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Separating Work and Home: Best Practices

stay focused Mar 07, 2021

[Reading time: 2 mins 20 secs]

When I graduated from college and got my first "real" job, I remember feeling such relief that I no longer had to think about studying all the time. All of a sudden, I felt free from the pressure of work that never felt done (well, at least until that final exam was over.)

It was a blissful way of being - until cell phones and email showed up. Many of us have experienced overlap in our work and personal lives for a long time but somehow it was easier to manage when 9 - 5 happened in an office.

Last spring, working from home became the norm for hundreds of thousands of us. More than 80+% of the people who took my Time Management class in 2020 said they were working from home for the first time.

And do you know what was their top complaint?

how to focus when working from home

Staying focused.

I know! Working from home means distractions are all over the place. It can also be hard to get in the requisite billable hours without working into the evening. The greatest downside of working from home is that the work is so close at hand. This means:

  1. It never feels done
  2. We can always "just check one more thing"
  3. We end up dragging work into our personal lives

So what can you do?

• Create a designated work space

Creating this separation doesn't need to be fancy. It could even be a closet - or a cubby made out of cardboard (seriously, I've seen this). A separate area is a physical, visible reminder to your brain that you're now in work mode. 50% of the cortex is dedicated to imagery so capitalize on the subtle message that the work space means it's time to work.

Here's a tip about your desk: Don't put anything on it that you wouldn't have at the office. And don't let anyone else put "stuff" on it.

• Dress up, fix your hair, and put on makeup if you wear it

The more messages to your brain that separate work and home, the better.

Here's another reason this is helpful: Research tells us that what we wear affects our self-perception and our performance! Athletes who wear the color red can lift a heavier amount of weight, students who wear a Superman t-shirt are shown to have increased test scores, so why not piggyback on the same concept?

And here's another benefit: When break time comes along, you won't be as tempted to start on messy household chores. Those chores turn short breaks into long breaks really quickly. 

• Establish a going-to-work ritual

Fake a commute by taking a few minutes to walk around and transition your brain to the work mode. Do this at the beginning of the day, at lunchtime, and at the end of your work day.

If you get into the habit of starting work at, say 9:00, your brain is going to subconsciously be readying itself to get working at 9:00!

• Establish a going-home ritual

In addition to the fake commute, help your brain separate from the workday by taking a few minutes to neaten up your desk and maybe even write a To Do list for the next day.

Studies show that it takes two months to develop a new habit so remind yourself to do this end-of-the-day cleanup by writing a note to yourself (and stick it on the door jamb or put it in the middle of the floor so you see it).

• Schedule something after work

Scheduling a non-work activity forces you to quit on time so you're not working late and then trying to fix a hurried dinner two hours after you should have eaten.

Schedule anything: a personal phone call, a walk with someone, a class...

• Stop checking work email on your phone

Seventeen percent of Americans check email as soon as they wake up and 55% check it within an hour of waking up. Ouch. Every time we interface with our email, we experience a degree of stress.

Here's a crazy thing to consider: Can you remove your work email from your phone?

 

Keeping work life separated is key

Creating a bridge of transition away from the needs/emotional pulls of the house (and the other people in it), will absolutely help your brain to focus when you're working. Out of sight; out of mind is a key part of why this works. Not seeing those home distractions is going to reduce the likelihood of being distracted by them.

 

 


Focus is about the brain skill of Sustained Attention

Some brains are strong in this skill and others are not - especially when working from home. If your brain struggles to focus, all you need to do is bring in the tools and strategies that support that skill. What are those tools and strategies? Glad you asked! Check out the link below for more info.

GoBrainGo: Our brain-based videos put you in the driver's seat of your life.

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