If you are reading this article, you are probably procrastinating. All of us have unproductive days when we cannot focus on what needs to get done, and if you work from home, the lack of structure and professional etiquette and expectations make it even more tempting to slack off.
You find yourself browsing social media, online shopping, or making ten trips to your fridge every hour, and ending the workday without finishing any significant tasks.
Sounds familiar? If you are thinking to yourself “Why can’t I focus on anything?”, here are some problem areas you can start tackling that may help.
Can’t focus at work because of too many distractions?
Working from home means you are surrounded by distractions – both physically and digitally. It does not help that our memories are tied to physical places, according to research by Dartmouth University and the University of North Carolina.
Your home is cluttered with personal belongings and memories, and being physically at home while you work can lead your brain to juggle work tasks and personal responsibilities, making it difficult for you to concentrate on work. Below are a few simple steps that you can take to minimise these distractions.
Clean up your desk
A cluttered space results in a cluttered mind. If your work desk is cluttered with devices, post-it notes, and bills to pay, your visual space is understandably overwhelmed, and naturally, your brain will be distracted.
Having a tidy, dedicated work area that your brain can associate with “deep work” time will considerably reduce distractions and allow you to focus more fully on work.
Reduce digital clutter, it will help if you can’t focus at work
If your physical desk is tidy, but you still find yourself distracted, perhaps it’s time to take a look at your virtual workspace, including your desktop, your hard drive, and even your email inbox. We have all been interrupted by a social media notification or a new email, and that distraction can also clutter up your mental space.
Fortunately, digital clutter is easy to remove. Perhaps you can start turning off notifications in your phone while you work, unsubscribe to any unwanted spam emails, organise your desktop and hard drive into easy-to-access folders, and adjust the settings of your email inbox to automatically filter emails and prioritise important messages.
This work takes only a few hours, but you will be relieved of the onslaught of digital distractions thrown at you during the workday.
Increase friction for bad habits
We all have our guilty pleasures. Perhaps you love to snack or want to finish that Netflix show that you have been bingeing for the past few days. Working just a few steps away from your favourite guilty pleasure is all the more difficult, but it doesn’t mean it is impossible.
In James Clear’s best-selling book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, the author advises us to increase friction for habits you would like to break. If you are distracted by your TV, unplug it and hide the remote. If you snack too much, lock your snacks in a cupboard until working hours are over. If social media is too inviting, you can install apps that block access to social media temporarily.
Whatever is your guilty pleasure, making it more difficult to be distracted will help you stay focused.
Once your desk and virtual workspace is tidy and prepared for a focus session, it’s time to get to work. However, if you still find your mind wandering elsewhere, here are some of our tips to concentrate on the task at hand.
According to Tim Pychyl’s book Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, most of us procrastinate when the task is not rewarding and therefore, you cannot find the motivation to start it.
The best way to motivate yourself is to tie the completion of each task to a reward that you enjoy. For example, if you complete 30 minutes of work, reward yourself with a snack or a 10-minute break and walk outside for some fresh air. Alternatively, you can check out some motivational quotes to change your perspective on work and find the motivation to complete the task at hand.
Multitasking can give you the illusion of productivity, and after all, you are working. However, multitasking is not productive at all, and it can even reduce your attention level and cause you more stress in the long run.
So, resist the urge to switch between projects or to check that email when the notification pops up. Instead, focus on finishing the task at hand before you check that notification. Your brain will thank you.
If you have tried all these productivity tips and still cannot get anything done, chances are, you are just tired. Because of the lack of physical and digital boundaries between “work” and “home”, working from home can lead to faster burnout and chronic fatigue. Take a burnout assessment to see whether you need proper rest, and follow these tips to restore your physical and mental health.
Take a walk to get some fresh air
There’s nothing better than nature to give a refreshing boost to your brain and pump your productivity. Working from home often means you spend all day without breathing fresh air, so during your break today, take a walk outside to a park in your neighbourhood, you will feel immensely more refreshed and ready to focus.
This advice has been given by many productivity gurus and websites, but we’ll say it again because it’s true: exercise can improve your physical and mental health immensely. Depending on your physical capabilities, you can do stretches, cardio exercises, or lift weight for at least 30 minutes every day. Working out not only strengthens your physical health but is also healthy for your brain’s ability to focus as well.
Do you struggle to fall asleep at night or wake up very often? Your brain needs deep sleep to restore itself, and if you are not getting enough REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, you will be tired and foggy during the day.
Exercising frequently can improve your sleep quality, but you should also reduce screen time an hour before bed and limit unnecessary lights (especially lights from TV or phone screens) in your bedroom.
Investing in a supportive pillow and a weighted blanket can also improve your sleep, and you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready to concentrate on work in the morning.