Since Boomtown Internet Group is a digital marketing company we are able to embrace being fully digital, meaning that we all work remotely. For anyone new to working from home, it can be a challenge initially to stay focused and be productive. Without a boss and coworkers there to watch you, it’s now possible to get distracted with household chores, TV, time sucking websites like Facebook, etc. This article provides 10 steps to stay focused while working from home, coming from a team that has been successfully working from home full-time for several years.
Step 1 – Identify Your Distractions
If you don’t know what your distractions are, you won’t know how to combat them. To get you started, here’s a common one. Ever fall for the trap of saying you’ll check one thing out and then 20 minutes later you don’t know where the time has gone? Perhaps you wanted to check the weather for the weekend and an article or advertisement on the side with a catchy headline got you to click on it, read, and then find another intriguing article, and another, and uh oh it’s almost 5:00 pm. Hey, it happens, but when you have important work to do, this ends up in wasted time that you’ll just have to make up for later, and you really don’t get any benefit from it. “10 things only tall people can understand”…. “25 signs you were born in the 80’s”… these may call out to you, “hey I’m kinda tall and was born in 1984, this could be funny, I want to read this!” Trust me, they’re all garbage. Save yourself the time and get back to work. You can’t get that time back.
Step 2 – Remind Yourself of What’s Really a Valuable Use of Your Time
Accomplishing work tasks may not sound as fun as watching cat videos on YouTube, but it’s the end game that counts. Come Friday afternoon which will make you feel better about yourself: A) Having completed everything on your to do list and now able to leave work early, or B) Having spent the past few days reading nonsense you’ll forget by Sunday and realizing you now have to catch up on work before you can start your weekend? I’m confident scenario A will result in much greater rewards, sense of self-worth, a more successful career, and a happier life overall. Make the choice now, and thank me a year from now when you get a promotion. Sorry, cat video addicts don’t get promotions.
Step 3 – Install Website Blocking Software
Talking about cutting out distractions is easy. Executing can more difficult, so how do we do that? Having worked from home for 2 years now, I’ve tried many tools and strategies to keep myself going. Here are just a few that we’ve shared with our new employees to get them started on the right foot.
Add distracting websites to your blacklist and set a timer. You won’t be able to open those websites until the timer is up. Very simple and easy to use for Mac. It works for every browser. Even if you uninstall the program or restart your computer, you still won’t be able to visit the sites on your blacklist until the timer is up. Quick, simple, effective… this is my favorite tool.
This is for the data lover, as it has a lot of advanced features. It tracks everything you do on your computer and lumps them in to categories like email, work, leisure, social, etc. You can block sites, set goals, and score yourself on productivity. There is also a “get focused!” mode which blocks everything except for a few sites you allow. It gives you way more data, but it’s a bit more complicated to get going. Honestly, I tried it for a while and it was really interesting and helpful, but then the novelty wore off. There’s just too many features for me, I want to block sites and get to work, not analyze myself too much. For you, however, it might be just what you need!
I have only used this for Chrome. Like Self Control, you add sites to a black list. The difference is that you can set a time allowance. For example, you can allow yourself 15 minutes of time each day to spend on the sites in the blacklist. It shows a timer in your browser so you can see how much of that allowance you have left. Once the allowance is up, you cannot visit those sites until the next day. It can be a big kick in the butt when the timer is getting close to running out because you realize you spent X minutes wasting time. Additionally, it has been said that a quick break here and there is actually helpful so allowing yourself 15 minutes a day to browse may be good for you. This was my favorite until I found that it only worked on Chrome and I could just use FireFox if I wanted to go beyond my time allowance. I often use Chrome, FireFox, and Safari simultaneously so having it work on only 1 browser just doesn’t cut it.
Step 4 – Fix the Email Problem with GMail Add-Ons
#1 – Inbox pause
Exactly as the name suggests. Adds a pause button to your gmail account so you can pause it from showing any new emails. This is good if you find yourself getting distracted by too many emails coming in, but also dangerous if you forget to unpause and miss an important email. When you have an important task to get done that needs your undivided attention, but there’s info in an email you need, this is perfect. Set pause, get your work done, unpause and reply.
#2 – Todoist
This adds a simple to do list window right inside your gmail inbox. It’s easy to add tasks, label them by project, set due dates, and set it so it sends you an email every morning with a list of your tasks due that day and week. Any time you find yourself spending too much time in email, just open it up and see your list of tasks you need to get done. You can even add emails to it. For example if you get an email, read it, and then decide to get back to it later… don’t mark it as unread. Instead unclog your inbox and set a to do within Todoist to get back to that specific email by a certain date. Inbox zero without forgetting emails! It stays minimized at the bottom of your inbox much like a gchat message or email you’re composing until you click to expand it, so it doesn’t get in the way of reading emails either.
Step 5 – Add Self Preparation to Your Morning Routine
Does the start of your work day look like the image to the right? Well then all of the tools in the world won’t help if you don’t take yourself and your time more seriously and take the time to prepare yourself to get down to business. My best advice is to give yourself enough time in the morning to do something other than work before you start work. Shower, cook and eat a decent breakfast, sip coffee on the couch, workout, walk outside, read a book, etc. Waking up at 8:15 and starting work at 8:30 am just doesn’t work! It may seem like it is working fine at first, but at some point in the day you will lose focus because you never gave yourself the chance to get in the right mindset before you dove right in to that inbox. This may be the simplest and most important step in this list, but if you’re not a morning person then it may be the toughest to implement. Set 10 alarms if you have to, just do it.
