9 Easy ways to stay focused whilst working from home
I’m fairly certain that most people who are reading this blog will have either:
- Worked from home or
- Had a desire to work from home (or any location that isn’t a workplace for that matter!)
Lifestyle businesses are often started in your spare time and can evolve into full-time work, so I’ll aim to help you figure out how to start working from home. However, there are a number of challenges when working from home.
Mainly? Staying focused.
Focus is a tricky thing and as at the time of writing this article, this is my first day of being jobless (yesterday was my last day at work, you can read about how I left my job to pursue my dreams of location independence here) so being focused at home is crucial so that I can focus on my blog and business.
However staying focused whilst working from home can be hard so I’m going to go through 9 super easy ways to stay focused. Although these tips are aimed at people who are working from home these techniques can be used whilst travelling as well.
1. Set yourself a work schedule
When you are in a normal job, you have a start time and a finish time. Seems simple right? There are a number of reasons why we do that:
- To make sure you show up and complete a sufficient amount of work
- For consistency, so people can schedule when to meet with you or catch-up on work tasks
- To make sure a certain number of hours are completed
Well, that all makes sense for a regular job, but surely the appeal of working from home is that you don’t have to work on a schedule right?
That may be an appeal initially, but you can soon find that by not having a designated start and finish time you become very unproductive. In my first day of ‘working’ from home I woke up at 10am, ate breakfast, read some emails, and before I knew it, it was 12:30pm and I hadn’t done a single bit of productive work.
Watch out for the trap of not setting yourself a schedule; I advise setting up some non-negotiable working time. For me, I’m setting non-negotiable time to work from 9am-12pm on my blog, with the plan to eat breakfast and workout either before or after that time.
2. Divide up your tasks into themes
My mother is one of those organised ladies who has lists for absolutely everything. I’m not suggesting you have lists for everything, although making lists of different themes could work for you. What I’d like to suggest is batching similar tasks together, and then completing these tasks all at the same time.
By batching your tasks into themes, you can do similar work at the same time. Ultimately you will be more productive and less likely to get distracted down the rabbit hole (we’ve all had the experience of an email popping up, clicking on it, getting distracted and 2 hours later finding ourselves scrolling through some Reddit sub-forum. So easily done.)
An example of some similar tasks that can be batched together into a theme are:
These are all what I’d class as administration type activities. I’ve made a list of all administration style jobs that I need to do regularly, and I complete them on a specific day.
The types of categories you use for your lists can be specific to you, but a few examples shared with me by Heath Armstrong over at http://heatharmstrong.com are:
- Administration – As detailed above, these tasks are sometimes menial and can take up a lot of our time. I’d focus on doing the harder tasks when you are at your most productive and the jobs such as email towards the end of the day when you are feeling less focused.
- Deep Work – Deep work days focus on those tasks that you really need to get done and focus on; this can be great for if you need to create content such as blog posts or podcasts. You can batch these tasks (i.e complete lots at once) to get ahead for yourself.
- Media & Growth – Dedicate a day to growing your following and media. This could be anything from promoting social media to joining groups to spread the word about your blog or business. Having a specific day for growth can help you focus on completing that task.
- Education & Brand Creation – Personally one of the biggest distractions that stops me being focused is education. I’m not talking about heading back to school here… I’m talking about blog posts, videos, podcasts, anything that is teaching me something new. I’ve spent many a ‘working afternoon’ stuck in YouTube or Google learning about new techniques for growing my blog, without actually taking any actions on growing said blog.By setting aside specific time to educate yourself on a particular topic or on a few different topics, you eliminate the distraction throughout your other work days.
- Communication, Growth & Promotion – In any business, there is always going to be communication that takes place. Whether it’s reaching out to other communities and connecting, or guest posting for other bloggers sites, set aside time to complete all your communication tasks together. These can also be paired with Growth & Promotion at the same time. Often you’ll need to communicate to do these two tasks so it can make sense to pair them together.
Dividing my tasks into themes is one of the biggest changes I’ve made to my workflow this week and already I’m noticing a difference in my focus levels. Thanks Heath!
3. Ever heard of the rule of 52 & 17?
No this isn’t some weird game of number-wang (that’s an inside joke for the British readers or Mitchell & Webb fans)
The rule of 52 & 17 is all about taking breaks!
We should all know that taking regular breaks can lead to better productivity, but a recent experiment has shown that the most effective workers take a 17-minute break every 52 minutes.
I’d suggest using a productivity app such as DeskTime, their free version offers time and app tracking and can be used with mobile.
Check out DeskTime here
Don’t get me wrong, I think I can let you off if you are 5 minutes either side of these exact timings, but it’s no secret that taking regular breaks whilst working can lead to better focus. It’s even better if during that break you have a lovely glass of water… Which leads us neatly into our next point.
4. Stay hydrated
The human brain is made up of 85% water. Dehydration can be a major factor in becoming unfocused, so it makes sense that drinking regular water would help with focus.
Lots of studies have told us that drinking water improves focus, reaction time and general productivity. I’ve heard that the general advice is to try to drink 8 glasses of water a day (8oz glass for our American readers, 225ml for our European readers and half a pint for the brits!)
My suggestion is to try to drink water every time you take a break, as well as throughout the day. After all, they do say that water is the nectar of the gods.
