October 4, 2021

How to stay focused when working from home: 5 Tips from Remote Pros

How to stay focused when working from home: 5 Tips from Remote Pros

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Starting in 2020, work life began to change drastically for copywriters, marketing agencies, and professionals across most other industries.  

 How we work has changed in some important ways,  but what’s really been altered is where we work from.

Near the start of 2021, it was reported that 32% of Canadians now work from home.  Do you know how many of us worked from home a mere 5 years earlier?  Just 4%.

Now, given the ongoing use of the internet, the availability of virtual calls and meetings, and innovative developments across the technology sector, an increase in home-based work was inevitable.  But, in the past year-and-a-half, the pandemic has caused a sharp explosion in the number of people working from home.

There are, of course, certain benefits that come with working from home.  

For example, you won’t have to fight off rush hour traffic.  You don’t need to get dressed or even showered, do you?  

But, for some people, these items can actually be drawbacks.  Getting too ‘comfy’ or relaxed, though it sounds enticing, may not be the best way to approach your workday.

And, while you may think the odds are that you won’t be late to your desk, there are no guarantees that you won’t be held up by your little ones, an unexpected knock at the door, or some sort of domestic crisis.

When we’re in a traditional office setting, it’s probably a bit easier to not worry about a lot of the home stuff — dishes that need to be done, floors needing cleaning, leaky faucets, and so on.  But again, when all of these tasks or mini-issues are within a few yards of us, it’s very easy to feel a need to tend to these things right now.

Wouldn’t working from home be so much easier if you had zero distractions around you? Maybe. But what if you’re your greatest distraction? 

Ah, the joys of working from home.

But it is doable.  It is possible to have a productive and effective workday from your own home.  And if the trends we’ve already seen are an indicator of anything, the potential for more remote work is quite high.

So, here are some  ways to stay on track while working from home:

  1. Maintain a consistent schedule.
  2. Create a separate work/office space.
  3. Schedule regular breaks.
  4. Avoid social media and streaming sites.
  5. Dress the part.

Keep reading for a detailed explanation of each suggestion, along with some other useful tips and tricks to keep you focused while working from home.

Two people working from home, typing on their laptops and drinking coffee.

1. Maintain a consistent schedule.

First off, working from home isn’t just about being more comfortable.  Studies have shown that working remotely can actually increase productivity up to 77%.

And a great key to keeping that type of productivity up is by keeping regular hours.

Just because you’re not commuting to work or because your boss has okayed working flexible hours, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you ought to now start at 11 am.  It also doesn’t necessarily mean that you should begin your day at 5:42 am either.  

The benefit of remote working is that you usually have some flexibility to establish your own hours, but you should: (a) determine what your ideal working hours are, then (b) stick to them.

So, if you find you’re most productive or can establish the best flow starting work at 5:00 am, then, as long as your senior management is okay with that, you should go for it. But you should also make sure that you’re consistently starting work at 5:00 am. 

And, before you select  your own personal schedule, consider keeping your hours cohesive with your colleagues and clients.  When are they working?  If you work as part of a team and if your agency is working with clients, consider their schedules as well.  

Even if you’re a freelancer or run your own business, it is still wise to consider your clients’ schedules, too. 

Again, just because you’re doing remote work, it doesn’t mean your work should be scattered throughout the day, from sunup to sundown.  You should have a clear clock in time and a clock out time.  And let your clients and colleagues know your regular work hours.

Along with helping you work better with your colleagues and clients, establishing a consistent schedule will help you create a routine.  What you probably want to avoid while working from home is utter chaos.  To avoid that chaos, know when you’ll brush your teeth, when you’ll have breakfast, when you’ll sit at your desk, when you’ll check emails, when you’ll be taking client calls, and so on.  

In this sense, working from home shouldn’t be super different from working at the office.  Try having a standard that lets you know when you’ve entered ‘the office.’ This will help you get into your “work mode,” keep focused, and allow you to retain a sense of differentiation between working days and weekends.

To help you stay on track, consider using one main calendar or make use of  time tracking apps such as RescueTime.  Apps like these will show you when you tend to be most productive and when you tend to be most distracted.  

Once you know your working habits, perhaps you can even schedule projects or meetings accordingly.  You’ll know when to organize, throughout your day, just when to tackle things that require your full attention.

You’re at home, sure.  But remember, you’re also at work.

2. Create a separate work or office space.

Perhaps the idea of the home office was a luxury at one point, but the reality is that it’s become quite common.  

Before the internet was such a huge part of our lives, the “office” was just that: a physical office with certain defining features.  

For example, the “office” was a space with a desk, lamp, a notebook, a phone, a printer, a computer, reference books, manuals, files, and so on. It required a lot of physical space, and before instant messaging and other connectivity tools, you had to be in the same space as someone to work together.  

