How to Stay Focused at Home While Working

There’s been a lot more chaos added to our average workday during quarantine. Half-dressed kids running, cats jumping up on a desk, dogs insisting that it’s time for a walk, TV volume on full blast while the kids watch yet another Disney movie…

These are certainly difficult times for those trying to focus and get their work done.

There have been a lot of blogs and videos created lately with tips on how to stay focused at home during COVID-19, including the usual tips such as showering and getting dressed before your workday and having a dedicated workspace. These are all great tips for regular working from home when you’re the only one there, but I don’t think they fully anticipated the chaos of our daily lives since the quarantine. There’s simply too much going on to try to keep a routine.

With that in mind, we reviewed the tips that are being shared right now about working from home. Here is a list of some practical ones during our current semi-organized chaos.

Pump the brakes

Try not to go screeching into your workday morning with the rush of an Indy car driver on his final lap.  You’ll be much more productive if you try to model the vibe of Matthew McConaughey driving a Lincoln. Start by closing out each workday with a look ahead to your plan for tomorrow so you won’t have to panic with surprises.  Keep a running to do list. Online or on a post-it note—it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you aren’t forgetting anything.

In the morning, get up a little earlier than the rest of the family and try to spend your first 45 minutes without checking an electronic device. Yes, this takes discipline because you’re surrounded by them right now, but ease your head into the game. Exercise, watch the news, or simply enjoy a quiet cup of coffee.

Zone out

Wondering how “zoning out” can be a solution to how to stay focused at home? You can’t possibly concentrate with distractions, so if you haven’t yet purchased a good set of noise cancelling headphones or earbuds, now is a good time. This can be a physical trigger to your family members that when they see mom or dad with the headphones on, they are not to be disturbed unless they have accidentally started a fire or the dog may have something in his mouth that could lead to an emergency vet visit.

Plan your day

Remind yourself that these few moments of blissful silence will have to end. Go and wake up the kids. Get them started with food and make sure they’re all set for whatever they need to get done that day. If you have created a plan with them the night before, then they’ll be more prepared as well. Some schools and parents are making their elementary school kids wear uniforms, which as severe as it sounds, isn’t a bad idea so they can feel more like they’re in school. Have a plan with your spouse as to who has which shift and even write it down. Consider staggering your own lunch breaks for more coverage.

Get a head start

Now it’s time for your work. Start your day with a 15 minute virtual huddle with your team and make sure everyone knows their priorities for the day so you can help remove any roadblocks that are getting them stuck. Make sure they have an online “to do” list that you can keep an eye on so things don’t fall through the cracks. There are a lot of great project management tools you can use for this but a shared Google Sheet will do in a pinch. Make sure they know their deadlines and create deadlines for your own tasks as well.

Walk away every now and then

There are a variety of theories on how to be more productive while actually at your desk. According to Inc Magazine, the most productive people take a 17 minute break every 52 mins.

That seems pretty specific. If that plan doesn’t work for you, try this: The Pomodoro technique tells us you should take a 5 min break every 25 mins, then a 15 min break after 4 sessions.

Find a plan that works best for you and answers your own question of how to stay focused at home but remember that your brain simply cannot stay focused for extended periods of time so either plan on switching tasks for variety, or plan breaks.  A break could be as simple as standing up and going outside to breathe fresh air. Try not to make your break a “quick check” of your social media since you may find yourself getting sucked into a vortex of COVID-19 memes and crazy videos that keep you distracted for an hour and you’ll wonder where the day went.

Focus on your health

This is also a good time for us to remember our physical health. Physically, chiropractors tell us that “sitting is the new smoking.” And that if we don’t take breaks to stand up and walk around during the day we’ll end up in pain. Ophthalmologists tell us that if we don’t alternate between the close work of staring at our screens and changing to a long distance gaze across the room every few minutes, we’ll end up needing a higher prescription. And your internist will tell you that sitting all day and eating cookies may not be the best thing for your weight. So plan breaks for physical activity. Even if it is as simple as taking your next conference call while pacing around the room.

Your mental health, too

And finally, whether we like to admit it or not, our mental health is suffering these days. So take time to care for it. Do something simple like bribing yourself to watch a mindless show at the end of the day. Check in with friends and family you haven’t been able to see. Do anything to try to bring back normalcy to your life.

Final thought

We’ll leave you with one final thought for how to stay focused at home. Science proves that geniuses and millionaires like to “dabble.” They try new things and explore different possibilities. This often leads to the next phase of their business. So leave yourself time to ask crazy “what if” questions about your business. You never know what your quarantine brain might come up with!