5. Create a sacred space
I’ve often noticed that there are certain parts of my home that I’m more productive in than others.
The most unproductive space? The Kitchen.
Why? It’s very social.
The kitchen in our house is always buzzing with people coming and going and lots of chatting (I live in a 7 person house share currently, that’s a lot!). I’ve gotten this tip from Heath Armstrong from the Sweet Ass Journal (his journal is truly amazing at keeping you focused, check it out here).
When creating your sacred space think about a few key points:
- Set out an area in your home that is a ‘Work-Zone’ – When you are in this space you know it’s time to get to work. This space doesn’t have to be an office; I know a friend whose sacred space is an outside area where he can work on his laptop but be in the fresh air.
- Get rid of any distractions – Mobile phone? Turn it off. TV on in the background? Turn it off. Attention sucking friend or family in your space? Kick them out. You know the drill, these are all killers for focus. I’d even be tempted to shut down your internet if you don’t need it for your work, to avoid the world of online distractions.
- Make your sacred space high-energy – Don’t have a boring workspace! Something that helps to keep me focused when working from home is high-energy items. Fill your sacred space with artwork or wall tapestries, or any items that fill you with energy and happiness.
- Make your sacred space cosy! – Heath’s advice is to stack floor pillows or lay down colourful rugs or yoga blankets. Everybody likes different things, if you’re a floor person, rock the floor! If you’re a desk person, rock a desk!
Above all else, your sacred space is your area to focus and be productive so design it with focus in mind and put whatever helps you the most in it.
6. Focus on just 2 tasks for the day
This might sound controversial for you list junkies out there, but having a long To Do list can actually be something that’s making you unfocused. Here’s why.
When you have a long list of tasks, it can feel overwhelming. You’ve got so much to do!
So what a lot of people (me included) do to feel successful, is begin by ticking off the easy tasks. Check email, order stationary, call the office….soon your list shrinks and you feel like you’ve accomplished something. But this leaves you with an issue:
The really important tasks are left incomplete because they are the hardest to complete.
Instead of making a list every morning, I now select just the two tasks that are the most important to do. And I focus on them.
Just make sure the tasks you pick will help you progress towards your larger goals!
Having just two tasks to complete for the day helps you complete your two most important tasks everyday, just make sure these tasks you set help you progress towards your larger goals.
7. Manage your time effectively
Managing your time effectively does go hand in hand with focusing on just two tasks, and also with the 52 & 17 rule. Managing your time effectively is all about making a conscious effort on what you are going to spend your time on.
Why does this matter? Let’s say for example you say, I’m going to spend the morning working on a blog post. You may find that because that’s a large period of time, your time is unstructured and you end up focusing on tasks that don’t actually get that blog post written.
If you instead decided to say, I’m going to spend the next 45 minutes on just writing this post, you might find that 45 minutes later you have a large portion of that writing completed (just in time for your 17 minute break, you hard worker you).
Now i’m not saying that in 45 minutes you’ll magically get more work done but by having a structure and a focus on a single task as opposed to multiple tasks you are trying to complete in say 4 hours, you should find that breaking your time up into sections and focus on just one task at a time should help you be more productive and focused.
Managing your time effectively can be another tool in your arsenal to help you stay focused and complete your goals and tasks in plenty of time. Another approach which can be equally as productive as managing your time is something I call, single-tasking.
8. Be a Single-Tasking Sensation, not a Multi-Tasking Monster
Throughout my work career, and also in school, I always remember multi-taskers being highly praised.
“Isn’t Jennifer a gem, she’s managed to complete her homework and coach her little brother through his maths homework at the same time!” – However what they forgot to mention is if they’d focused all her attention on her homework, and then focused all her attention on her brother, both would have achieved a much greater level of focus and probably a better grade.
Don’t fall victim to the multi-tasking myth; by focusing on just one task at a time you will achieve a much greater level of focus. This will not only help you complete the task quicker but probably with a much greater amount of skill and detail.
Forget Jack of all trades, master of none. Be a single-tasking sensation.
9. Enter your Alpha state
Alpha what now?
This is a variation on a meditation technique which I’ve been using this week, and I’ve found it to be highly effective.
- Sit up straight in a chair in a relaxed position, make sure your back is straight, your feet are flat on the floor and your arms are either rested on your lap or on an armrest.
- Close your eyes and visualise yourself in a place that makes you feel calm and serene.
- Whilst still visualising, take deep breaths. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Try to do this at a slow pace. I always aim for 5 seconds breathing in, hold my breath for 5 seconds, breath out for 5 seconds, hold my breath for 5 seconds. Do this multiple times until you feel calm.
- When you feel calm, whilst you are inhaling with your eyes still closed, look up (this activates your visual cortex). Whilst exhaling, look down and open your eyes slowly. Try to do all of this at the same tempo that you have been breathing at.
- Congratulations, you are now in Alpha-State. This highly focused state will help your brain focus on whatever you choose to do. What does this actually mean? The next tasks you aim to complete will be much easier to focus on, and you won’t get distracted as easily.
Time to put your ways to focus into practice
Thank you for taking the time to read this article and I hope that you can use some of these tips to help you focus more at home, I know I’m going to be using them in the coming weeks!
Please let me know in the comments any other tips you use to help stay focused either at home or on the road whilst travelling.