Many of us are six months into working from home, juggling meetings, home tasks, childcare and the drudgery of what feels like Groundhog Day at this point. It's exhausting, and it can be demoralizing and demotivating if you continue doing the same things over and over again.
In the beginning of shelter in place, we got a crash course on how to effectively work from home, including cornerstone behaviors like:
We learned it early in quarantine: you can't actually homeschool your child while getting work done. Better to take the time needed to do each task separately, even if it means employing a modified schedule. Especially with the constant distractions of home - even if there aren't kids in your space - it's more important than ever to choose one task and chip away at that one thing exclusively until you make significant progress or finish.
Instead of trying to tackle everything on your to-do list at once, rank tasks in order of what's most important. Consider which items on your list will have the biggest impact, which are the most time-sensitive, and which can be delegated to someone else. Then make a plan for what you'll do first, what must be done today - and what could be pushed to tomorrow if necessary.
Even if I were working from a soundproof vault in a dead-silent library, I'd wear noise- cancelling headphones. There's something about having them on that makes me feel like I've shifted from neutral into super-productivity mode. With them on, I can work anywhere. Find the thing that helps you minimize distractions, whether that means leaving your phone in the next room, turning off notifications or even using Anti-Social, the browser plugin for Mac or Windows that helps you cut down on social media and web-browsing distractions when you really need to get work done.
In the past, having the physical separation of work from home was a nice way to ease the transition from one to the other. We learned quickly that one would seep into the other if we didn't create boundaries. If you committed to keeping specific hours early in the pandemic and your timekeeping has started to blur, now is a great time to get back to those boundaries that help preserve your mental health, workplace engagement, and personal happiness. To help shut off at the end of the day, make a list of what you want to accomplish tomorrow and exactly where to start.
Now that we've got the basics mastered, here are 3 fresh ways to find focus when working from home:
Chunk out your day.
Create a to-do list in the morning, then go a step further. Match up what you're going to accomplish when based on your meeting schedule and deadlines. Take into consideration when you know your mind tends to be sharp and your motivation strong, and plan more challenging tasks for that swath of time. Use scraps of time between meetings to take care of housekeeping items like responding to emails and reading informative articles. And always clear at least 30 minutes at lunch to get out for a walk. As for actual housekeeping, give yourself a pass to let the dishes in the sink languish all day if it helps you focus on work. Or if the act of tidying your kitchen helps you feel like you can check something off your list while moving your body a bit, don't feel guilty to squeeze that in between chunks of work. The key is planning out a realistic schedule, building in the breaks you need, then sticking to it.
Block out your calendar.
After you've identified a chunk of time where you anticipate some white space in your day, and you know your mind is likely to be alert and engaged, block it on your calendar. Treat it like any other meeting you'd schedule: give it a name and write an agenda. By setting a framework for how you'll use that time in advance, you apply the same discipline to that chunk of time as you would if you were congregating with colleagues to accomplish something specific. Writing your agenda in advance can really help break a big, hairy task into smaller, manageable pieces. And because it's blocked out on your cal, no one will snap up your spare time.
Here's why. Sometimes you finish that big, hairy task - and you feel good. But you look at your calendar and you notice you have a meeting in 20 minutes. If we were working in an office where we actually got up to walk to the next in-person meeting, we'd have a natural opportunity to walk to the break room, step outside for a moment, and make our way to our next venue. But in our current state of being tethered to our desks while working from home, inertia sets in. We're afraid of getting up and getting distracted (by the dishes in the kitchen sink?) and being late to our meeting, so we stay sitting there - which is draining rather than invigorating - while we wait for our next meeting to start. Instead, make use of timers! You can set a kitchen timer that dings or set your watch to buzz three minutes before your next meeting starts to give you ample time to get back online and ready to participate. By setting that alarm, you free yourself from the enervating non-activity of being chained to your desk all day. Use the time till your alarm beeps or buzzes to walk, breathe some fresh air, get a drink or even meditate.
[Read more: How to Manage Teams When Working Remotely]