Picture this – you are getting ready for a productive day of working at home. You sit down at your desk, set your phone to the side, only to see that you have gotten some notifications from Instagram. You open the notification, then get distracted by something else and spend the next half an hour on Instagram. You put down your phone and realise that you are thirsty. You walk to your kitchen to grab some water and browse your pantry for some snacks in the process. You decide to make some tea to go with the snacks. Half an hour later, you come back to your desk with snacks and tea, and over an hour has passed and you have not actually started any work for the day.
Sounds familiar? Working from home can go a lot like this if you don’t have a methodical approach to setting up a proper work environment. Your home is full of distractions and without any workplace etiquette and your boss’ judging eyes, it may be difficult to get work done. If you cannot stay on task, here are a few of Working Den’s simple tips to help you stay focused on work.
Organise your working space
Clutter is the enemy of productivity. Working in a cluttered space filled with used tissues, snacks, receipts, unwashed teacups, etc… can cloud up your vision as well as your judgement. If you don’t have a designated workspace and instead work from your kitchen table or your couch – spaces that you often associate with leisure – you will find it difficult to get “in the zone” for work. When you work in a cluttered space, you may find your mind wandering to other problems or other chores, and as a result, you cannot stay focused on the task at hand.
To free up your visual space, first, find a designated workspace where you can set up a proper work station. It does not have to be extravagant, even a tidied up kitchen table can make an excellent work station. Then, clear the table of clutter by organising your things and throwing away used items. When your workspace is clear, your mind will be less distracted by clutter, and you will find it easier to stay on task.
Prioritise your tasks
Sometimes, work may seem so overwhelming and daunting that you don’t know where to start. Many people avoid facing this problem by procrastinating, which often manifests as a distracted mind that cannot focus. It’s only natural to be afraid of scary, intimidating projects, but it is not impossible to manage these tasks and get things done.
If a project seems too big for you, you can start by breaking this project down into smaller tasks. Then, organise them in order of priority and urgency. Is there anything you need to get done right away? Is there a smaller task that takes only a few minutes that you can get done today? Breaking a project into small, digestible bits will not only help you envision how to tackle a big task, but it will also help you feel less intimidated and stay focused to get things done!
Distractions are everywhere, especially when you work from home. Your phone, your TV, your pet, your fridge are all distracting factors that may affect your productivity. If you cannot focus because your phone keeps pulling you away with irrelevant notifications or the snacks in your fridge are too appealing, you need to get rid of these distractions to boost your productivity.
First, what are some of the distractions that you can automate? These types of distractions are easy to minimise: you can turn off the notifications in your phone, send calls to voicemail, and put social media blocker on your laptop. Then, physically remove yourself from other kinds of distractions, either by closing your home office’s doors, setting up a workspace away from your kitchen, and communicating your working hours to other members of your household so they do not disturb you. Having a distraction-free work environment can greatly affect your ability to stay focused.
Schedule “deep work”
Deep work is a practice coined by professor Cal Newport that can help you make the most of your productive hours. His rigorous regimen creates a “deep work” zone that allows you to stay 100 per cent focused on your tasks and foster productivity. During deep work, you will be transported to a state of “flow”, where time and space lose their significance, and you’ll get more done without realising it.
Although deep work takes practise to master, there are a few steps you can take right now to train yourself and get started. In addition to creating a distraction-free and clutter-free working space that we mentioned above, you can also use a pomodoro timer to discipline yourself. Using this timer, you can focus on your tasks for 45 minutes, followed by a 15-minute break, and repeat this cycle throughout the workday to maximise your productivity. Soon, you will find it easier to concentrate during “deep work” periods and get more done with your time.
Take care of your mental health
Oftentimes, a distracted mind and restlessness are symptoms of a deeper mental health issue – anxiety, depression, or burnout. If your problem persists for a few weeks and the above tips do not help, you should evaluate your stress levels and check whether you have other symptoms of these psychological conditions. If this is the case for you, there are practices that can help you manage these symptoms, including mindfulness exercises, gratitude journal, physical exercises, or seeing a psychiatrist.
Your mental health is closely linked with your brain’s ability to focus and be productive, so you need to take good care of it. If your symptoms are mild, you can keep burnout at bay by incorporating small practices into your everyday routines, such as a 10-minute meditation in the morning or 30-minute workout after work. These activities are not only beneficial to your long-term mental health but also help you be more productive at work and stay on the task at hand.