Since the COVID-19 pandemic means more people than ever will be working from home, I figured I might have something valuable to share based my own experience.
Having worked from home for the past 7 years, I thought I’d share the best strategies I’ve found for minimising distractions and maximising productivity to help you get the most out of this unique situation many people now find themselves in.
1. Set Clear Boundaries
Boundaries for others
Tell your partner, kids, dog/cat or anyone else who may want to “borrow” your attention that during the hours of X and Y you’re working and NOT available to discuss their agendas (excluding emergencies). You can suggest they call, text, email or simply wait until you’re on break.
A visual indicator such as a sign displaying “I’m working. Do not disturb.”, placed on your door or desk will remind the other inhabitants (humans anyway) of this boundary when they forget (which they invariably will).
Boundaries for yourself
Dedicate a room or a workspace specifically for work and train yourself to focus solely on work activities when you are in that space. Your brain will strengthen this association the more you do it and the easier it will be to remain focused on work. Save any non-work tasks to be completed outside your working hours, in another room or on a different device.
2. Be Intentionally Ignorant
Distractions that interrupt your concentrated work efforts can be minimised by checking emails once or twice a day (Tim Ferris style) at scheduled times and for a scheduled period. 12:30pm and 4:30pm is what I usually prefer so that I’m attending to my agendas for the first half of the day before attending to the agendas of others while also keeping an eye on things.
The other major distraction to avoid is your mobile phone. Phone calls, text messages and notifications…oh my! So put it in airplane mode during your 90 to 120 minute Deep Work time blocks and only turn airplane mode off consciously after you’ve invest the better part of your energy into your highest value tasks.
Focus on one job / outcome only during a time block and ignore any other priorities temporarily to avoid switching tasks and accumulating “attention residue”.
3. Focus, Un-focus, Repeat
Use the Pomodoro technique (see the link for timers you can use) to create 25 minute time blocks of focus followed by 5 minutes to rest your brain and move your body.
Take a longer break, about 15-30 minutes, every 90 to 120 minutes and deliberately do something that re-energises you e.g. a walk, gardening, easy reading, make lunch, etc. This doesn’t mean checking email, Facebook or text messages as these tasks will only drain your mental reserves more.
By doing the above you’ll be creating oscillations of focussed work while allowing your brain to rest and recovery thereby preventing fatigue and ensuring the quality of the work you do is higher throughout the whole day instead of burning out half way through. You’ll also feel better at the end of the workday and thus will be more pleasant to be around when you transition back to home life.
4. “Shutdown Complete”
To make a smoother transition from “work mode” to “home mode” and reduce any stress you may have accumulated during the workday, create a shutdown ritual that allows your brain to let go of any unfinished tasks and “close the loops”. This can be as simple as checking over your emails quickly, reviewing your calendar for upcoming events and updating any task lists you might be using. I’d suggest identifying your highest value task for the following day and setting it as your number one priority so that your mind can rest easy knowing what it will be doing first thing the following day.
Then close out your workday with a signifying action such as saying out loud “shutdown complete” to indicate that you will not be thinking about work until the following day. If/when you catch your mind thinking about work after hours, simply remind yourself “I’m not thinking about that until tomorrow.” and you’ll be rewarded with a better night’s sleep and you’ll be a more present member of the family.
Give one, or all, of these strategies a try for yourself. Once you find strategies that work for you (and possibly your family), there’s a good chance you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of working from home while mitigating most of the pitfalls.