How to Stay Focused at Home

Working at home is great. No commute, no need to dress up or put on makeup – stay in a bathrobe and slippers all day if you like. But the sirens beckon. The sofa with the remote control that turns on Netflix and that episode you really wanted to finish. Or perhaps you’re the more OCD type who can’t resist the temptation to reorganize your closet alphabetically. In either case, finding a strategy for how to stay focused at home is what’s needed.  

The first step to staying focused while working from home is to be honest with yourself. What kind of worker are you? Are you an early riser who gets most stuff done in the morning? Or do you write or think better after dusk? Figure out what kind of worker you are and then implement a regimen based on that template. Do you feel alert and feel your mental gears start to tumble as you put on makeup or knot a tie? In that case, maybe you need a “no pajamas” rule. Get dressed, put on the makeup, pretend you are at work. Many find establishing “working hours”: from 9 am to 5:30 pm is work time and before and after that work isn’t allowed.  

Next up is distractions. The lure of social media and web browsing is one challenge, but other digital interruptions such as email notifications can be just as toxic to productivity. To stop yourself wasting time online, consider using a using productivity app. BlockSite, for example, works across all your devices and allows you to put limits on what sites you can visit and at what times. Minimize disruptions. Even that little LED blinking light on your phone letting you know you have a DM is enough to disrupt your flow…and that’s the end game, to get to “flow,” that awesome feeling where time isn’t real for a while and work is creation not chore.  

Some of us are visual people and for them, what they see around them affects how they work. It’s easy to let your home work space get messy. Why tidy up? It’s not like Marie Kondo is coming over. But for many people, a messy environment affects though-process. A clean, clutter-free workspace could lead to a clear, clutter-free mind.  

Others of us are more auditory. Sound is a huge factor for many workers. Some people go to a coffee shop to deliberately hear the ambient chatter around them as it helps them zone in. Hanging out at coffee shops isn’t recommend these days in many places, but you do have some options. Lo-fi music and background chatter audio are options, but white noise might be best.  

Kenneth M. Heilman, distinguished professor emeritus in the department of neurology at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine told the Wall Street Journal that, “If there is distracting noise, white noise may help to reduce this distraction. Our brains have the ability to open and close sensory channels. With the presence of constant white noise, we may not attend to sounds coming into our brain, and thus the presence of this white noise can help to mask other sounds.” 

A close up of a logo

Description automatically generated
How to Stay Focused at Home 2

Others swear by noise-canceling headphones – available as both buds and large over ear models – to cancel the sounds of kids or a partner in the home, city sounds or even the outdoors.  

Taking breaks to recharge is the next crucial component for saying focused at home. And the breaks need to be meaningful. If you have the luxury of a yard, go for a five-minute stroll. Just staring out the window at greenery or the sky can be helpful. The brain needs to essentially power down completely and then re-boot. This takes a little time. Don’t scroll through your Facebook feed for 15 minutes and then call that a break; you haven’t rebooted. Walk, stretch, play with the dog – anything that takes your mind completely off work. Then get back to it.  

Be kind to yourself. One writer says she gave herself the mission of writing 1,000 words a day. Her friends thought the bar a bit low. “But when I say 1,000 words, I mean the final product. I probably write 4,000 words to get to my 1,000.” A so-called “deep work” session, such as an author writing a chapter of a book, should ideally last between an hour and 90 minutes, but not more. Tax your brain too much and self-doubt creeps in. You can’t be a fair judge of your own productivity if you’ve overloaded your circuits.  

Another thing to try is mixing it up. Take the laptop to the living room one day, the kitchen the next. Some need to be in a “sacred” spot and would hate the idea of movement, but for others it’s a refreshing break.  

There are hundreds of articles online on how to be productive while working from home but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Experiment, talk to friends, and be open to trying new things and you’ll find what’s right for you.