7 Hacks to Strengthen Your Focus When Working from Home
Shawn Murphy | June 30, 2020
Collaboration, Remote Work4 min read
There’s a meme floating around the internet ethers that goes like this, “I don’t have ducks. Or a row. I have squirrels, and they are everywhere.” Funny. Yes. For me, and many others, it cuts close to the truth.
I have ADD. And if I don’t manage it, those pesky “squirrels” would overrun my productivity and my ability to focus. I manage it effectively with some medication, daily exercise, and a daily practice of mindfulness meditation. I’m a firm believer the latter is the biggest help on my overall wellbeing.
So, why the personal divulgences? For over 100 days now I’ve been working from home. Like you. While I’ve adapted fairly well, I have to be very disciplined in sticking to habits that keep me focused. Admittedly, I sometimes have a hard time focusing. What’s more, I miss the interactions with my colleagues. I miss the hustle around me as people shuffle off to meetings. I miss my co-workers’ laugher in the breakroom.
I’m not alone with my struggle to stay focused.
In our recent study, 34% of employees say it’s hard for them to focus while working from home. 29% of managers struggle with it, too. What, then, can be done?
First, let’s keep in mind that an inability to focus doesn’t mean you have ADD or ADHD. For some, at-home distractions might interfere with their ability to do deep thinking. Some of you are parenting while also working from home. Others may have a parent they care for who lives with them. Some of you need human interaction, and, consequently, get a bit stir crazy when you don’t have enough of it. Perhaps the pile of laundry keeps whispering in your ear, “Come fold me” when you really should prepare for an important meeting.
The truth is, however, that we owe it to ourselves to feel good about accomplishing important milestones at work. Equally as important is we owe it to ourselves and our team to deliver on our commitments. The satisfaction and fulfillment from these two are significant influences on our intrinsic motivation.
Despite struggles to focus when working remotely, there are tactics you can use to be productive, contribute, and feel a sense of satisfaction from your hard work.
Plan your week on Sunday. Review your progress on Friday.
For me this is my saving grace. With this approach, I know every week what I must accomplish. I then breakdown those accomplishments across the work week. Then on Friday morning, I review what I’ve finished and what I need to move to the upcoming week.
Put your tasks on your calendar.
Block time on your calendar each day for the two to three biggest tasks you need to get done. This helps keep you grounded on your priorities.
Verbally share your commitments to your team.
If your team has daily stand-ups, leverage them to announce what you plan to get done that day. This builds in accountability and shapes your focus for the day. Then when you share your progress the next day, you’ll feel good that you did what you said you’d do.
Timebox your work.
Timeboxing is limiting how much time you spend on a task. Let’s say you have a major report you want to complete. Timebox it by working on it for an hour each day. Put it on your calendar as a task. This helps you chip away at those big deliverables.
Practice mindfulness meditation.
I use Headspace daily. It’s a mindfulness meditation app. My meditation practice helps me find some calm in the day. Mindfulness meditation is also linked to helping people manage anxiety. Some studies found that this type of meditation (focus on your breathing) shrinks the amygdala, the oldest part of your brain. This region of your brain produces the stress hormone cortisol. Research shows that those with anxiety have an overactive amygdala. The study found that after six weeks mindfulness meditation shrunk the amygdala and reduced the amount of cortisol. Anxiety can certainly interfere with your ability to focus.
Use the Pomodoro Technique.
This is productivity practice. Basically, you set a timer for 20 minutes and focus only on one task. At the end of 20-minutes you get a five-minute break. Then you do another 20-minutes. Repeat. The idea behind this approach is 20 minutes gives your brain enough time to dive deep and then celebrate your accomplishment with a short break.
Change Your Scenery.
Working from home and being isolated from your colleagues can be a reason for some to lose focus. If this applies to you, take a break from work and bring your lunch to a local park. Changing your scenery gives your brain a break and refreshes your energy levels, too.
We’ll likely be working from home for a while. Some of you will be working remotely permanently. The struggle to focus can be managed. Be kind to yourself. Don’t make yourself wrong if you are easily distracted. At the same time, find hacks that help you boost your focus. You’ll be inspired by your progress when you do.
For more insights about working from home struggles and needs, download our 2020 State of Working from Home Report.
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About the Author
Director of Organizational Behavior, Bluescape
Shawn is our Director of Organizational Behavior and Workplace Trends. His second book, Work Tribes comes out in August 2019. Shawn's first book, The Optimistic Workplace is out now. Inc. has listed him twice as one of the top leadership speakers in America.
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