How To Focus While Working From Home | GUEST POST

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Introduction:

In 2014, I answered a Craigslist ad that started my work-at-home journey. (Yes, I know that sounds super sketchy, but it turned out to be a legitimate job opportunity). I became a virtual assistant, working from home on my own terms.

If working from home and spending all day in your pajamas sounds fun, that’s because it is! However, I soon discovered that if I wasn’t careful, I wouldn’t get anything done.

Working at home can be flexible, but sometimes that flexibility comes at a price. At home, there are distractions that you wouldn’t normally have at an office, like kids, pets, and partners. Unless you’re diligent about staying focused, it’s nearly impossible to get work done.

Having worked from home for several years now, I’ve refined my work-at-home schedule to maximize my productivity. (And, in case you’re wondering, I’ve upgraded my PJ’s to yoga pants).

Here are some productivity tips to help you minimize distractions and focus while working from home.

 

How to Focus While Working From Home


Create a schedule

When you work from home, it’s important to make schedule for yourself and stick to it. This will allow you to prioritize your tasks, focus one thing at a time, and minimize distractions.

Creating a productive schedule includes setting your working hours and prioritizing your tasks, and knowing when to take breaks.

Working Hours

Since you work from home, you can set your own working hours. Your availability should accommodate your clients’ needs as well as your own schedule and preferences.

Scheduling Time for Your Clients

It’s helpful to be available when your clients are online so that you can reach each other as needed. A little bit of phone or email tag never hurt anyone. However, it’s also undeniably satisfying being able to communicate quickly without waiting until the next day for a response.

That being the case, if all of your clients live in California, you might work Pacific Time hours, regardless of where you live. If all of your clients live in different time zones, try to have a few hours of overlap in case you need to schedule any calls with your clients.

For example, I currently live in the Mountain Time Zone, but I have clients in the Pacific, Central, and Eastern time zones. In my case, I’ve found that working from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm Mountain Time ensures that all of my clients can reach me during normal business hours.

Scheduling Time for Yourself

Your schedule should also take into consideration any unique circumstances. For example, if you have children that you need to drop off and pick up from school, you might work a split shift (early morning and late afternoon or evening), so that you can be there for your family when they need you.

I’ve personally found that I can’t take any meetings before 10:00 am, simply because I’m not a morning person. I’m not as mentally sharp that early in the morning! I’ve also found that my mental clarity declines after dinner time. By setting my working hours for the times when I’m at my best, I can ensure that my clients get that best quality of work from me.

Enforce Your Working Hours

Once you’ve set your working hours, enforce them. Let your friends, family, and clients know which days of the week and which hours you’ll be working.

Setting Boundaries with Clients

Your clients need to know when you’re available so they know when they can reach you. It’s also a good idea to list your working hours in your client contract, so that there are clear expectations and boundaries. If for any reason a client insists on your completing work outside of your normal hours, you can refer back to your contract.

Although it might be tempting to indulge every client request, don’t be afraid to say no. If a client asks for a 7:00 am meeting when you’re not even out of bed at that time, say no. If a client requests a last-minute project at 9:00 pm at night, say no. And, if a client calls or texts you a zillion times in a row, maybe you need to find a new client…

Yes, you need clients to help you pay your bills, and yes, you want to do a good job, but nothing is worth jeopardizing your sanity. If they’re the right type of client, they’ll respect your boundaries. There will always be more clients, but there’s only ONE you!

Setting Boundaries with Family and Friends

Ever have a friend or family member interrupt you or ask for favors in the middle of the day because you’re the only one they know that’s at home? Well, enforcing your working hours goes for them as well.

Even though you’re at home, that doesn’t mean that you’re available. After all, you’re working. If you worked at regular office, they wouldn’t stop by unannounced and demand your attention, would they?

Remind your friends and loved ones that even though you’re at home, you’re not available for random phone calls, errands, or other projects. Let them know what your working hours are, and that they can most certainly reach out to you outside of those times.

If it helps, you might block time in the middle of the day to allow more flexibility in your schedule. For example, rather than letting my husband interrupt me during all hours of the day, I’ve allowed for lunchtime (12:00 pm to 1:00 pm) to double as our time to chat, have lunch, and relax for a little bit before resuming work.


Get Organized

Now that you’ve created your schedule and let everyone know what it is, it’s time to get organized so you can GSD (get stuff done).

Working in a clean environment, prioritizing your to-do list, and time-blocking your day with further maximize your efficiency.

Cleaning Your Work Space

I don’t know about you, but I can’t work in a cluttered environment (kind of like how my husband can’t cook in a messy kitchen).

