How to Best Focus Yourself When Working From Home

By Lexie Brada

I hear you have a new job. Congratulations!

Oh, what’s that? It’s a remote job? Yeah, you’re pretty excited about that, huh? I was too when I got my first one. But you’re worried that you’ll be distracted or unable to find the right flow from home? No worries; plenty of people lately have had to make this sort of change. Since then, many great sources have developed tips and tricks to help  you transition. 

I’m not going to lie. It is a transition. I’ve heard lots say that working from home can be a toss-up; even though you get to sit in your comfy PJs and eat a breakfast you prepared instead of a granola bar on the go, that might be exactly the problem. At least at the office, you’re not constantly distracted by your own things. 

If this is the boat you’re currently in, or if you’re just looking for ways to better utilize your time, keep focused, and really unlock the benefits that WFH can offer, then perhaps some of these tips will help you achieve just that. 

#1: Have a Dedicated Work Space

Seems logical enough, right? If you’re working from home, you’re going to need a place to work. But I’m talking about more than just creating a fancy new office in your home. You also don’t need an entire office. If you’re living in cramped quarters, a desk or a space at the end of the kitchen table will even suffice.

But you do need one. Why is this so important? 

Not only do I feel like my mind is in the right place when I sit down at my desk, where I only do my job, but it helps me keep the rest of my apartment separate from the work I do. It’s like there’s a magical threshold between my office door and the kitchen that makes my brain go ‘okay, Lexie, let’s write some blog posts.’ 

This also can help with literally keeping your job separate from your life. Your kids and pets are less likely to ruin documents if you keep them in a place that they aren’t able to go rifling around in. Your roommates or significant other will also thank you for keeping your work in one place instead of spread out everywhere. It’s beneficial to everyone involved to keep your work confined to one central area. 

#2 Take Breaks

If you think about the productivity you did at jobs where you had to be on site, chances were you weren’t ‘on’ for the full eight hours. I’m not saying that you were a bad worker who didn't do anything, but you likely took a lunch break, went to the bathroom once or twice, perhaps you’d hang around and catch up with co-workers at the water cooler… 

Even if you don’t have a water-cooler at home to kill some minutes chatting by, you still need to give yourself breaks. Perhaps this is second nature to you. 

But, once again, it can be super easy to get immersed into your work and just never stop. So, if anything, you may need to force yourself to take breaks, such as taking a lunch without work in front of you, to ensure that when you come back to your work, your brain and energy clock will be revitalized for the task ahead. 

Or maybe you have the opposite problem. Perhaps you’re not focusing enough and having trouble not taking breaks. Here’s what I’m going to say; it’s okay to be taking little breaks while you’re figuring it out. And little breaks are exactly what you need. Here’s what I would try if you’re struggling with focus. 

First, give yourself a reward for finishing a task. This is how I used to teach kids in middle school to study. That dopamine rush may be just enough to refocus you when you start again. Maybe this is a piece of candy or food whenever you finish watching a really boring work safety video. This could be watching a quick Tiktok after every email you finish. Or perhaps, this is going for a walk outside once you get your paperwork in. You know what will work for you.

If you’re still struggling, it might be because the idea of working for eight hours seems daunting. Oftentimes, breaking tasks into smaller tidbits helps our brain tackle them better. So set a timer for varying amounts of time - ten minutes, twenty-five, an hour - whatever time seems reasonable for you, and then try to just work until the bell goes off. Eventually, you’ll figure out what ‘bursts’ of time help you be the most productive. 

#3: Know Your Hyper-Focus Times

Once you get number two down pat, you’ll realize that your productivity levels vary depending on what day it is. My biggest realization was that the traditional 8am-4pm work schedule was terrible for me. That’s not when I work best. My most productive work hours are actually from 11pm-3am. Those might not be yours. Maybe afternoon is when you find ‘the zone’. Maybe it’s early morning. 

Whatever it ends up being, this will be the time when you are totally focused. The time where, when you sit down, your mind just goes where it needs to go.

So use that to your advantage! If you’re able, try blocking off that time on your calendar. You don’t want anyone interrupting what are likely your best hours of the day when you get the most done. Any meetings or chats with others can wait until you have stretches that are a little less productive. Work smarter, not harder! 

#4: Go Outside

Because it is far more likely that you’re going to be sitting for extended periods of time when working from home, make a bigger effort to take some time to walk around outside, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Anything worth doing is worth doing even in small portions, and this certainly qualifies. If you don’t have a whole half an hour to walk the length of a park, don’t feel discouraged! Still take that five minutes to take a loop around your block. 

