure to name it as your dedicated workspace. Doing so allows you to mentally ‘clock in’ at the start of the day, and separate this area from the rest of your home, even if only in your mind.

Make sure your chosen workspace is organised, free from clutter and, if possible, bathed in natural light. Since you’ll be spending many hours here each day, try to make it (for want of a better word) homely, with photos and artwork, as well as anything you may need throughout the day. Don’t fall into the trap of retrieving items from the kitchen or bedroom every 15-minutes—it’s a sure fire way to getting distracted by something shiny, like the fridge (specifically, what’s inside it) or TV (specifically, trashy but addictive daytime shows).

2. Set up a schedule

Depending on the role, working from home often affords the luxury of deciding when you work. Use this to your maximum advantage, and choose your most focused and productive hours. If you’ve always been a night owl—where mornings are the enemy, and you’d only get warmed up at the office as it was time to go home—embrace it. More importantly, stick to your chosen work schedule (even if it is 7pm till four in the morning). This provides a routine, as well as clear times for your bosses and colleagues to contact you.

One way to stay focused is to structure your day as if you were at the office. You wouldn’t fire off endless Twitter DMs while in full view of your boss, so don’t do it while working at home. Save washing up, Skyping a friend or finishing that book for your lunch hour (and, yes, you should take a full hour) or after work.

On the other hand, fixed ‘office hours’ at home will also stop you working yourself into the ground. When it’s time to finish for the day, do. Switch off your laptop and work emails, and don’t return to them—or your workspace—until tomorrow.

3. Get dressed and organised for the day

A key ingredient for success as a remote worker is keeping positive habits. Getting up, showered and dressed for work will force you into a professional mindset. If you roll out of bed, hungry and unwashed, then start your working day through squinted eyes, it’ll probably turn out as well as if you did this in an office.

Also, start each day with a to-do list. Put it in a place you can see it, then tackle your largest, most unenjoyable job first. The satisfaction of ticking this off early doors will give you a warm dose of dopamine, which in turn provides the momentum to achieve more. As you see the list get smaller, you’ll feel even more productive, keeping your motivation in perpetual motion.

4. Set boundaries

You tell them time and time and time again. And yet family and friends still think that, because you work at home, you’re always free for a catch-up. Politely (but firmly) tell them that your remote job carries the exact same responsibilities as it did in an office. If you’re home with your partner, tell them: “I’ll be at my computer from X-o’clock to Y, and must not be disturbed. It’d be great to have lunch together (Note: only say this if you actually want to split that bowl of leftover pasta), but other than that I’ll be busy.”

Of course, there will be times when someone gets in touch unexpectedly, especially in chaotic times like these. If so, be diplomatic (not rude), and entertain the conversation for a minute or two, as you would a colleague who stopped by your desk. Then, if it’s clear the call isn’t urgent, say you’ve got work to crack on with, and what time they can call back (Note: only do this if you actually want to speak later).

5. Take breaks

Hitting pause on a productive day work may sound counterproductive, but routine breaks actually help you focus. Besides, you didn’t work for nine, uninterrupted hours in the office, so why start now? Short breaks to make a coffee, stretch or go outside for some desperately-needed vitamin D air will refuel you. This is what will help powers you through the rest of your day.

One way to structure clear breaks into your day is the celebrated Pomodoro Method. Work on a single task for 25-minutes, with no distractions whatsoever. Then, take five-minutes off to do anything you please. Repeat this for three more cycles, then take a further 15-minutes for yourself. Hey, you’ve earned it. Countless successful people swear by Pomodoro, and once you’ve stuck to it for a few days, you may, too.

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