Each morning, I take a few minutes to create my mise en place (pronunciation: [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]). This is a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place,” but it works for home offices, too!

For me, this means clearing away yesterday’s dirty dishes from my desk (whoops!), throwing away any notes I don’t need anymore, and making sure I have a clean water bottle full of fresh ice water.

Working in a neat and clean environment will help you focus on your day’s tasks. Trust me, your brain will thank you if your desk is clear.

Prioritize Your To-Do List

In addition to having an organized workspace, you can get the most out of each day by prioritizing your to-do list.

I’ll never forget Gary Keller’s sage advice from his bestselling book, The One Thing:

“What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

-Gary Keller

Do your “one thing” first thing, and everything else falls into place.

My “one thing” is checking my emails. By doing this first, I’m able to effectively re-evaluate my schedule for the day and prioritize any of my clients’ tasks that may be time-sensitive. This also means that I’ll be able to push back certain projects that might not be as time-sensitive (which means more time for me!).

Time-block Your Tasks

Lucky for you if you have an excellent memory. Unfortunately for me, if I don’t write it down, I won’t remember it. And, being a recovering perfectionist, I couldn’t bear to let anything slip through the cracks.

That being said, I pretty much live and die by my Google Calendar. Everything I need to do is on my calendar. I simply add a time block to represent that task and schedule it for the amount of time it will take for me to complete it. Maybe this is a little extreme, but I even color code different blocks depending on which client it’s for, or if it’s for a personal project.

I like the flexibility Google Calendar provides (I can just drag and drop my time block if I need to adjust my schedule), but if that’s not your style, traditional pen and paper can work too. The point is that you’re carving out time to complete certain tasks. That way, you can focus on one thing at a time, and still leave room for fun stuff too.

You can learn more about the benefits and how-to of time-blocking here.


Ditch the Distractions

If you lose focus easily, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It just means you’re easily distracted. This is why time-blocking comes in handy. It allows you to focus on a particular task.

I call this being “heads down” or “in the zone.” It means I focus on that assignment or a predetermined amount of time, or until I’m finished with the task, whichever comes first. (It also means don’t bother me when I’m in the middle of something!).

Forget about Social Media

If I’m mentally invested in a task, I don’t have time to mess around on social media. But if I’m not careful, I can easily waste half an hour or more scrolling through the various feeds. This can be dangerous!

To increase your focus while working from home, I suggest turning off your notifications or setting your phone away from your desk. This will help you resist the temptation to check your social media every five minutes.

If you really can’t resist your apps, schedule 10-15 minutes for yourself to check-in as one of your breaks. Just be sure to set a timer for your alotted timeframe so you don’t over-do it.

Don’t Forget about Breaks

As it may be to get a lot of work done, don’t forget to take a break every once in a while. After all, all work and no play is no fun!

I’ve come to use something close to the Pomodoro Technique, which is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.

While I don’t use a timer, my body is pretty good at telling me when I’ve been sitting at the computer for too long, which funnily enough, is usually about every 25 minutes. At that time, I’ll get up and stretch, walk around the house, and maybe grab a snack if it’s in-between mealtimes. Then, I can come back to my desk and work on my next task refreshed.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes taking a short break can actually be more productive than trying to plow through a project all in one sitting.

Above All, Be Flexible

Although we’ve talked quite a bit about creating a schedule and sticking to it, isn’t being your own boss one of the reasons why you’ve decided to work from home?

If every once in a while, you need to schedule an appointment that conflicts with your working hours, that’s okay. Try to limit these kinds of appointments to one a day, or even one per week if you can help it, so you can stick to your working hours as much as possible.

Since Mondays and Fridays tend to be my busiest work days, I’ll schedule personal appointments for a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, and usually first thing in the morning, so that I can concentrate on my work for the rest of the day.

If I want to go out to dinner or visit with friends on a weekday, I’ll schedule it for the end of my workday. I’ll finish up early, so that I can enjoy my social time without thinking about my to-do list.

The point is that you’re open to allowing planned interruptions for things that you want to do. It’s about working on your own terms. You’re your own boss. You set your own schedule. You call the shots. With focus comes great flexibility, so feel free to take advantage of it, on your own terms.


Conclusion

Having worked as a virtual assistant for the past several years, I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy working from home. I guess you can say I’ve become spoiled, because I don’t ever see myself going back to a traditional office job. And, I can’t help but chuckle to myself when it rains or snows, because I get to work from home in my yoga pants.

So whether you’re donning your best yoga gear or prefer your good ol’ PJ’s, remember to stay focused yet flexible while working from home. Create a schedule, get organized, and do your best to minimize distractions while allowing room for breaks.