But the very idea of an office has changed.  Now that everything’s online and connected, the “office” has simply become your computer, whether it be a tablet, laptop, or phone.

Chances are, you can take your “office” just about anywhere and it makes sense to work from within your home.

But here are some tips you can follow to help create a proper “office” experience for yourself from home: 

Use a separate room or space as your office: 

Pre-Covid-19, studies show that only 10-15% of apartment units being built had dedicated office spaces in them.  Now, the figure is expected to be closer to 75%.

So, what this helps to illustrate is that, even if you can technically work from anywhere — your couch, your bathroom, the poolside — it is still valuable to have a dedicated working space. In other words, you probably still need a proper office space, even if it’s inside your home. 

Why? 

Well, depending on your line of work and the nature of your day-to-day tasks, it may be important or essential for you to have privacy and absolute quiet. 

But it’s also important to try to keep our work life separate from the various functions that other rooms in our homes have for us. 

For example, working from the bedroom can really blur the lines between an active state of productivity and more relaxed states, such as sleep.  This can interfere with your ability to sleep, which can have a negative impact on all aspects of your life.

Establish boundaries with your co-residents:

Wherever you’re working from or whatever your office space ends up looking like, you’ll also want to ensure you establish clear boundaries with anyone else who shares your living space with you. 

For example, let’s say you have roommates. Well, just because you may have set up your office (whatever that may look like) in your living room or kitchen, it doesn’t mean you are available for social or household matters at all times. 

Once you’ve set your work schedule, it will be important to ensure your co-residents are also aware of your working hours and that you find ways to respect each other’s work schedules. 

Use a separate email address and phone number: 

You might want to create that sort of ‘office experience’ for yourself, too, complete with a separate phone number and email.  Treat your office space as though it were away from your home.  Try not to check your personal phone or email.  Try really being in your office. Then, at the end of the day, sign out of your work email and turn off your work phone. 

This will help ensure that you maintain healthy boundaries between your home life and work life. 

Try to get your little ones on board: 

Now, we know this isn’t always possible, but it works for some people. 

If you have children living with you, try showing them where your office space is and explain to them what sort of work you’re doing and why it’s important that you have privacy and quiet while you’re “at work.” 

From there, try explaining that, even if you’re in the home, you’re not available during certain times of the day; share your schedule with your family and establish clear protocols for when it’s okay to interrupt your workflow and during what times of the day you can be considered available. 

Make it feel like a separate space:

If you don’t have the space in your home to dedicate an entire room to your work, no problem.

Even if you’re working from the couch or kitchen, there are still ways to make it feel like your work space is separate:

  • Make your work space “disappear” at the end of the day by putting away your computer and phone.
  • If your workspace is more substantial, consider throwing a blanket or tablecloth over it at the end of the day. This may not sound like the most aesthetically appealing option, but it can be enough to achieve that “out of sight, out of mind” effect.
  • If you have your desk or workspace in a corner of a room, consider keeping it separate by installing curtains, drapes, or by closing it off with folding doors. We’ve seen plenty of creative ideas for making workspaces disappear!

3. Schedule breaks.

Just as we can be too easily distracted when working from home, it is common to struggle with the opposite problem as well: a temptation to work too much or be constantly available for work. 

However, part of creating a separate working world is scheduling consistent breaks for yourself.

When working from home, it can be tempting to either take no breaks at all or stop what you’re doing willy-nilly to go make a coffee, have a snack, or start a conversation with your significant other.  

But this isn’t ideal for most people and works against the sense of being “at work.”

So, instead of allowing yourself to drift away from your work whenever you’re feeling hungry or distracted, try to schedule consistent breaks during which you can do your typical or desired break-time activities. 

If you work with a team, you may find it helpful to align your break times or keep them consistent with how they were when you worked in your company’s physical office. 

The same can be said for your lunchtime.  If you can, schedule a lunchtime for yourself and try to stick it out before going into the fridge for last night’s leftovers.

If you’re not feeling that you’re at work then there’s an increased risk that  you’re not going to do your work.  

And also, just because your workspace is a few meters from your bed, it doesn’t mean you should come to work when you’re unwell.  Really.  If you’re feeling sick, call in and take a sick day for yourself.  This is just another way of not confusing your personal and work life, and you deserve to be healthy and well. 

Plus, the odds are good that, if you’re not feeling well, you’re not going to be all that productive anyway, and you may just find yourself stressed out and struggling to focus. 

So, never feel ashamed or shy about taking the time you need to feel better, even if you’re working from home. 

 

4. Avoid social media.

We’ve mentioned the importance of having a separate office phone number or email address, but, if you haven’t got that, at least turn off those social media notifications during your working hours!

