Figuring out how to stay focused when working from home is sometimes about opening your calendar. Is there anything there? Did you stick to your to-do list? Or are you reacting to work and situations around you to get through the week?
As a recovering workaholic, here’s the truth. To do our best, most creative work, we have to honor our calendar and the commitments we make to ourselves and others. But it’s not enough to say we’ll avoid distractions at work and hope for the best without implementing a system to get there. We also have to eliminate interruptions and distractions from our days so we can honor our commitments and still have time for a life outside of work.
Some people can get a handle on their work-from-home schedule easier than others by creating their own systems, slashing the distractions, and renewing their commitment to work. You can avoid distractions at work even if you’re working from Bali gazing at the gorgeous water outside. If you’re a corporate burn-out who’s procrastinating their way through launching a business and sticking to it, you can do the mindset work to stop looking at anything and everything to do instead: like laundry, for instance.
If you’re a mom like me, you know that figuring out how to stay focused when working from home isn’t always easy for mamas. Your children’s needs are immediate and sometimes unpredictable. However, carving out dedicated odd hours while someone else can pitch in can also free up distractions.
Whatever the reasons you’re distracted isn’t the important part. The real question is how to avoid distractions at work and renew your focus and vigor for your business. Here are some strategies to get started.
11 Strategies to avoid distractions at work and produce your best results
Create Routines You Love
Setting goals for your business is a winning strategy to land your dream clients and grow the income you want. But you also need to set goals for your own life. Focus on what kind of life you want to live and create routines around to support your goals.
Do you want to travel as much as possible and enjoy the day? You may need a system to work in the evening and keep your days free. Do you want to work with brilliant clients who are at the top of your field? Doing deep work and carving out time for meetings is necessary to align with your clients’ needs. Or maybe you want to stay home with your kids and do creative and fulfilling work that pays your bills? You may need to design a split-shift of work for yourself or hire a sitter to help create a balance of family and business.
Plan Out Your Week in Advance
Getting a handle on your time and planning out your week ahead of time is crucial. You can solve the problem of how to stay focused when working from home by minimizing interruptions and distractions during the week. I do my planning on Mondays and do my best to make sure that nothing but an emergency interrupts what I’ve charted out.
When you’re ready to get down to work and don’t have to worry about your phone or where your headphones are, you can squeeze out more productive hours than ever before. Here are some ways to avoid distractions at work:
- Turn off your phone
- Turn off notifications on your computer (always say NO to those desktop notifications!)
- Work in a quiet space where you can be alone
- Make sure you collect anything you’ll need to do this work ahead of time – especially if you need something from another teammate to get this piece of work done
When you’re ready to get down to work and don’t have to worry about your phone or where your headphones are, you can squeeze out more productive hours than ever before.
Shift Your Mindset
Part of being too busy is a choice. It may not feel like it when you’re drowning in work, but getting a handle on your schedule and planning out your week leaves room for your priorities.
A mindset shift has to happen here. Decide you are not too busy for your business and have plenty of time to do all the most important things to you. You’re not busy. Your life isn’t busy. Decide that your life is full and productive and ready to meet challenges head-on.
All of those “too busy” thoughts are triggered by stress, overwhelm, and uncertainty. Once you have some systems in place, you can choose to think something else about your life and business and change the narrative. Remember that you are in control of your own life.
How to stay focused when working from home is also about setting firm boundaries. Many of us feel like we have to respond to our kids’ needs or our bosses and clients urgently. The reality is, most of our clients are pretty predictable. We know when they’re going to need something ‘urgent’ based on knowing them. If you know your boss (or a client) will always ask you to do an extra project in your recurring meeting with them, plan spare time in your workweek to accomplish that seemingly ‘unexpected’ task or project. Anticipate, honor your word to yourself, and follow through on what you’d planned.
Knowing what kids need can be trickier if you’re a working mama, but you can still set boundaries. Set boundaries with older kids that they cannot disturb you unless your door is open unless it’s a real emergency. Make sure to explain a disagreement with a sibling or wanting a snack is not an emergency. Handing over the reins to a sitter or partner is also setting a boundary. Empower them to take over your domestic duties without intervening. And let them know you don’t need to be disturbed except for particular situations you can set in advance.
If you’re in a situation where you can work from home or a coffee shop, set boundaries and let your family and friends know when you are in “office hours.” Endless IMs are a distraction. So are requests to throw in a quick load of laundry. Whenever possible, recruit a partner, family member, or babysitter to keep the kids occupied while you continue working to keep your productivity high.
