How to Maintain Focus While Working From Home
Due to the current global crisis, many office workers need to switch gears and work from home. The at-home work environment is far different from the office, and it is easy to lose focus with numerous distractions. Over the past year, I have found many tricks that help keep me focused, productive and in a positive mood.
Create a Daily Routine
Creating a daily routine is essential when working from home. Avoid planning every minute. Instead, create milestones throughout the day. A well thought out routine will help set a cadence for your workflow that will prevent you from falling behind and will give you a sense of accomplishment by the end of the day.
Starting off Productive
Begin your work routine by setting your alarm for the same time as you usually get up for work or earlier. Without the commute, you'll have plenty of extra free time once you complete your tasks. However, you must start early to end early.
Get out of bed right away. Avoid watching TV in bed or catching a few more minutes of sleep. Instead, wake up, make your bed and begin your morning routine as if you were going to the office. Making your bed first thing in the morning will start your brain with the momentum of completing tasks and being productive.
Make Your Bed speech - US Navy Admiral, William H. McRaven
Get a Shower and Change Clothes
Getting a shower before working will help to wake your body up. Plus, you don't want to be rolling around funky all day. Changing out of your pajamas is a great way to decrease laziness. You will also be ready in moments to take a walk or leave your house for any other reason.
Meals and Breaks
Try to plan out when you are going to take breaks. Either hard set times or after completing a particular task. When starting working from home, I would often forget to eat or take breaks. That is fine for a few days, but you'll begin to burn out.
Working from home gives you the luxury of taking breaks on your terms, but do not abuse this privilege. Limit your break to a certain amount of time, so you remember to get back to work. Otherwise, you'll fall behind and will have to work late into the evening.
Remember to rest your eyes and practice the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
End of Day
Make sure you have time to unwind and relax after completing your work for the day. Disconnect and allow your mind to rest; otherwise, you will burn out fast. Don't overdo it though, ensure you are going to bed at a reasonable time.
Make a Checklist
Create a checklist of every task you have for the day. That includes non-work related tasks that tend to pollute your mind. Write them down, and you'll find them nagging you less. Also, write down simple tasks, like checking emails or taking breaks. Check items off your list is a form of gamification. It gives you a small sense of accomplishment, and you'll want to check off more.
You can write them down longhand or digitally. There are many apps for checklists, but I prefer Google Keep. That is the yellow button on the right side of your Gmail page. It works very well, especially on mobile. It also integrates with Google Drive applications.
Try to reward yourself when completing certain tasks, especially if they are difficult. Simple incentives are also an element of gamification. The science behind the brain's reward system is extremely complex, but rewards are one of the main things that drive human actions. For some people, the dopamine released in the brain from a reward has a strong connection to learning and motivation.
Only focus on milestones and task you are putting off. Otherwise, the incentives will become less effective. A reward could be anything from a new cup of coffee, to a walk around the block. Try being creative and give "treat yo self" to something you want. Avoid rewarding yourself with food unless it is to break for a scheduled meal. Working from home and raiding the fridge is a bad combo!
Increase Heart Rate and Blood Flow
Chances are, you will be far less active while working from home. To overcome idleness, try to incorporate short workouts throughout your day. For example, I've placed dumbbells near my kitchen. Every time my coffee is brewing, I hit the weights for a few reps. Increasing your heart rate and blood flow is very important for cognitive functions. You could also start your day with a walk around your neighborhood. Monitor your numbers if you have a fitness tracker like a Fitbit. Results may vary from person to person, but I tend to feel much happier and productive after working out a bit. I have also shed a few pounds after adding these simple workouts to my daily routine.
If you need ideas for simple at-home workouts, Darebee.com is an amazing site with many easy to follow illustrated workouts.
Limit Time on Your Phone
Your phone is likely your largest source of distractions. Chances are you are reading this on your phone now while you should be working. It is best to place your phone on silent if you are not excepting work-related calls. Otherwise, set it to vibrate or disable social media notifications. I often place it in another room to charge to keep it far away.
