Try These Unexpected Tips to Help Boost Your Focus at Home

Changing a few small, everyday habits can help you adjust to your new normal without giving up on your concentration and productivity.

Maskot/ Getty Images
Maskot/ Getty Images

It can be tough to channel the same level of focus while working at home that you might have in an office setting. Especially if you’re not used to working remotely, the change of pace — or the presence of loved ones, especially children — can throw off your routine and get in the way of your productivity. Changing out of your pajamas and not working from your bed can certainly help, but the key to boosting productivity often comes down to the smallest and  less expected habits. 

We asked our Thrive community to share the creative tips they’ve adopted to focus better at home. Which of these will you try?

Work in 45-minute chunks

“Now that I have my children at home while keeping up with my standard workday, I have found that working in 45-minute chunks has been really productive. By breaking my work into these productive blocks, it is allowing me to feel present to show up for everything I need to do right now, and I feel even more efficient when I have those 45 minutes to focus.”

—Kate Snowise, executive coach, St Paul, MN

Turn on airplane mode until lunch

“The creative way I boost productivity at home is by turning my phone on airplane mode until 1:00 pm. This way, I get to zone in on my work, projects, and calls, before seeing distractions brought on by my iPhone. Once it becomes a habit, you’ll see that it’s amazing what can be done when you’re not constantly checking social media.”

—Allison Evelyn Gower, copywriter and brand coach, New York, NY

Divide your home into “neighborhoods”

“My home is now a co-working center, as my wife works from home, my teenage daughters are doing school online, and we have an extra guest here all week. We are on top of each other all day, and still have to get stuff done. To set ourselves up for success, we’ve created ‘neighborhoods’ within our home. This has required some imagination. For example, our dining room is now the quiet area. My wife’s office is next to the main TV room, so we had to compromise and make that TV room a collaboration area instead of a loud space.”

—Peter Biro, CFO at Workbar, Boston, MA

Take stretch breaks around the house

“I am a posture therapist, and although I have an online program that helps clients with daily exercise routines, I find myself in pain from having my kid at home and needing to work longer hours at different workstations around the house. I find it helpful to take stretch breaks at the various ‘desks’ around my home, whether it’s the kitchen counter, the table outside, or the sofa. After a few minutes of doing arm circles or a hamstring stretch, I can go back to my work with a little more vigor.”

—Zeena Dhalla, posture therapist, Orange County, CA

Incorporate breaks to call family

“I make sure to take breaks just as if I was working in the office, if not more, since the level of human interaction feels lacking when you’re working from home. On my breaks, calling a friend or family member helps me to feel connected. Another great way to get the human connection I need is by conducting virtual video meetings with my colleagues.”

—Justina Butler, career coach and executive resume writer, Sacramento, CA

Try “calendar blocking”

“I’m leaning into calendar blocking now more than ever. Calendar blocking is simple and consists of blocking time for all of your tasks, events, and routines. I used to rely on the exercise primarily for work-related tasks, but now I’m utilizing this scheduling hack to ensure I’m also making time for the activities that boost my productivity and alleviate stress, like taking a walk. Planning how I’m going to spend my time is helping me manage my time while allowing me to stay focused.”

—Alyssa Swantkoski, executive assistant, Denver, CO

Do your makeup in the morning

“One of the most helpful practices keeping me focused is one that previously caused distraction, and several late mornings: makeup. Since working from home, my makeup routine hasn’t changed, but my reasons for wearing makeup have. Instead of layering products on to prevent others from seeing my blemishes, I wear makeup for the only one who’ll see it: me. Makeup now gives me a sense of preparedness and professionalism needed to stay focused in a space where I’m also used to sleeping, socializing, and watching TV.”

—Nafisa Masud, journalist, Salt Lake City, UT

Choose three tasks to complete by noon

“I give myself three small goals to accomplish by noon. It might be following up on an important email, or simply checking in with someone. Setting these goals gives me clarity about my work and a sense of accomplishment when they’re done.” 

—Kristin Meekhof, life coach and author, Birmingham, MI 

Move your desk next to the window

“I find it helpful to move my desk toward a window and align it perpendicular to that wall, so the side of the desk aligns with the window. When you work, take frequent breaks to gaze outside. Notice any movement — people walking around, squirrels chasing each other, and even the wind as it goes through the trees and shrubs. If you can, open the window to hear the birds and breezes. Engaging your senses in nature throughout the day is one of the best ways to improve your focus and creativity.”

