How to improve your focus while working from home

Working from home can be full of distractions and challenges. These evidence-based practices may improve your focus and productivity.
Written by Matthew Sweeney, Contributing Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic drove many into "hermit mode" as our employers required us to work from home for months. Working from home seems easy until you have to do it while dealing with the ordinary distractions of home life! Luckily, there are many strategies for how to improve your focus in this unique work situation.

Working from home presents challenges because it blurs work and leisure. If you have all day at home to complete a task, it's human to get distracted by the internet or your phone. 

Evidence-based strategies for improving focus — such as eliminating distractions, getting exercise, and practicing time management — can help you stay productive and empower you as a remote professional.

Read on to learn some of the best strategies for improving focus as a home-based remote worker.

Quick look

A graphic summarizing this article's tips for how to improve your focus while working from home. Tips include: Curate your work station, get in the right mindset, block technological distractions, and prioritize breaks and healthy habits.
Tori Rubloff/ZDNet

Tip #1: Curate a workstation that works for you.

Visuals that energize you

The overall appearance of your workstation may greatly impact your ability to concentrate. You need to keep the space not only tidy but also visually appealing and energizing.

Make sure your workstation is in a room with good natural lighting. Try arranging any of the following objects at or around it:

  • Potted plants
  • Motivational or beautiful photographs or artwork
  • Inspiring quotations
  • Personal souvenirs

Shifting your work environment visuals around every few months can also help you refresh the space.

Visual distractions out of your line of sight

Eliminating visual distractions will make it easier to concentrate. Clutter can be distracting, so keep the space clean. You should try to keep your cell phone out of arms' reach, along with television screens, gaming PCs, or even bookshelves that could visually distract you.

If you have housemates, set clear boundaries with them on when you will need privacy and be unable to socialize.

Ergonomic comfort

You want to ensure that your work situation is ergonomically comfortable, especially if you need to sit for long periods. Invest in a comfortable office chair and keep it at a comfortable screen height and tilt. 

Maintaining a healthy posture makes it easier to work for long periods and may also ensure that you are not harming your body unintentionally. Sitting with bad posture may increase your risks of developing issues such as sciatica.

Music or sounds that sustain focus

Music and sounds also impact your ability to concentrate. Keep your workstation away from distracting sounds such as traffic, if possible.

Music or background sounds can help you concentrate, depending on what you like. A white noise machine, nature sounds, or beatless music such as Tibetan singing bowls can provide a steady, calming backdrop.

Tip #2: Get in the right mindset.

Identify when you work best.

Adjust your schedule to fit the time of day your focus peaks. Though many of us work best in the morning or the middle of the day, each person is different.

For instance, if you're most alert and focused in the early morning, save the hardest tasks for that time window. Focus on lesser tasks later.

Give tasks your full attention.

Doing your best work means giving tasks your undivided attention. If you waver on whether you are working or taking a break, your work will suffer — half-focusing only leads to taking twice as long completing tasks and possibly even halving your work's quality.

Maintaining a clear boundary between breaks and actual work will keep you on track. It can also help you recognize when you need a break.

Embrace routines and systems.

When working from home, routines and schedules are your friends. Create a schedule that makes a clear distinction between work time and self-care tasks such as freshening up, going for a walk, reading, etc. Build in a buffer between waking up and going to work.

Following a consistent daily schedule can help define boundaries between self-care and work time more clearly. However, it's okay if you don't follow it to the minute every day.

Create a daily to-do list.

Creating a to-do list can help boost your work productivity and general well-being. To-do lists could take the form of:

  • Whiteboards
  • Post-it notes
  • Online calendars
  • Journaling

Make them visible in a place you frequently look, such as your fridge or living room, and at your workstation.

Productivity apps such as Todoist also function as list-making tools.

Know what to do when your attention is slipping.

Note when your attention starts to wander. It is easier to focus on work if you know the triggers for becoming distracted or slacking off. Then, retrieve your focus. Strategies might include:

  • Taking a deep breath and clearing your mind for a few moments
  • Breaking down a larger task into smaller parts
  • Using positive self-talk

Tip #3: Block out technological distractions.

Block websites that steal your attention.

One of the internet's drawbacks is that certain websites can be so alluring that they distract from getting work done. If you compulsively check apps such as Instagram, YouTube, or Facebook, mute them during work time or consider removing them from your phone. 

You may also want to block addictive websites. These may include:

  • Sports sites
  • Stock market price trackers
  • News sites

Turn off auditory and visual notifications for email, Slack, etc.

Phone notifications can also pull your focus away from work. Every buzz of your phone demands attention. It helps to turn off notifications on your phone and mute certain apps, such as your email, Slack, and any app that features ads as notifications.

Avoid checking your phone every time you have the urge.

One of the best steps for eliminating technological distractions is refusing to check your phone while working. You can set a useful boundary by resolving only to check your phone during breaks.

Tip #4: Prioritize breaks and healthy habits.

Give yourself breaks.

It is essential to take breaks to do good work. You should never feel guilty about needing a break. The human brain can likely only focus for less than an hour at a time. Giving your brain rest allows it to process information and refresh.

Popular systems for organizing your breaks include:

Stay active throughout the day.

Staying physically active can also help you focus better on your work and decrease the likelihood of developing health problems. 

Though some people opt to join a gym, you may not need to make dramatic life changes to increase your daily physical activity. Everyday activities you can incorporate include:

  • Running
  • Doing body strength exercises at home
  • Yardwork
  • House cleaning

Hydrate and eat healthily.

Eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water can also help you focus on your work. Dehydration and hunger are unwelcome distractions. 

In conclusion

Learning how to improve your focus while working from home is tough but doable. Even capable people may struggle because we all desire separation between home and work life. 

Remember that it is okay to have occasional "off" days. Nobody brings their best every single day, especially when we are learning something completely new.

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