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How to Focus on Work When You Work from Home

With the shift toward remote work, many of us now work on our own. Staying focused and productive may not be easy when we don’t have to physically “show up.” Without a manager or colleagues nearby, it can be harder to hash out ideas, ask questions, or catch up on personal news.

However, strategies exist to make working offsite easier. Learn what you can do to navigate the world of remote work successfully.

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Set up a comfortable and efficient workspace

Working remotely most often means working from home. For many employees, this blend of work and home life can be stressful. Create a dedicated workspace to shift your focus to your work tasks and reduce at-home distractions.

Find a good space

A separate room is ideal, especially if you’re making long-term plans to work remotely. It creates a healthy divide between your work and home life. Closing the door to your workspace can eliminate distractions and let others know that you’re on the job.

A table or desk in a dedicated corner of a room can also work. By only using it during work time, you’ll reinforce to yourself that it’s time to focus on your job.

How to Set Up a Healthy Home Office (4:33)

In this video, Alberta Health Services offers advice on how to set up your home office to be safe, healthy, and comfortable. Check out this tip sheet for more best practices that employers and workers can follow.

Don’t neglect the importance of a good office chair and a comfortable set up for your keyboard and screen. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean that ergonomics and workplace safety aren’t important. Some employers will also help you assess your ergonomic setup.

If you can’t create a dedicated workspace, you can set up your home space so it looks different while you’re working. By using a different light—cool-toned lights can help you stay focused—you can create a distinction. A foldable room divider screen can also help.

For some people, their pets, knickknacks, and household chores mean they just can’t concentrate at home. In that case, a café, library, or other public space may be the solution.

If you need the buzz of other workers around you, consider a co-working space. These offices allow freelancers and other remote workers to do their jobs under the same roof. For those who crave that social aspect, this may be ideal.

Some employers provide financial support to pay for co-working spaces or to help remote workers set up their home offices. You may also be eligible for tax deductions related to your home office.

Eliminate clutter

It’s hard to focus if your workspace is littered with sticky notes and half-filled cups of cold coffee. You’ll be more productive if your work area is clean.

Make sure your background is also clutter-free. You want your colleagues to focus on your presentation, not your bookshelves.

Schedule your workday

Organizing your workday means more than just trying to knock things off your to-do list. Scheduling tasks and events into your day allows you to stay on track and to maintain balance and focus.

Block out time for tasks

Planning out every moment of your day can seem a bit daunting, but it’s a great time-management and productivity tool.

By blocking out chunks of time for specific tasks (8:30 to 9: emails; 9 to 9:30: work on report; and so on), you guard against distractions and allow yourself to focus on a single task for that time period. This focus can make you up to 80% more productive than working on several tasks at the same time, according to researchers.

Take regular, structured breaks

Most of us can’t concentrate for 8 straight hours. Without regular breaks, we tend to lose focus and make poor decisions. Researchers call this decision fatigue. This adds to work stress that can carry into our home life.

Productive breaks prevent this type of stress, boost energy levels, and allow you to become more creative. Forget mindless snacking, online shopping, or complaining to coworkers, all of which can actually increase fatigue. Instead:

  • Do something different. If you’ve been sitting at your computer for several hours, go for walk, or dance to that new video.
  • Reward yourself. The positive energy you get from doing yoga or playing fetch with your dog will help energize you.
  • Be social. Call your favourite aunt or pick up a coffee at your local coffee shop.

Schedule your breaks so you know they’re coming up. Take them with a clear intention—“Now I’m going to unroll my yoga mat and stretch”—so they don’t slip away without any benefit to you.

Effective time-blocking means being able to estimate how long a task might take and allowing for flexibility if your manager suddenly drops something in your inbox. It also means balancing deep-focus work such as writing or designing with simpler tasks like reading emails. Much of this comes with practice.

Choose healthy snacks and drinks

It’s hard to focus if you’re hungry or thirsty. Take the time to eat healthy foods and keep a water bottle on hand.

Eliminate distractions

Distractions waste time, kill focus, and can take many forms. Here are some tips to deal with them:

Noise

If you live with loud roommates or on a busy street, good headphones can help block out the noise. Search for terms like “music” and “focus” to find apps or sites that offer tunes to help you concentrate, or search “background noise” or “ambient noise” for sounds like rainfall or crashing waves. Even if your earphones aren’t playing anything, they can work as a great “Do Not Disturb” sign to roommates and family members.

To get rid of background noise during online conference calls, search for “online meetings” and “noise cancellation.” You may discover that your software already has this feature or find apps that provide this service.

Notifications

That ping from your phone can pop your concentration faster than a pin to a balloon. Set your phone to silent and only check it once you’ve completed your scheduled task. The same goes for notifications on your work computer. Close them down or set them to “Do Not Disturb.” Just make sure your manager and colleagues still have a clear way to reach you if something urgent comes up.

The black hole of the internet

Just checking the stats of your local team? The weather on your favourite remote island? The price of that new pair of shoes? It might only take half a minute, but it’s easy to click on a related link and get sucked into the black hole of the internet. Once you climb back out, researchers say you’ll waste an average of over 23 minutes getting back on track.

Close down browser tabs that aren’t work-related or install an internet blocking tool that will block certain websites for set time periods, while allowing you to access others for your work. Search “internet blocker for work” to find apps or programs that will do the job.

Friends and family

Friends and family are used to socializing with you at home. Now that your home doubles as an office, you need to set clear boundaries.

Explain that you still have a workday and a schedule you need to follow. Just as they couldn’t drop by when you worked onsite at your company during work hours, they can’t drop by during work hours now that you work from home.

If your friends or family live with you, you’ll need to make the distinctions even clearer, especially if you’re on your break and interacting with them. Be clear and consistent about your work schedule.

Make and maintain work connections

Good working relationships are key to helping you stay productive over the longer term. While we can’t shout a question into the next cubicle or chat in the lunchroom, we can still do these things online. Here’s how:

  • Have good internet. Fast, reliable internet means your video presentations don’t freeze up and your audio doesn’t echo or drop. Your employer may be able to supplement your internet needs.
  • Get to know your company’s communication tools. Learn what’s used for central communication, how to access your project’s database, and what’s used for more social discussions. Using these tools effectively shows that you’re engaged and interested.
  • Connect with a colleague every day, but not about work. If your online meeting ends early, for example, ask about a colleague’s weekend or vacation plans. If you find an interesting item about training springer spaniels, send it to the co-worker who just adopted a springer spaniel puppy. Building social relationships creates better work relationships.

While working remotely is different from working onsite, it offers many benefits. With these strategies to help you maintain your focus and stay productive, you can make it work for you.

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