Setting yourself deadlines can be very effective for shifting your mindset from “casual” to work mode.
When you don’t have a “boss” breathing down your neck, you don’t feel as much pressure, but time deadlines to meet within the day, week and month cause you to work harder.
If you work as part of a team, there may already be deadlines to meet for specific objectives or assignments. In this case, you’ll know these deadlines help you stay on track.
However, if you work on your own or you run your own internet-based business, you’ll know how easy it is to take your finger off the button and let your work slip.
Introducing cemented deadlines will help you feel a sense of pressure and urgency about things that need to get done. Without deadlines, it’s difficult to be productive and keep yourself and your staff pushing the business forward.
After a while of using deadlines in my work-related tasks, I noticed I was more productive. But, I didn’t realize you could take things one step further with this technique. While reading Tim Ferriss’ “Four Hour Work Week,” I discovered “Parkinson’s Law.”
Parkinson’s Law is a pretty incredible method for being more effective with your deadlines. It works by increasing the amount of pressure on your deadline by decreasing the time you give yourself for specific tasks.
For example, if know you have nine hours in a full work day to complete a task, you’ll pace yourself to complete that task over a nine hour period.
But, if you decrease the time on the deadline to dictate you need that assignment to be complete in five hours, you’ll work harder and push yourself to get it done faster. Does this make the work quality suffer?
Not in the slightest, the quality is the same if not better since it increases the severity and focus one puts into an assignment.
Structure Your Day
I remember what my days used to be like before I created a clear structure to plan out my day’s tasks. It felt like a guessing game, which resulted in me not being very productive.
Having a clear structure to follow when working from home is essential. It gives you direction, purpose and also helps the quality of your work to be at its best. I use to-do lists and automated planners to keep me on track. This way I know what I need to get done each day, and how much time to dedicate to each area of my daily workload.
Also, I learned a valuable lesson while structuring my day. I’m a big fan of science and acting based on factual evidence to unleash my full potential. I found out we’re most productive and focused for the first three hours of our workday.
Therefore, I put the most important or most difficult task for each day at the top of my to-do list. This point alone has transformed how effective and productive I am when working from home.
After those first three hours, we begin to fatigue, and regular breaks are needed. It’s essential to your productivity that you spend those first three hours wisely.
As humans, we have a tendency to put off tough tasks, but this only serves to hurt us more than if we tackled them straight away. Start working on the toughest objectives you have at the beginning of your workday, and see how much more you get done.
Take Regular Breaks
Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you don’t need to take breaks. A lot of home workers (including myself some time ago) feel that because they’re working from home, they can plow through an entire workday taking only a very short break now and then.
This only makes your work quality suffer, and isn’t good for your physical and mental well-being.
When working on your own business or assignments you care for greatly, it’s easy to put yourself in an unhealthy mindset to get work done. Working 14-hour days without taking enough breaks and not getting enough sleep or sticking to a healthy diet is a terrible habit.
You wouldn’t do this if you worked at an office, so why does it make sense working from home?
I learned this lesson the hard way with many of my projects. It can be hard not working at something you love, as it doesn’t feel like work, but taking time out is vital to both the quality of what you produce and your health.
Studies show that for every hour you work at a computer you should take a 5-10 minute break to prevent eyestrain and fatigue. Also, shorter breaks allow us to remain more focused and productive, rather than long breaks where we allow our minds to drift out and completely exit “work mode.”
Humans naturally run on rhythms and wave-like patterns. Therefore, we must learn to work hard when we dedicate time to working and to rest properly to prevent fatigue and low-quality results. I always aim to work with full focus and commitment for around 45-50 minutes and then take a 15-20 minute break. On my break, I will do one of a few things including:
Mindfulness activity – (Tea or coffee drinking, taking a short walk)
Using a combination of these activities on my breaks helps me to rest properly, rather than think about work-related tasks while away from the computer. It helps me to “ride the waves” of focused work and rest effectively, instead of not being fully committed while working and not switching off from work when resting.
