There was a pretty good excuse for the regular lapses of focus that many remote workers suffered last year. We were in the midst of an unfurling global pandemic, with many of us also attempting to do our jobs from home for the first time. Cut to September 2021 and the story should speak of high efficiency – we have everything properly set up and running now, we’re comfortable with it, and think of all that commuting time we’re saving.
Yet still we struggle to keep ourselves on task. We read the same email a number of times but don’t retain the information, we let our mind drift during a task so it ends up taking twice as long, or maybe we zone out when we’re on a Zoom call. Plus the lure of social media is ever present, with its unique capacity for wasting our time.
Taking longer to get things done compounds stress and adds a side helping of guilt. So how can we avoid the distractions and get our focus back on track to make sure we’re being productive and working rather than shirking from home?
- Create a dedicated workspace
This is crucial. However small it is, you need to find a spot in your home that’s just for work. Ideally it should be away from obvious distractions and not in a high footfall area, with an option to close the door on family noise, and preferably somewhere with a good amount of natural light.
- Take regular breaks
This may seem counterintuitive as you hurtle towards a deadline, but it becomes harder to focus on work the longer you go without a break. Stretch, walk away from your desk, have a snack, and think about something else for a few minutes. The change of scenery combined with movement will help to clear your mind and reset your focus. The most important break is lunch. When you work from home, lunch should definitely be something to savour rather than a rushed sandwich held in one hand as you type with the other.
- Stop trying to multitask
This negatively impacts your productivity because you aren’t giving either task your full attention. In a 2010 study on multitasking, researchers divided students into three groups and asked them to read a passage. One group had no distractions, one group received an instant message before they started reading, and the third group received instant messages as they read. Each group fared equally well when tested on the material, but the third group took the longest to complete the task. So you need to focus on one thing at a time to get it done most efficiently.
- Minimise interruptions
Each and every interruption breaks your focus, no matter how brief it is, so keeping them to a minimum can have a positive impact on the amount you achieve in your workday. Phones are the biggest culprits, so limit notifications and set it to silent when you’re in the throes. And avoid social media during your working day. There are many tools out there to help that are worth experimenting with. Try a focus extension for your browser, like StayFocusd, to set which websites you can and can’t view while you’re working. Listening to instrumental music can help, and there are playlists you can access on Spotify and Apple Music designed to maximize concentration. You could also try noise-cancelling headphones.
- Don’t clock off too late
Research says we work more hours at home than we do in the office, which makes sense as when you face a commute you’re more likely to try to finish on time. But when home is the office, it’s all too easy to stretch your hours, and not having a clear end to the day can affect the urgency with which you’re working. So be strict with yourself and stick to a consistent finish time to make sure you achieve the work-life balance we’re all striving for.