May your work-from-home life continue to be happy and productive!

———-

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nicole Starbuck is a mental health blogger and recovering perfectionist changing the world one thought at a time. She’s the co-founder of Jumpstart Positivity, an online community empowering people through positive thinking and impactful change.

For more personal growth resources, subscribe to the Jumpstart Positivity newsletter here.

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25 Comments

  1. Stacie on 03/11/2019 at 11:28 am

    These are great tips. I always carve out business hours, and my family knows that for those hours, I’m not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency. When those hours are over, I give myself a touch of downtime, and then I hang with my family.

    • Jumpstart Positivity on 03/11/2019 at 2:13 pm

      Thanks for reading, Stacie! That sounds like an excellent gameplan while working from home. Way to stay productive during the workday! 🙌

  2. Sarah Bailey on 03/11/2019 at 5:44 pm

    I work from home and I have to admit I can get distracted at times, I am going to have to try and take onboard some of these tips and see if they help me out.

    • Jumpstart Positivity on 03/12/2019 at 6:22 pm

      Thanks for reading, Sarah! We’ve also found it helpful to track our working hours using a timer, so we can see how much time was actually spent working each day. Let us know how it goes with improving your productivity!

  3. Heather on 03/11/2019 at 10:38 pm

    Focusing is so hard for me. I’ve been working from home for the last 10 years and it’s still something I struggle with.

    • cherishingflo101 on 03/12/2019 at 1:18 am

      It can definitely be a struggle for me! (I’ve only been doing it really for a year) but these tips definitely help!

    • Jumpstart Positivity on 03/12/2019 at 6:25 pm

      Yup! It can also depend on what’s going on that day, week, or even month. But keep at it! Progress is progress, no matter how slow you go 😉

  4. artchee on 03/12/2019 at 7:07 am

    Working from home was a bit difficult for me before. But now, I do a routine similar to going out to the office. I also try to keep a consistent working hour schedule.

    • Jumpstart Positivity on 03/12/2019 at 6:26 pm

      Yes! Creating a routine can be a game-changer. The more consistent you are, the better the results. Keep up the good work! 🙌

  5. Subhashish Roy on 03/12/2019 at 10:34 am

    Awesome practices that you have suggested. I know how difficult it was in the beginning to work from home facing similar problems that you have mentioned. With time I too have strictly enforced the do’s and don’ts and now seem to have started enjoying working from home.

    • Jumpstart Positivity on 03/12/2019 at 6:28 pm

      That’s awesome! Thanks for reading, and happy to hear that you’ve started to enjoy working from home. 😄

  6. emman damian on 03/12/2019 at 2:16 pm

    I usually list down the things I’ll do so I won’t forget any. Also, I make sure I have a stable internet connection or else I’ll get bored.

    • Jumpstart Positivity on 03/12/2019 at 6:30 pm

      100% on writing things down… if it’s not written down, it doesn’t get done 😅

  7. Jacque Hooper on 03/12/2019 at 2:18 pm

    These are great ideas; I really needed to see this today! I am also a virtual assistant and have noticed all the household chores have taken a back seat to work. Today, I actually am working on both. Taking time to do some work, pausing, and then taking time to tackle the laundry. Thank you for sharing your tips!

  8. Beth Pierce on 03/12/2019 at 2:20 pm

    Working from home definitely presents it’s own series of challenges! It can be hard to not get sucked into work, but I think you’ve outlined some really great ideas for people who are struggling to find the right balance!

  9. Tiffany La Forge-Grau on 03/12/2019 at 6:07 pm

    My husband can get quite distracted sometimes. These are some very nice tips to remember!

    • Jumpstart Positivity on 03/12/2019 at 6:34 pm

      Thanks for reading, Tiffany! Hopefully these tips can help your husband too 😉

  10. Porsha carr on 03/12/2019 at 9:43 pm

    I just started working from home and I’m all over the place! Thank you for the tips

    • Jumpstart Positivity on 03/14/2019 at 12:20 pm

      Welcome to the work-at-home world, Porsha! You’re going to do great 🤗

  11. Shannon Gurnee on 03/13/2019 at 12:49 am

    Working from home can definitely have its challenges. These are some great tips for working from home.

  12. Becca Wilson on 03/14/2019 at 11:36 am

    Working from home can definitely make it difficult to focus. These are some really great tips on how to do just that and get all that work done!

    • Jumpstart Positivity on 03/14/2019 at 12:23 pm

      Thanks, Becca! We hope these tips can help you make the most out of each day 😊

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