Eliminate Unnecessary Work
Unnecessary work eats up valuable time and resources. It’s also often disguised as things you think you can’t possibly stop doing like meetings and coffee chats. Be ruthless with your time and keep everything efficient, including meetings. To avoid distractions at work, my large team only has one standing 30-minute meeting per week to sync up and talk about any outstanding issues. Anything else that needs to be discussed can be shared over ClickUp or Slack, or with the occasional one-off meeting.
Email is also a significant time suck. I went from being an email addict who was on top of my email around the clock, including weekends, to someone who only checks email 1 to 2 times per day. With few exceptions, I also never check it on weekends. Instead, I schedule the time for checking email and stick to that schedule. I also put that on my calendar and never look at it outside of those times. Check you remain 1-2x per day and put it on your calendar. And don’t look at it outside of those times. Here’s my email system you can snag for yourself.
Keeping a strict reign over your email will also help you avoid the urge to respond to requests from others that aren’t on your daily plan. Trust me, your brain will want to respond to everything right away, But you must remind yourself that nothing is ever truly urgent (except in extremely rare cases).
Work Through the Frustrations
It’s important to realize that building your business isn’t always going to be exciting and fun. Even though you’ve planned ahead and meticulously laid out your schedule, you’ll resist doing those tedious tasks that come up. Your brain will resist and look for distractions when it’s time to do something that’s not 100% enjoyable. That’s normal, and your brain is just trying to keep you comfortable and safe.
You have to learn to feel those feelings of resistance, frustration, boredom, and resentment and do the thing anyway. Once you’ve mastered this, you will have unlocked one of the major secrets to success.
I can speak from my own experience on this topic. When you don’t want to do something you’ve planned, it’s because something you’re thinking creates a negative feeling. It takes some work and patience, but if you work on consciously changing your thoughts and mindset, you can overcome those uncomfortable feelings and get the thing done anyway.
Take Intentional Breaks
Taking intentional breaks helps you figure out how to stay focused when working from home. We can’t work deeply and concentrate for hours at a time. Plan plenty of time for rest and breaks in your workday, and be purposeful about when you do it. For example, if you come out of meetings or creative, focused time, don’t plan something else directly afterward; that takes up a lot of your energy. If you’re like me, you will want to do something relaxing like exercise or a nap after that focused time or back-to-back meetings. Be kind to yourself in your planning, so your brain stops rebelling. And when it does, you’ll know how to tame it before it gets out of hand.
Multitasking will be the death of your productive time. Resist the urge to multitask to avoid distractions at work. Switching from task to task is distracting and draining, and you’re likely to fall down a rabbit hole of work that doesn’t need to be done at the moment. The same goes for just throwing in that one load of laundry. The more you interrupt your work processes, the more likely you are to succumb to your distractions.
Eliminate the Noise
It’s common to work from coffee shops, open offices, and co-working spaces, but they’re terrible for noise. Turn off the music or set something that’s like white noise for your brain. It’s also helpful to invest in noise-canceling headphones to find a reprieve from the distractions. Just don’t make it your mission to find the best or most affordable headphones, or you’ll end up distracting yourself and avoiding the real work on your business.
Use a Separate Browser
Downloading two different browsers could help avoid distractions at work and stay focused while working from home. One browser should be used for casual surfing with all your usual distractions from social media to your favorite bookmarks. Your work browser can be strictly for work and bookmarked only with the tools and resources you need to complete the job at hand.
Know Your Triggers
Get a handle on your triggers. Stressful news and situations can cause us to binge on snacks, the Internet, texting, and obsess over a tidy house. Eliminate your consumption of anything that’s triggering in the hour leading up to work, whenever possible. It will prove less distracting than going on a media binge the moment you sit down to work and let your mind get overwhelmed.
Staying productive while working from home requires self-discipline
Especially if you’re used to an office environment, the transition to remote work may be challenging. Routines like getting ready in the morning, your commute, or simply being in a different physical space can make it easier to get “in the zone” when it comes to your work. But removing these habits may feel like someone pulled the rug out from under you: Your day may like the structure or cues to help you sit down and get things done as you used to.
The good news is that as an entrepreneur, you get to design your day and work. It pays to be intentional about what your calendar looks like — and most importantly, how you stay focused while working from home. Cultivating these habits will change the way you work remotely and bring you closer to any lofty goals you’ve set for your new venture.