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When Working From Home Isn't Working

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. One of the greatest downsides of working from home is that the work never feels done.

So what can you do?

• Create a designated work space

This 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

Research tells us that what we wear affects our self-perception and our performance. Did you know that athletes who wear the color red can lift a heavier amount of weight and students who wear a Superman t-shirt are shown to have increased test scores? 

When you're working at home, wearing business attire will make you feel and act more professional.

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.

Another ritual that supports brain focus is to get into the habit of starting work at the same time.

• Establish a going-home ritual

In addition to the fake commute at the end of your shift, you can start to separate your brain from the workday by taking a few minutes to tidy up your desk and write a quick 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 by writing a note to yourself. Stick it on the door jamb or put it in the middle of the floor so you remember to do 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.

This could be a personal phone call, a walk with someone, a class...

• Stop checking work email on your phone

Seventeen percent of Americans check it 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?


Working from home can work if you help your brain

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 the distractions of home will reduce the likelihood of being swayed 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.

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