Working from home is everyone’s dream. Instead of suffering through a morning commute, sitting at an assigned desk, wearing “business attire” to appear professional, and counting down the minutes until it’s time to head home, you can roll out of bed and plop yourself down anywhere you’d like to work. Even more appealing? Coffee, snacks, and sweatpants are all part of the deal (and within arm’s reach). And there isn’t a single cubicle in sight.
Since first embarking on my freelance writing career almost a decade ago, I’ve had the luxury of working from home — for the most part, at least. I’ve held a smattering of office jobs, working in cubicles and at desks. But home has long been my preferred office space, partly thanks to perks like working in my pjs and setting my own schedule.
But there’s one big drawback to working in a home office: distraction.
With no set parameters and no defined work space (unless, of course, you work in a literal home office, with its own room), working from home lets distraction run rampant. The dog needs attention. Your kid is hungry. There’s a weird dude on the sidewalk outside your window. The fridge is staring at you, full of food.
At home, it’s incredibly easy to give in to distractions like these. Part of the problem is that there’s no real urgency at home. We aren’t being watched by our boss or coworkers; no one’s going to care if you aren’t super focused for eight straight hours. But that lack of professional surroundings can really eat away at your focus.
Here are my tips for fighting distraction and regaining your focus:
1. Get Off the Couch
To keep your focus and productivity up at home, get off of the couch. It’s incredibly easy to pop open your laptop and settle in on the couch for the day, but there are too many distractions hiding in your couch.
I’m the guiltiest perpetrator of this crime: I used to do my writing in bed. Seriously. It was the coziest place I could find. It was also the laziest. Who wants to work when you’re surrounded by extreme comfort?
That’s why you need to get off your couch. Instead of working in spaces and places typically reserved for lounging and relaxing, force yourself to sit in a more productive setting. Try working on the couch and your brain will think it’s time for relaxation.
You should be upright and as ergonomic as possible — just like you would be in an office, at an actual desk. The less cozy you are, the more likely you’ll be to focus on what’s in front of you.
2. Put on Some Pants
Another at-home habit that inspires distraction rather than efficiency? Your workday attire.
I’m not advocating we swap all of our sweatpants for slacks. I HATE slacks (fashion’s worst crime, really). But those who work from home should put their pajamas aside each morning and don something a bit more professional. Instead of rolling out of bed and staying in your sleep attire, start your day by changing into something that’s both comfortable and appropriate for other people to see you in. You can switch from sweats to leggings, from sleep-only tees to a sweater.
Putting on a fresh set of “work clothes” will ready you and your mind to tackle some tasks. You’ll essentially train your brain: when the (different) pants go on, it’s time to get to work. It’s just like getting off the couch, as a less sleep- or relaxation-conducive outfit will signal that you need to get serious for the day ahead.
3. Swap TV for Music
Watching TV is one of the biggest perks of working from home. You can catch the news, turn on your favorite mindless reality show, or even learn something new from informative channels. For some people, having the TV on in the background is the perfect type of “white” noise to spur productivity.
Unfortunately, watching TV isn’t as helpful as it may seem. TV shows have a tendency to change volume and brightness while playing, and commercial breaks can jar you out of focus. Worse, if you’re particularly bored by the work in front of you, you’re going to give in to distraction in a bad way: you’ll start watching, devoting all of your attention to the more entertaining events onscreen.
If you find yourself most productive when working with noise, turn on your favorite songs. Music is a far better productivity booster, letting your brain fidget away while you work on a less-than-thrilling task. It doesn’t distract your line of sight, and the beat can give you a rhythm to work with. There are even certain types of music, like classical, that are proven focus boosters. So turn off that TV — even if it’s only for an hour — and try a playlist instead.
4. Give Yourself Scheduled Breaks
When you’re working from home, you’re likely on your own schedule. Even if you stick to a 9 to 5 workday, you don’t have the same structure of a traditional office. There’s no official lunch break, no 10- or 15-minute coffee walks, and no real breaks to divvy up your day. And this can breed distraction.
In an office, you take breaks every so often. Whether you’re walking to a coworker’s office, stepping into the break room for a chat and coffee, or taking an official hour-long lunch, these breaks let you physically remove yourself from work and refresh your attention span. At home, you’re surrounded by your work. It’s in your living room, your kitchen, your bedroom (if you haven’t stopped working in bed). And you need a break.
Help your focus last all day long by scheduling true breaks for yourself. For example, I like to close my laptop and make a cup of coffee at 10:45AM each day. At 12:30PM, when my office buddies go to lunch, I “go” to lunch and step into my kitchen. At 2PM, I plug my laptop into its charger and I take a lap around the block. Thanks to these set breaks, I know I have x minutes or hours until I can physically break away from my work for 10 to 30 minutes. Put it into practice and you’ll see just how renewed your productivity is with a tried and true break.
5. Add a Little Exercise
If distraction is closing in on you and you can’t focus on the work swimming before your eyes, throw in the towel and get up. Take a walk, do some pushups, stretch it out. Get a little exercise before you return to your computer and workload.
You’ve heard me mention this before. I’m a huge proponent of standing up during the work day. Yes, it’s because I love standing desks. It’s also because standing up literally changes your perspective. But there’s another reason you should stand: getting your blood moving wakes up your body and brain.
When our brains are faced with a repetitive, boring task, they start to tune out. As a result, distractions become more appealing — and your body can also start pumping blood differently. As my doctor recently explained it to me (in a very simplified manner, of course), the body can “forget” to send blood to your upper half. At times, you need to give your body a reminder to circulate blood through your entire system.
That’s where exercise can help. Walking around or moving in some capacity will reinvigorate blood flow and focus. Try taking a lap around the house, walk to the mailbox and back, or simply get up and stand. Any physical movement will help!
Put these tips into action and let me know how they affect your focus. Are you more productive? Do they just drive you crazy? Working from home is a unique challenge, but it can make you even more efficient than a traditional office setting.