Create a Productive Work Environment
Ensure things are set up professionally when working from home. For example, I used to work sitting on my sofa with my laptop. It didn’t take long before I started suffering frequently from stiff necks, which negatively impacted my productivity and health.
Now my work setup is professional. I have a desk, my laptop is almost at eye level and my computer chair is comfortable and keeps my back upright. Only after a trip to my physiotherapist did the severity of where my body health was heading hit home. If you don’t do this for work focus and productivity, at least do it for your health!
Make your work environment healthy and creative. Have a few plants around or some photos or boards with messages that inspire you and keep you on task. I have images of my life goals and ambitions around my workplace; they help keep me motivated and determined when I’m feeling low or “stuck” with an assignment.
Working in this kind of environment will condition your mind over time to think in a more focused and productive way. This works through triggering—the same mechanism that pushes us to work out when we enter a gym. Our body starts to prepare itself for exercise; it’s like it can tell the near future. However, it’s vital your work conditioning remains positive, so make sure that whatever you decorate your environment with instills you with a sense of purpose, positivity and motivation.
Do’s and Don’ts for Working Environments
I felt this concept needed its own section, since it’s one of the most important for keeping distractions out. These have worked wonders for me, and studies show they’ve been beneficial for others too.
Firstly, keep the TV away. I tried the productivity tip of “keeping the TV on in the background, ” and it didn’t work for me at all.
I found myself turning around to view it too often, and it broke up my focus. I don’t recommend it. There is no TV in my home office space.
My work area is separate from anywhere where leisure activities take place. As I mentioned in the previous section, this environment is conditioned to trigger an emotional response from me to work productively and in a focused manner. Don’t mix areas where you relax with areas where you work.
Good air quality is a must. This might sound silly to some, but sitting in a stuffy room doesn’t invoke focus and productivity. If you want to feel comfortable and maintain peak working conditions, airflow is important.
Air quality impacts concentration, so open a window or have a fan blowing softly to circulate the air around the room.
I also mentioned plants earlier. I’m a lover of flowers and houseplants for their aesthetic value and air-enhancing effects. Most people remember the basic science they learned in school about plants giving off oxygen.
So, plants work on two levels: they uplift and maintain healthy moods, and they oxygenate whatever room they’re in.
If you work with social media for your company, then obviously it has to be open at some point during your workday. But, to avoid gossip or conversations that aren’t work related, turn off the chat function.
This shows you as “offline” to those who are online and means that you’re unlikely to receive any messages.
Stay hydrated. One of the worst focus killers for me is becoming dehydrated. I always have a glass or bottle of water with me when working. Studies have shown our concentration levels drop significantly when we don’t maintain healthy hydration. For this reason, I mainly stick to water when working (and coffee, of course).
Putting new ideas to paper
Overall, staying focused when working from home is achieved through multiple avenues.
Through setting effective deadlines via techniques such as Parkinson’s Law, we can be more productive, achieving the same quality of work faster. Structuring our day allows us to use our energy and concentration effectively, aiming to complete the hardest assignments within the first three hours of the day.
Taking regular breaks enables us to take advantage of our cycle-like nature as humans. Resting properly when taking time out and working effectively when in the workspace.
Lastly, by creating a work environment that triggers our mindset to focus productively and positively on our assignments, we can make the most out of our time working at home.
Remember, your work habitat should exclude all distractions and instill you with a sense of motivation and focus, helping you to take advantage of the rest of the solutions outlined in this post most effectively.
Through my personal experience of working from home for the past seven years, I’ve developed these solutions and made them a compulsory part of my work life. Everything that made this list has been tried, tested and is used by me and countless others who work from home.
Do you have any other tips or advice on what’s worked for you for maintaining focus while working at home? Leave us a comment in the section below.
This is a guest post by Faith. She is a health and tech blogger at eHealth Informer. She has been working from home for several years now writing and marketing content.
After overcoming the steep learning curve that comes with switching to working away from an office, she enjoys bringing awareness to how technology and nature can be used to create an effective and focused work environment.