Before COVID 19 made me a work-from-home employee, I developed different strategies for staying focused in the office. Of course, most of those strategies have gone out the window now. At Valiant, we have been working from home for about 5 weeks. My methods have changed but I am always striving to be more focused. Here are a few tips that incorporate your tech and your good old-fashioned clock to help you focus.
Schedule your breaks and stick to them
This is the simplest one to plan but the hardest one to follow. Schedule your breaks ahead of time – you can use them as a framework to support your priorities and your workflow throughout the day. Every hour or so, take a ten-minute break, use a timer to keep yourself honest, and then return to work.
Giving yourself a break will reduce some of your stress and it can motivate you to stay focused while you are working. You do not want to stay at your desk all day without any breaks, but you want to avoid a break that lasts all morning while you clean the entire kitchen. Find the balance, stay productive.
Use an app or extension to minimize distractions
You can use different apps and extensions to block time-suck websites while you work. For myself, I share Valiant’s content on LinkedIn and Facebook during the day. LinkedIn is less of an issue, but I want to avoid getting on Facebook to share a Valiant live stream, and then 15minutes have gone by while look at pictures of my second cousins’ new baby. Using an app or extension to monitor my time on Facebook, or making it impossible to access at different times of the day can solve this problem. A few big ones are Pause for Chrome, Stayfoucused for Chrome, Freedom for Mac and Windows, and Leechblock for Mozilla Firefox. These are a few to get you started but there are many different options for this approach, it is just a matter of figuring out what works best for you.
Use your headphones (wisely)
This tip is tricky because headphones can easily contribute to distraction. You must be honest with yourself about what you can listen to while staying focused. In college, I discovered I can only listen to music with lyrics if my work is very mundane. When I need to be analytical, when I write or think at all, I play classical music (especially Mozart). Doing so can assist with my flow and drown out other distractions. It is also the music I associate with my work which helps me stay in the right headspace for work. This is different for everyone of course. I have had some colleagues who can listen to most music while they work, and others who need absolute silence. In that case, use noise-canceling headphones.
Create office hours and stick to them
Like the first tip, your biggest tool for this tip is the clock. On the best day, this means that you start your work day at a specific time, and you end it at a specific time. Ideally, this means you turn off any work-related communication and cease any work-related tasks outside of this timeframe. In reality, this tip mostly helps you prioritize: We all answer work emails outside of work, and right now communication is vital. Be careful with the knee jerk reaction to emails and other forms of workplace communication. Ask yourself what needs to be addressed at the moment and what can wait. Your sanity relies on this.
Like everything else in our new normal, staying focused at home is something you can work on and improve every day. Somedays you may find that focus comes easily, and other days you will be happy you have some tools in place to nudge you in the right direction. Be patient with yourself and keep working on it.