Step 6 – Separate Work from Leisure with Proper Work From Home Attire
Yay, I can wear my PJ’s all day, work in bed, and never shower… FAIL! Don’t wear what you would wear for a rainy Sunday morning movie on the couch, because if you do then you’ll just want to watch a movie on the couch and never get yourself fully focused. So, while you don’t need to wear a suit or look date-night-ready or ad-agency-hipster-chic, at the very least make sure you’re wearing real pants. That means no sweat pants, pajama pants, yoga pants, or anything with an adjustable drawstring or lined with fleece or flannel. That baby in the image at right may look confident, but I bet he’ll be sorry when he’s unemployed in a month. Jeans or khakis will do just fine, anything that will hold a belt. And wear some real shoes. Running shoes or slip on loafers are fine, as long as they have a stable soul, no fluffy bunny slippers! Beyond that, jeans and a t shirt are just fine. Sure, dress comfortable, it’s a big benefit of working from home! But the rule of thumb is to dress well enough so that if your boss suddenly wants to have a video chat, or if a delivery man shows up at your door, you don’t look like you’ve been in bed all day.
Putting yourself together a little bit helps to make the day not feel like a lounging around the house day and you’ll take yourself more seriously. Set the SelfControl timer as soon as you get started in the morning and set it to go past 5:00 pm. Turn on some good music, open the window blinds to let the light in, turn on Skype, and then get started on your big task for the day right away. Knowing what you need to do for the day before the day starts also helps a lot. It’s harder to get distracted first thing in the morning if your to do list is already right in front of you.
Step 7 – Separate Work from Leisure by Dedicating Office Space
Along with dressing right, dedicating a space in your home to work that is separate from the space where you relax is very helpful. Sure you can work on the couch or at the kitchen counter or table from time to time to break up the monotony of the day, but make sure there is at least one space in your home only for work. Much like an office you’d commute to isn’t a place you’d play video games in your underwear, there should be a place in your home where those same rules apply. You’re kidding yourself if you think you can work on the comfy couch in front of the TV and not persuade yourself to watch that TV. “Oh but it’ll only be for just 10 minutes!”, will likely turn in to 30, an hour, a day lost to re-runs. Your “office” could even be a 5 ft x 5 ft corner of the living room with just a desk and a chair, faced away from the TV or any other distractions. This is your office, treat it as you would a corporate office, and you won’t get distracted. Then when the work day is over, you get to actually leave the office (a good feeling!) rather than close your laptop and not move until it’s time to eat or sleep (lazy and unfulfilling).
Step 8 – Take a Break!
Preparing yourself for the work day properly will get you through the morning, but what happens when that 2:00 pm tiredness starts to fade in and steal your productivity away. Getting away from the computer for a little bit each day at lunch time is a MUST. Get outside, sun bathe, read a book, make a delicious lunch, work on a personal project, exercise, chat with a friend (in person or on the phone), get a household chore done, whatever… as long as it’s not on the computer. Breaking up the day will give you a second wind of energy and creativity. Productivity away from the screen aids productivity on the screen.
Step 9 – Schedule Activities & Socialize
Working from home means you’ll be at home for 40+ hours per week not including all the time you spend at home during your free time. Nobody’s home is so big that it has enough space for a human to live happily. If it were that big, you probably wouldn’t need to work at all. Going from the bed to the desk to the couch and back to the bed to repeat for 5 days a week every week doesn’t sound like a very fulfilling life, does it? Schedule a happy hour every Thursday evening or join an intramural sports league on a weeknight. Ride your bike to a cafe to have lunch with a friend every Wednesday, or take a class once a week. Meetup.com also has plenty of networking groups and if you sign up for enough then you’ll have an event to go to every week. Even going to work in a coffee shop once a week will help because just having other life and activity happening around you to remind you that your home office is just one tiny miniscule fraction of a much bigger and more interesting world will lead to greater inspiration and creativity.
If you really can’t get out of the house because you have no friends (waahhh) or live out in the boondocks or are just too darned busy, then get a pet! Cats and dogs are friendly and provide nice, sporadic distractions and they’ll remind you that while you do need to get your work done… don’t take life too seriously. Had a rough call with a client that just fired you? Go play with the cat for 10 minutes. Their funny attempts to catch the toy you’re waving around will help you brush off the stress that just occurred. Plus, having a happy dog or cat nearby sure beats being alone all day.
Step 10 – Remind Yourself of the Color of the Grass on the Other Side of the Fence
The grass is always greener right? People that work in a real office get more socialization, face time with their bosses, happy hours, work/life separation, water cooler chats, pretty grey cubicles, ergonomic chairs, and cake on Bill’s birthday, oh joy! Sounds a lot better than working from home by yourself right? Well, then get up one morning and try driving somewhere more than 5 miles away from your house between 8:00 and 9:00 am. After it has taken you nearly an entire hour to move 5 miles across town while being honked at and cut off, you’ll start to remember just how green the grass was back at your home office. Whenever I have to drive in rush hour all I can think is, “look at all these suckers, they look miserable, thank God I don’t have to do this every day!” So don’t spoil it by letting lack of focus force you back in to the cubicle farm.
Follow these steps and make working from home work for you. Oh, and thanks for distracting yourself long enough to read this entire post!
Bonus Step – Share this post on social media so other remote workers don’t drag you down with their own inability to stay on task.
Thanks for reading!