Avoid Social Media
This one is better said than done, especially with everything going on in the world. However, scrolling your social feed can be addictive and a huge time-waster. If you must use it, limit yourself to only a minute or two. Then quickly get back to work.
Being in your home office for an extended period could cause you to lose focus. Changing where you are working can help spark creativity. Try taking your work to your porch or another room of your house. In my experience, fresh air can make a huge difference in the quality of my work. If you don't have a laptop, take a notebook and write down your thoughts and type them later.
Avoid Social IsolationStay in communication with co-workers, family, and friends, especially if you live alone. When socially isolated for an extended time, you'll begin to experience adverse effects on your physical, mental, and cognitive health. To prevent loneliness, reach out to someone who may be in the same situation as you. To stay productive, put a hard-stop on calls that aren't work related.
Is it A Little Too Quiet?
Sometimes silence is deafening. If it doesn't distract you, turn on the TV, music, podcasts, or some other source of background noise. Avoid anything with a detailed plot, as it can be very distracting. The Office and Parks & Rec are great choices. If you have a sense of humor, try listening to standup comedians. I highly suggest watching Bert Kreischer's new Netflix special "Hey Big Boy".
When two slightly different frequencies are played in each ear, your brain tries to tune them together into a single tone. Depending on the frequency, you'll experience different effects such as relaxation, focus, etc. I'm no expert on the subject, but I have seen positive results when trying to focus and be productive. The video below explains how it works in much greater detail, and you can find loads of different Binaural Beats on YouTube for free.
If you give this a try, only listen for a few minutes at first. You are essentially exercising your brain, so you'll want to go at it slow. If the frequencies differ by a significant amount, you may start to experience headaches.
What are Binaural Beats and how they work.
Habit Building with Scents
This one isn't for everyone, but if you have an essential oil difuser, try assigning unique scents to certain large tasks. The sense of smell is one of the strongest links to memories. Your chosen scent will trigger memories of when you were in a particular mindset for a similar task, and you'll find yourself being much more productive.
Here are a few different scents I use and the tasks associated with them. Essential oil names will differ by brand.
- Marketing Stratgeies / Proposals: Lemon Grass
- Development (HTML, JS, PHP): Tea Tree or Frankincense
- Design (Ad Creative / CSS): Fresh Cut Grass or Gardenia
- SEO Audits: Orange or Grapefruit
- Writing Content: Ambrosia
Nootropics are supplements that may increase brain cognition for some individuals. Usually helping to improve memory, focus, and creativity.
I'm not a doctor, and supplements can affect everyone differently. Below are my opinions on a few nootropics I've found helpful.
Genius Consciousness costs around $38 and is extremely powerful. So powerful that I only take it when working on larger projects or when I completely lose focus. It comes in a powder form, and you mix it with water. It tastes pretty good too, like watermelon laughy taffy. After taking it, my mind becomes hyper-focused, and I'm able to keep a highly productive cadence. The effect seems to last around 4-5 hours for me, and I haven't experienced any adverse side-effects. However, I would not recommend taking this everyday as you could build a tolerance.
Someone recommended Agil Brain ($27) to me for brain functionality, and they were correct. Creativity is greatly improved when I take it, so I typically only use it when working on design or writing content.
Brain Octane Oil ($25) is MCT Oil. If unfamiliar, medium-chain triglycerides help to boost energy and increases brain functionality for some people. I've tried many different MCT oils, but Brain Octane Oil is my absolute favorite. Normally I pour some in my coffee when I need some extra energy and focus.
Pro Tip: Depending on how adapted your body is to metabolizing fats, you may want to stay close to a bathroom. To see how your body reacts to the MCT oils, I would suggest taking half of the recommended dose when starting.
If you listen to the Joe Rogan's podcast, then you likely know about Onnit's Alpha Brain ($80). Due to the higher cost, I have stopped taking Alpha Brain. When I have used it, the effects were great and worked as advertised. It increased focus, memory, and creativity. However, with repeat use, I noticed that I started to build a tolerance.