—Maureen K. Calamia, author and consultant, Saint James, NY

Create family tech guidelines

“With four adults currently working in our home, we have some group tech guidelines: The TV is for evening entertainment only. News is consumed in the morning and before dinner. We put phones on airplane mode and turn off email while on video calls. Ringers are off to preserve a sense of calm and sanity. This way, the day is designed with a lot of intention, and we can balance our work with time outside, meal preparation, and enjoyment. It allows for focus and a greater sense of well-being.”

—Joanne Heyman, integrative coach, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

Keep up your “going to the office” routine 

“I treat each day like I am going into the office, and that means getting up early to make time for self-care. I have a leisurely walk with my dog, coffee on the patio, and a quick workout. Before sitting down to work, I shower, get dressed, and put on makeup — just as if I was going to the office.”

—Rachelle Stone, coach and consultant, Clearwater, FL

Try a lemon diffuser

“I add a few drops of lemon essential oil in my diffuser and get it running in my home office a few minutes before I start my work for the day. The scent helps me stay awake and helps improve my focus. Before I end my day, I switch the scent to lavender. It helps me unwind and relax.”

—Adeline Yuboco, online branding strategist, Manila, Philippines

Incorporate a daily writing prompt 

“I am a teacher, so I’m not used to doing the bulk of my work from home. I’m used to focused times, controlled by bells, and synergistic relationships with students. I’ve helped myself stay focused by devoting some time to daily creative writing tasks. A friend and I come up with a daily prompt that we share with friends to invite more creativity. We all share our ideas, whether through poetry, a song, playing an instrument, or painting.”

—Zenovia Fick, educator, Harare, Zimbabwe 

Download a focus game

“I’ve downloaded a Chrome extension called Forest that allows you to block certain websites for a designated period of time. The app helps you stay committed by making it a game. You set a timer, and if you break the timer, your tree in the forest dies. You can even compete with friends to build an entire forest. When the timer goes off, I let myself check the websites I blocked, like social media and my personal email. I’ll take a stretch break during this time, too.”

—Kathy Haan, travel blogger and business coach, Denver, IA 

Designate different “work zones”

“Even as a long-time remote worker, I’ve had an adjustment to the new reality, as now I’m not alone at home anymore. I have four other family members working and doing remote schooling from our house. The best thing we’ve done is set every person up with their own workspace in a different part of the house. This allows us all to have a designated work zone so that we can get into work mode. We don’t interrupt each other, and we all are also responsible for keeping our work zones clean.”

—Alexis Haselberger, time management and productivity coach, San Francisco, CA

Turn an email into a phone call

“An unexpected way that I’m improving my productivity is by picking up the phone! So often, we go back and forth on email, when a quick phone call could handle the response in the same amount of time. Plus, there are other bonuses: human connection, context for the issue at hand, and an opportunity to invest in my relationship with a colleague.”

—Andrea Berg, business consultant, San Diego, CA

Create a family activity chart

“We are a family of six, experiencing rapidly changing circumstances daily in terms of social restrictions. We’ve formatted an interactive family chart with sections labelled for exercise, chores, work times, and some house rules — like noise restrictions and kitchen opening times — to ensure we’re all on a similar program for the day. Every family member has a choice in their workspace, exercise, or chore for the day. The chart helps us keep our days different, and opens up a feeling of choice when being home all day can feel like a restrictive environment.”

—Danni Murray, Teepee Creative, Sydney, Australia

Take time for your kids

“Spending more time with my kids has made both their time and mine more productive. This was completely unexpected and seems counterintuitive, but spending more time giving them attention and answering any questions they may have has meant that when it comes time for me to do my work, they are not interrupting my work time or seeking attention.”

—Cindy Pate, mindset coach, New Zealand

Set alarms for movement breaks

“While I’m working from home, I’ve found that setting an alarm for every two hours reminds me to get up and move, whether I’m simply switching a load of laundry, emptying the dishwasher, wiping down the countertops and door handles, or spending ten minutes in the yard. These little breaks ensure that when I return to my computer, I have more energy and I’m able to focus on what’s in front of me.”

Kaleen Skersies, real estate development, Seattle, WA

Do you have a creative tip that helps you stay focused at home? Share it with us in the comments!

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