Doesn’t working from home sound like a luxury? After all, with no commute, you can get more rest. With no dress code, you can remain comfortable and save on dry cleaning. With less structure, you can be more flexible throughout the day. So, bright and early, Monday morning, you get ready to hit the ground running. But… where to begin? Before you can find your rhythm, the cat knocks over your coffee, or the kids need a referee. You start the day with such great intentions — which soon fall prey to one unexpected crisis after another. They start you chasing in a dozen different directions only to end the day clocking three hours of watching funny animal videos online.
The very flexibility that makes working from home so many people’s dream can become its own source of angst and the biggest impediment to get things done.
Mindfulness is Key
Whether you routinely telecommute or you’re suddenly thrown into working-from-home due to COVID-19, you’ll hear a lot of advice. Never work in pajamas. Stay off social media. While these tips can be very constructive, they may not apply to your specific needs. If a particular tip works for you — use it. If it doesn’t, let it go. The most effective strategies for remaining focused and productive are all based on the same, single premise — mindfulness.
Be mindful of the job you need to get done. Be mindful of the space where you are working. Be deliberate in the choices you make about your workspace, your time, your agenda, even your breaks and refreshment. Be especially mindful about your state of mind and accept that interruptions will happen. The secret to focus isn’t a complete lack of distractions. It’s about mindfully handling the interruptions that will occur with a minimum of fuss and returning to the task at hand.
Discovering Mindfulness in Meditation
To be mindful is to be fully engaged in the present moment. Let regret for the past or anxiety about the future drop away as you simply focus on the now. While it is as simple as it sounds, it’s not easy.
Try beginning each workday with a 10-minute meditation dedicated to mindfulness. If you are new to meditation, this simple introduction will leave you feeling more balanced and more capable of accomplishing the tasks ahead.
Since you don’t want to spend your mediation worrying about how much time has passed, set a 10 minute timer. Try searching for a “10 minute timer with classical music” to provide a gentle soundtrack for your meditation. Sit in your work chair with your feet flat on the floor, and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and focus on your breath. Notice how your breath is cool as it enters your body, filling you with calm energy. Notice how it is warm as it leaves your body, draining stress as it goes. Slowly scan your body. Where you find points of tension, focus on relaxing those muscles.
This is not a time to plan your day or to worry about anything. The goal for these 10 minutes is to remain fully attuned to the present moment. When your attention wanders, as it will, gently bring it back to this moment and refocus your breathing. Be kind to yourself. If judgments or questions arise in your mind, don’t answer or debate them. Simply let them roll by and gently return your focus to this moment of calm and quiet. When the music finishes, take a deep breath and open your eyes.
That’s it. If you start each workday with this mindfulness meditation, in time, you will find yourself looking forward to the calming, empowering experience.
Be Mindful About Your Workspace
Whether you work from a dedicated home office or you need to carve out a tiny corner of the living room, your workspace prepares you for success. Think about what you need. A comfortable chair, good lighting and a clear table for your computer. Set aside a place specifically for your work and designate it for only your work. This tells you and your family that the time you spend there must be respected.
You don’t need to bust the budget setting up your workspace; still be mindful of both your needs and your purpose. This is not the space to leave the clean laundry until it gets folded or for craft supplies to be organized. Even when you’re not working, treat your workspace as a professional area and keep it clear of clutter. Mindfully taking ownership of the space and reserving it for work will improve your focus on the tasks ahead.
Plan Your Day, Mindfully
After completing your meditation, make a plan for the scope of work you will accomplish this day. Then, examine each project and break it down into small, manageable tasks that can easily be completed successfully. Commit to finishing each task in its entirety, taking breaks only between tasks, rather than in the middle of one. Organize your to-dos in terms of priorities as well as your own natural rhythms. Plan to work on the most important tasks when you have the most energy.
Managing your projects mindfully keeps you from becoming overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done. It makes it easier to schedule your day and to take the inevitable interruptions in stride. Push those you can to wait until you’ve completed your current task. This enables you to experience a series of successes throughout the day. As each task is completed mindfully, you’ll accomplish more with less stress.
Be Mindful in Refreshment
Working takes energy. Even sitting at your desk, wielding a computer requires energy to think clearly and remain focused. So, be thoughtful in your choice of refreshments. Don’t just grab a cup of instant and choke down a stale pastry while sitting at your desk. What is refreshing about that? Instead, take a few minutes to prepare the perfect cup of sustenance with your espresso machine. Be your own barista and make your drink exactly how you like it. Choose your ideal temperature and strength with just the right amount of milky foam using your preferred milk. This isn’t “just” coffee — it’s a custom refreshment tailored to bring you energy.
Truly experience the refreshment you’ve prepared. Pour your espresso into an attractive ceramic cup with a good look and feel to it. Inhale the aroma. Savor the flavor, feeling the steamy goodness as it slips down your throat. And look at something different while you do. Walk away from your desk and stroll the garden if you can. If not, stand at a window and watch the birds or the kids at play. Leave your work behind for these few minutes. You’ll return to it with a renewed sense of purpose and focus. You’ll be genuinely refreshed.
Take Mindful Breaks and Move
In addition to the times you pause your workday for lunch or refreshments, you’ll need several 5-minute breaks to get up and move. Stand up and stretch. Get your muscles moving, whether you do a few sun salutations, hop on the exercycle for a few minutes or dance to your favorite tunes. When you take movement breaks, it releases muscle tension so that stiffness or soreness does not become its own distraction. Moving your muscles increases the blood flow and oxygen supply to your brain, improving your mental clarity and effectiveness when you return to your work.
You don’t need to break after every task. But do take your movement or refreshment break after completing one task and before beginning the next. This is also a good time to check in with your family briefly. They’ll be more patient and willing to wait for your breaks when you give them a chance to connect with you throughout the day. As you take each break, acknowledge the successes you have achieved thus far.
Beginning your workday with meditation starts you off in a balanced frame of mind. Sitting down to a designated workspace free of clutter improves your focus. Planning out your agenda and breaking projects into smaller tasks eliminates stress while maximizing your effectiveness. Refreshing your mind and body with quality food and drink as you step away from work serves to make you more productive when you return. And taking breaks to move keeps your energy levels up throughout the day so that you can achieve more with less anxiety.
Whether you’re seeking sanity while working remotely during the strange days of COVID-19 or want to improve your efficiency as a telecommuter, mindfulness is the key to remaining focused and effective while working from home. Give it a try, starting today.