Eight months ago, the workplace suddenly changed and many employees had to start working from home in what sounded, and still sounds for many, like a giant experiment. We’ve had to learn how to navigate a remote work schedule, manage a remote team, or encourage remote collaboration. In the midst of this, we’re managing and juggling home and work responsibilities from the same location. These changes have presented us with many challenges, including one of the biggest ones: being able to focus on work in an environment that’s full of distractions. Staying focused is for many one of the hardest parts of working remotely, and while there isn’t one way to do it, here are a few tips I use myself to stay focused, no matter where I work from.
Set up a schedule
It’s really easy to get distracted and mix up priorities when you don’t stick to a schedule. One of the first things you should do is ask your manager when you should be connected and available “live” for requests, and when you can “go offline” to dive into projects that require more focus. Getting clarity on this will help you create a schedule that balances between focused work and opportunities for live connection. For example, in my team, we decided on core hours when we know everybody is online and available to answer questions, and the rest of the time, we’re focused on projects, asynchronous work, or meetings.
One of the great advantages of working from home is that you can plan your day around your natural rhythms of energy and focus! So if you know you’re more focused or energetic at certain times of day, block these in your calendar to spend time on your most important work. Plan your heavy-duty work for those high-energy times.
Practice balancing accessibility and availability with “away” features
Another challenge of being a remote worker is balancing your new schedule with the feeling of being “always-on” – we all know someone who answers emails on the weekends or checks their email first thing in the morning. Some of us feel like we have no choice but to be constantly plugged in, but this isn’t a healthy solution and can contribute to burnout. When you’re working remotely, it’s important to differentiate between being accessible when needed and being always available. For example, by default, you likely receive a ping or notification every time a team member asks a question or gives a status update, but is it necessary to be alerted for everything, all the time? To avoid continued disruption, turn off all but the most critical notifications – whether from a specific person or related to a particular project. You’ll find yourself less distracted and overwhelmed. If you are afraid you’re going to miss something, you can still check your various inboxes and messaging tools once an hour instead.
Take brief breaks to support your productivity
Research has shown that taking small breaks throughout the day actually improves productivity, so no matter where you are, breaks are the key! Keep a balance between stress and recovery. Don’t be afraid to take several breaks, including a few short ones paired with actual lunch breaks. Above all, make sure to step away from your computer from time to time!
The trick to making breaks work is to avoid turning your quick recess into an entire afternoon. To keep yourself accountable, set aside specific time blocks for non-work activities like checking the news or meditating. Once the time has passed, go back to your work schedule.
Change your surroundings
Sometimes your efforts to tune out digital distractions and concentrate on your projects just do not work. In these cases, try a change of scenery. Psychologists have found going outside or putting yourself in a new environment, like your backyard or in the park, can help reset your brain and jumpstart creativity. Luckily, most SaaS-based work tools like Asana, Google Workspace, and Slack support you working from anywhere, so don’t feel the need to sit at your desk (or your kitchen table) to be productive. Go mobile and get the creative juices flowing.
Adopt the right tools for you
Remember that there are tools to help you with everything: for example, Slack helps for quick communication with team members, Google Workspace helps to collaborate on documents and Asana can help you manage your work. One of the tools I enjoy the most is Noisli, an app that provides background white noise, which helps me stay focused.
When it comes to tools, another great tip is to make sure they integrate together. For example, when I talk with a colleague about a project on Slack, it should be easy for me to link to the related task from my work management app. Interconnection is the key to saving steps and making your team’s work more effective and efficient.