The last thing you need while trying to work is someone’s update about the amazing avocado toast they had this morning, complete with a picture.

If you check that social media notification, it’s potentially only a hop, skip, and a jump away from a whole experience of getting sucked into everything else available on that app. 

Lots and lots of money has been spent trying to keep you on Instagram or Facebook, so, once you check that first notification, it’s very, very easy to go down that rabbit hole and not come out for a while.

Even if you don’t get sucked all the way down the rabbit hole, one simple “ding!” or an adorable gif can be enough to disrupt your flow.

If you keep those notifications off, it may be a bit easier to keep that whole experience at bay.  Out of sight, out of mind, right?

But, if you do pick up your device to check in on someone’s last update on whatever it is they are sharing, you may want to consider using an app like Stay Focused — StayFocused increases your productivity by limiting the amount of time that you can spend on time-wasting websites.  Apps like this one restrict the amount of time you spend on Facebook, etc.  You can set your own time restriction on certain social media sites and, once those times have been met, the sites become blocked.

This can also help keep you from going over your allotted break or lunch times. 

Either way, though — whether just turning off your notifications or using an app such as the one just mentioned above — try avoiding that social media while you’re at work!

5. Dress the part.

“Dress for success!”  Of course, you’ve heard this before. 

But there’s something to be said for that old statement.

Sure, working remotely means that you may not have to go into a meeting to impress a prospective client, but you may still need to do Zoom or Skype meetings.  And, if you are doing virtual meetings, it may seem tempting to just wear a nice shirt and jacket and sit on the call in your briefs. 

However, just because you can wear whatever you want while working from home doesn’t necessarily mean should wear whatever you want.  

The idea behind dressing for success is less about impressing others and more about making yourself feel like you’re capable of all the amazing things you’re doing — to make you feel like you’re conquering the working world and not like you’re just  lounging.

Like having a dedicated office space and office hours, dressing for your workday can be a great way to immediately remind yourself that you are, in fact, at work.

And, again, this isn’t really about making other people see you in a certain way. It’s about how you’re seeing yourself and how you’re feeling about yourself. 

So, if you were to wear only your sweats and a robe to your Wednesday meeting, would you feel as productive as you would if you were in a pair of nice pants?  Would that feeling spill over into your mind?  

On the other hand, would dressing for work almost trick your mind into thinking it should be sharp, just as if you were at the office?

You see, dressing for work is another great way of separating your work and home life.  You don’t want your work to spill into your home, so you set a schedule to know when it’s quitting time.  You want to have physical distance between your personal life and your work life, so you have a workspace you can step away from at the end of the workday. And, similarly, if you want to keep some distance between your super-productive work self and your super-casual downtime self, it would be wise to have a dedicated work wardrobe that gives you that separation. 

And, of course, you get to decide what work clothes make you feel most capable, focused, and “at work.” If wearing a suit or traditional dress clothes doesn’t feel right for you, don’t do it. Maybe you have special “work pajamas” that make you feel capable of slaying corporate dragons, or maybe you like to wear a Spiderman costume — it’s all okay as long as it makes you feel focused and empowered in the way that makes sense for you. 

Trick your mind into knowing it’s ‘down time’ by getting back into those sweats at the end of the workday.  Trick your mind into knowing it’s time to focus by getting into a suit or skirt or superhero costume that signals to you that you’re “at the office.” 

Be comfortable, of course.  But as part of your routine, put ‘getting dressed for work’ in there. 

Summary.

While this pandemic has made many of us work from home, we’ve also created more mental anguish and anxiety by not knowing where our home life begins and our work life ends.

In order for your work life to flourish, you will likely want to be fully focused on the task at hand.  More than that, you want to know that when you’re done giving it your all, at the end of the day, you may still ‘leave the office.”  By having set schedules, a dedicated office space, and special work clothes, the chances are better that you won’t let the lines between your work life and personal life become blurred.

You want to be productive, you want to be successful.  That is attainable.  But, to really excel and focus, think about creating a real office environment and work-life for yourself.  By doing so, you’ll know that when the clock hits that certain time, it’s your turn to ‘leave the building’ and give yourself that end-of-day break you deserve.  

And, of course, striking this balance between your work life and personal life is good for your business’s well-being, your clients’ happiness, and, most of all, your own mental and physical well-being.

For more tips, tricks, and useful resources, you can check out our blog here.

Or, for a free, no obligation consultation for our copywriting, editing, proofreading, or design services, you can get in touch with us here.

Steve Chambers

Steve Chambers

Steve is a copywriter and content developer with a passion for creating effective, engaging written content. When he's not crafting content for clients, Steve keeps busy as an avid screenwriter and movie buff.

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