Written by: Leigh Perkins // Apr 10, 2020
Last updated: Apr 10, 2020
Working remotely? Even if you’re new to telecommuting or only did it occasionally before the coronavirus locked down your work life, you’ve probably already discovered how fascinating your laundry, the cat, Reddit, and that small thread dangling from your bedroom curtains can be when you’re supposed to be working. Follow our nine tips to help employees working from home (without distraction) and get your focus back!
Remote Work is the Same, Except Different
You’re dealing with the same workload and colleagues, but your boundaries have changed and your interaction with coworkers and clients is suddenly a bit challenging. Work from home is the best and the worst. In this strange, sudden isolation, it’s easy to see why you’re prone to distraction. Navigating this new normal doesn’t need to overwhelm you if you begin with nine basics of WFH success.
No. 9: Start with Pants
Know what article of clothing is selling like hotcakes during the shutdown? Tops. Just tops. When logging in to video meetings, you have to look presentable at least on the portion your colleagues can see on screen. What’s going on below the desk is anybody’s guess. But starting your remote day with the morning routine of pulling on pants (comfy pants are fine, but, please, no more taking calls in your underwear), then slipping on a clean shirt or jacket sends the signal that you’re in work mode.
Though scientifically unproven, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that pajamas induce both napping and overconsumption of sweets during your workday, so if you choose to work in the clothes you slept in, proceed with caution.
No. 8: Designate a Workspace
A fancy home office is not a necessity. Even a desk is not a must-have (a kitchen countertop or a lawn chair in the yard will do in a pinch). But if you share your home, it is a great thing to have a room with a door. Fine choices are a bedroom, laundry room, or even a closet with a decent signal. Though it does have a nifty locking doorknob, your bathroom is the choice of last resort, for obvious reasons. If you think you’re far too savvy to stream a bathroom break live to all, WFH video disasters can happen.
No. 7: Learn the Technology
If you have no idea how to turn off video on a Zoom call (alas, poor Jennifer), share a screen during a WebEx video conference, or respond in Slack to a single person (instead of your whole team), take the time to familiarize yourself with the digital platforms you’re now expected to use. Digital Marketer offers a downloadable videoconferencing tip sheet to get you up to speed on audio, video, screen shots, and chat.
While on the topic of technology, it might be time to upgrade. Nothing is more distracting than a glitchy download or a sluggish connection. It will sharpen your focus when you have the tools you need to work from home (and don’t underestimate the glory that is the headset and mic combo, a sanity-saver for a household with loud children or a partner who is making calls, too).
This is also a good time to get serious about file-sharing on the cloud with services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box. Streamlining your system of sharing files with clients and colleagues can smooth out your whole process now, while you’re working remotely, and when you’re back in the office.
No. 6: Schedule Your Workday
Manage your online calendar as you did when you were on-site, scheduling your meetings and project details, but get even more granular to give form and purpose to a workday that, at home, can become amorphous and unproductive. That includes moments of relaxation to reboot your brain. Here’s a sample of calendar items that can help you focus on the work at hand, knowing that a scheduled pause is waiting to refresh you.
- Lunch: Give yourself a block of time for a long, lovely midday meal – at home, but not at your desk. Planning it ahead minimizes fridge raids throughout the day, elevating your productivity (and reducing your carb consumption).
- Social media: Dedicate half an hour to gratuitous scrolling (call it “Digital Research” if you have an open calendar and don’t want your colleagues to see “Waste Time on Facebook” every day at 3.) Approving a block of social media time as a daily treat instead of allowing it to hover as a constant distraction should improve your productivity.
- Deadlines: A little pressure gives a sense of purpose and focus, even if it’s self-induced.
- Joy breaks: Pencil in virtual work-related events to look forward to (Ted Talks or webinars), as well as personal appointments (online yoga class; order that translation of Pablo Neruda poems; whatever would make you happy to see coming up on your calendar.)
No. 5: Work on a Dedicated Browser
A pop-up notification can land you on Etsy or Fortnite in a hot minute, so if you really want to stay focused when working from home, use one browser for your life, and a different browser for your work. Keep only work-related tabs open on your work browser and download zero apps designed to feed your distractions.
No. 4: Establish Office Hours
When you have it in your mind that you can “get back to” that project after dinner rather than buckling down and getting it done now, your workday can go on forever and projects can linger in a constant state of almost-done. By contrast, if you determine that your remote workday will end at 5 like your normal workday, you will set a boundary for work-life balance that also creates a daily deadline to get things done.
No. 3: Turn off the TV
Keeping company with the Food Network droning on about the best piecrust may seem like a minor distraction. But it really does drain your focus. Keep your eyes and ears on only one screen at a time (that includes pausing that podcast on your smartphone). If TV really matters to you and is not just background noise (for instance, the news seems pretty important lately), take a scheduled break to watch a portion of a recorded show. If you fast-forward through the commercials, you can speed it up and get back to work faster. In this way, you can even learn the epic leadership lessons of Game of Thrones one WFH coffee break at a time and still get your work done.
Some people insist music helps them focus. There is no better time than now to experiment with the concept, playing exactly what you love as loud as you like it. If the productivity playlists here don’t improve your focus, go in the opposite direction with a white-noise machine to muffle all distractions.
No. 2: Dangle a Little Self-Bribery
Rewarding yourself is so simple, it works on toddlers. For example: Update the spreadsheet, you get a sliver of that leftover chocolate cake. Finish the report, you can scroll dream rentals in Provence. Answer emails until the dryer beeps. In uncertain times, go with whatever motivates you.
No. 1: Get Up and Move
Nothing will drain you of enthusiasm faster than being stuck in one place indefinitely. And working from home during a lockdown is that experience, doubled. You’re locked to your home, locked to your desk chair. It’s time to move. The gym is out of commission, but your home and neighborhood are prime workout spaces. Schedule short bursts of stair-runs throughout the day, a vigorous long ride on a stationary bike, a session with dumb bells in the garage, a long walk at dawn and another at dusk. No matter how you move or where, exercise can help you focus when your thoughts are elsewhere.
Keep It in Perspective
In crisis mode, imperfection is reality. There is no shame in being a little less productive and distractible in the middle of a worldwide shutdown. This is not slacking. This is a natural response to an overwhelming challenge. This is the time to be merciful to yourself and to each other.
Managers can help by being supportive and accessible. It would be hard to transition to remote work under the best of circumstances, but doing so in midst of a global pandemic adds layers of anxiety and inattentiveness to tasks that may not seem quite as important as they once were.
If you’re distracted despite your best efforts, it might be a relief and a comfort to ask yourself one question: If I’m going to be distracted anyway, why not fritter away a few minutes of focus for the benefit of others? How about writing a love letter? Or call your grandmother (or grandkids). Pull weeds for your neighbor. Do the right thing right now even if puts you a little behind in your work schedule.
Another good way to keep your mind focused is enrolling in professional development courses. USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education offers an exceptional lineup of live online programs that will reinvigorate your passion for your career, no matter if your workplace is on-site or on your couch.