Harvard Business Review took the time to write up an article on how walking around outside and getting that change of scenery can not only help our physical state, but our mental state too! 

As tip number 4.5, when you go on these walks or take your breaks, really take them. If you’re able to, make sure that all your email and Google accounts are on one device. Leave them off your phone. It’s not really a break if you’re checking work emails, is it? I personally know that when I took the plunge and removed my employer email from my phone’s email account list, a metaphorical weight was lifted. Check your emails when you’re clocked in, and let your mind actually rest during the breaks. 

#5: Know When to Log Off

After the pandemic began and working from home became a more common-place occurrence, Stanford did a study to see how people were faring. This may (or may not) surprise you, but productivity was logged to be 13% higher from people working from home! 

There are many reasons productivity has risen. Here are a few that I’ve heard:

  • More comfortable working from a space that’s familiar and homey
  • Less of a commute equals more time to get work done
  • Less interruptions compared to a traditional environment
  • Ability to take breaks when needed to come back rejuvenated 
  • Able to work from anywhere

And there are plenty more! This is just the tip of the iceberg. 

People also tend to work more when they work from home: in a study by SHRM, 45% self-reported that they were logging more hours from home than they would in an office. This one also hardly surprises me; when I was a teacher at the beginning of the pandemic, I was working nearly 50% more than I was in the classroom (though perhaps that was a response to having little time to prepare for the virtual switch). 

I was not alone in this rise. This increase in working time can be a double-edged sword. It’s so easy to just keep working because (technically) you never leave work. 

Maybe you didn’t think about it, but if you’re working a traditional office job, there was likely a way that you signaled to yourself that the day was done. It might have been the literal action of punching out a time-card. Others say they go to the gym. I used to wear a lanyard and, as soon as I took it off, my work day was done. 

You might not have that sort of tradition if you’re working from home. In fact, many people report that it’s far easier to just keep on working and show that they log more hours working from home than if they were in an office, because they never have to stop working

You might tell yourself that those little checks don’t matter. You know the difference between work and relaxing at home. But do you?

It may be tempting to just check that one email and reply super quick or upload that document.The issue is, it can easily be a slippery slide; one email leads to one phone call leads to always having the feeling of being ‘on call’, which can lead to burn-out much faster.  You deserve to have a full and healthy life outside of your work hours without interruption, and you can’t do that if you are always ‘on the clock’. 

It’s worthwhile making a ‘signing off’ ritual for yourself to help break-up the change from working in your house to living in your house. This blog, The Doist, outlines a fantastic logging-off ritual that will assure you come back the next day ready to tackle the day! 

#6 - WFH can be for Extroverts too!

As a person who is naturally introverted, WFH seemed like a dream to me. After leaving teaching, where I had to be pretty extroverted for the entire day, I would get home and just crave solitude. The notion that it was acceptable to have a WFH job when I switched careers, and it wasn’t some unicorn of a dream job that only very senior employees were offered, was pretty wild to me. I find that my weekly meetings are just enough interaction to keep me from going ‘REDRUM’ on my apartment, but having a balance of long stretches of no one stopping me from working is heavenly.

But if you’re an extrovert, you may be worried that all that time alone will drive you insane. However, a few great middle-ground options were recently introduced to me by a friend. If you’re a single person who loves to travel, you may want to look into ‘Coliving Spaces’. It is exactly how it sounds. It’s similar to any apartment you’d find, but it’s usually in a fun and unique location and has amenities catered to those that work remotely. You can sit by the pool with like-minded individuals and still feel a sense of community and find friendships but also choose when you want to work in your room.

Or, if you’re unwilling or unable to uproot your life to move for this reason, perhaps you want to look into companies in your area that offer Flex-Desks. The idea behind it is like a gym membership. For a monthly fee, you can reserve a desk or a space and utilize the amenities that this has to offer. It’s not working from an office; it’s working from home(ish). If you need to talk to others, or maybe you aren’t someone who works well in your own house or unable to, this can be a really great middle-ground that gives you the freedom to work remotely without having to make a commute to the office. Having the sense of choice can make all the difference. Being forced to go into an office is no fun, but electing to go to a Flex-Desk space is entirely different! 

