How to Stay Focused When Working From Home

Jandra Sutton
May 30, 2017 · 6 min read
Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman.

Growing up, I never pictured myself working in an office. I couldn’t imagine sitting behind a desk — in a cubicle or my own corner office — and I certainly didn’t like the concept of a nine-to-five. However, as I got older (and being a Hollywood actress became less of a goal), I realized that I would have to make the switch.

However, after several years in the traditional workforce, I transitioned into a remote position. With nearly 1 in 4 Americans working from home, it’s certainly not a new trend, and more people are telecommuting than ever before.

Thanks to technology, working from home is easy. Most jobs can be performed via the Internet, and apps like Slack make it easy to communicate with teams without needing to be physically present.

However, while the technology that allows remote work continues to progress, the actual process of working from home can be difficult — if not impossible — for some people.

I spoke with several fellow remote workers recently, and most (if not all) of them struggled with the same problem. It’s hard to stay focused when working at home, and the lack of human interaction can be more difficult than you might imagine. Even for introverts who are eager to get their ‘space’ to focus, it can be a tough transition from the traditional workspace to self-motivating at home.

So how do you stay focused while working from home? It takes practice, but these tips can help.

1. Have a dedicated workspace.

Even if you don’t have a home office, it’s important to have a dedicated area where you can get work done without being distracted, uncomfortable, or interrupted. While some people prefer the couch, I’ve had friends place a small desk in the corner of a room or opt for the kitchen table — anything that can be used regularly.

Forming a habit around your workspace is useful when working from home. It can be difficult to switch from relax + recharge mode when you’re sitting in the same place you binge-watched Netflix the night before, which is why having a separate workspace can be critical.

Personally, I’m lucky enough to have my own office, and I try to spend at least a couple of hours there whenever I’m working — even if I know I’m going to end up working from the couch eventually. It helps me kickstart my productivity in the morning, and it allows me to place hard lines between my work and personal lives.

Added bonus? While having a dedicated workspace can make it easier to switch into ‘work mode’, it’s also good for doing the opposite. Telecommuting makes it easy for work to bleed into your personal life, and ‘boxing’ your workspace at home away from where you relax can help keep the two separate.

2. Keep it tidy.

Staying organized is an age-old method for boosting productivity.

While some believe that mess is part and parcel of working in a creative industry, it’s still important to have some structure to the chaos.

It’s not just about the workspace itself either — while having a tidy desk is great, I find that I work better when the house is clean as well. That way, while I’m working at home, I don’t feel any guilt about the dishes piling up in the kitchen (and I tend to like being in the house more when it’s clean.)

This can give you a boost whether you’re aware of it or not, and it’s one of my favorite ways to dig back into work when I’m struggling to stay focused. It might seem counterintuitive to take a break from work to clean up, but the benefits of tidying up are two-fold: 1) a short break can actually help boost productivity and 2) being more organized can help you stay productive.

3. Treat it like a job.

Okay, yes, working from home already is a job. However, sometimes it needs to ‘feel’ like one as well.

If you’re struggling to stay focused, try getting up with an alarm and going through the motions as if you were going to the office. Take a shower, change out of your pajamas (even if you want to stay in sweatpants), and enjoy a cup of coffee with your breakfast before diving into your workday.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with staying in bed with your laptop all day, breaking out of that routine here and there can help you stay focused.

Remember: you might have to try different things on different days. There’s no rulebook to working from home that says this is how it needs to be done, and each individual is different. Many days I work from home in my gym clothes, but sometimes I need to go through a morning routine and put on a dress — even if I know I won’t leave the house — to kick myself into gear.

4. Step away from distractions.

If you’re going to work from home, you need to be honest with yourself about your weaknesses. Can you really get things done while watching Netflix on the sofa or do you need to move into the other room to be productive?

Some people are blessed with the ability to work with noise in the background — whether that’s a movie, a podcast, or a Supernatural marathon — but others are not. If that’s not you, well, it’s time to distance yourself from distractions.

I would love to be able to work from home whilst watching Netflix, but — whenever I do — I can’t get anything done. So, as much as I’d prefer working upstairs on the sofa — I don’t let myself.

Sure, there are days when I break this rule and camp out in front of the TV with my laptop for a few hours, but I try to be honest with myself if I feel my productivity dwindling.

It’s a struggle, yes, but I would much rather spend 5 hours working at a high productivity level without distractions than spend 10 hours working at 50% capacity.

5. Get out of the house.

Last but not least, sometimes the best way to increase your productivity while working from home is to get out of the house.

Whether that’s finding a coworking space or a local coffee shop that isn’t too busy, taking a break from being home 24/7 is critical. The downside of working from home is the lack of human interaction, and — while this is ideal for some remote workers — it can be incredibly difficult for others.

This is when getting out of the house is hyper important. I try to get out of the house at least once a week, even if it’s only for a few hours, and that break in routine usually causes my productivity to skyrocket. During weeks where I’m struggling at home, the change in scenery from switching to a local coffeeshop has helped me push through the sludge to stay focused and get stuff done.

Sometimes, even going to a friend’s house who also works from home can be enough to kickstart productivity. Mix it up as much (or as little) as you need to, because — really — learning how to stay focused while working from home is about finding what works for you.

I always tell people that learning to work from home is like any new skill — it takes practice. Try new things, be open (and honest) about what’s working, and you’ll get there.

If you don’t? That’s okay too! Working from home isn’t for everyone.

Still struggling with staying focused? Try these productivity hacks for creative entrepreneurs. Let me know what works for you in the comments below!

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