#7- Invest in Your Set-Up

What’s that old saying that you’ve probably heard your parents or boss say at least once? ‘It takes money to make money’. While you might roll your eyes or sigh at this sentiment, and usually I’d be right there with you, this is one of the times they may be right. 

If you’re working from home, make sure that you’re investing in proper equipment. It doesn’t need to be thousands upon thousands of dollars thrown at the newest and best technology, but you need to realize that maybe your old Wi-fi just won’t cut it. If you’re lucky, your company might give you a work laptop or a stipend for reliable internet. If you’re left without, it might be a good idea to make sure that you have enough bandwidth for work (may require an upgrade), that your laptop or desktop is able to function, and that you have some fail safes in place if something goes wrong, like making sure everything is backed up onto the Cloud/hard-drive or having a secondary device that you can use in a pinch. 

#8 - Communicate with Others Living with You

If I could make a song to just plug in to all these articles I write that goes something like ‘Talk with your roommates! Or significant others! Or parents! Or siblings! Just talk it through!’, I would. The best advice for nearly any issue is just to make sure you have some sort of communication that goes both ways; ie, make sure the other person in this equation also has a voice and or that you’re being heard if you tend to be quieter. 

When it comes to working from home, I’ve seen a lot of relationship questions or struggles where one part of a couple is frustrated because their significant other wonders why they can’t just take care of the kids or why certain chores aren’t done while they’re working from home. 

These issues likely stem from a lack of concrete expectations set out early on. For most WFH jobs, you have some benefits, but may be unlikely to provide full childcare or do all the chores that need to be done, because you’re on the clock. If this is the case, tell the people living with you, so they aren’t thinking you’re slacking. 

Additionally, if you need to not be interrupted, make sure you tell people this! I’ve seen people install lights to let their family or roommates know they’re on a call, but you don’t need to rewire your house. Even something as simple as putting a sign on your door may help with that communication to alert others around you that you need solitude. 

Whatever your needs with working from home are, be sure to tell the other people you live with. Don’t just hope they’ll magically know or pick up on it through passive-aggressive comments. Be open and clear about what you need right away. 

#9- Overly Communicate

Not just with the people you live with, but with your co-workers too! 

Because you are currently working in a space that is entirely virtual, you are missing out on the quick check-ins where your boss just pokes their head in to relay information or unable to test the water by seeing how a co-worker is feeling about something when you talk to them at the water cooler. 

You don’t want to be the one chastised for not asking the important questions when they need to be asked or for thinking that because you’re not face-to-face with people, you shouldn’t contact anyone. 

You might find that your way of communicating needs to evolve to be more concrete; this could be sending in daily reports of what your day included, being explicit with your deliverables, asking questions right away or alerting your superiors of issues you’re encountering when they happen. 

As a tip, though, keep one question per email! We, when we read emails, tend to really be able to focus on one thing, and if you want to make sure all your emails are answered with the care they deserve, send them separately. 

#10 - Take Advantage of the Perks 

You probably had a bunch of fantasies about how great it would be working from home before you got this job. You might be able to transition into this right away, but I personally found that I started feeling weirdly guilty about things that I shouldn’t have been. 

For example, I was used to the strict working schedule of a teacher. This meant there were many things I couldn’t do, such as: getting coffee, going to the bathroom other than on my lunch time, using my phone, or leaving for an appointment unless I wanted to use PTO. 

At first, it was weird to tell myself I could actually use the bathroom whenever I wanted or go get a drink whenever I was thirsty.

If your job was different and you got more freedom in your day as a teacher than I did, this still doesn’t mean you’re utilizing all the advantages of working remotely! 

It’s different for everyone, but here are some ideas of things you should let yourself do without guilt once you make the switch: 

  • Make your office anything you want it to be. 
  • Wear sweatpants or far more comfortable clothing. 
  • Make yourself lunch or get some extra chores done in the time you might have been commuting. 
  • Walk to a coffee shop or make yourself a nice coffee at home (and sigh with relief you never have to endure office coffee again).
  • Be more flexible with your hours (schedule a dentist appointment when you need to).
  • Travel. 
  • Actually be sick on your sick days (instead of having to take a sick day for a non-sick emergency). 
  • Focus on other healthy habits that you’ve been meaning to start out!

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There you have it! Maybe not all of these tips will work for what you need, and that’s okay. I hope at least one helps you rethink the way you work from home!

If you want to find a career where you can work for home, we got you covered! Download the Pathmatch app to discover companies that match your interests, strengths, and goals! Pathmatch can help find the perfect career fit for you!