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Work From Home? 8 Ways to Keep Focused

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I don't know if I mentioned it before, but I have the attention span of a... did you see the Celtics beat LeBron by 30 points on Tuesday in Cleveland? Sorry. Over the last 3 years, I've spent about a year and half working at home. While that doesn't make me an expert, I have learned a few tricks of the trade to keep focused. I thought I'd share a few things that worked well for me.

  • Plan the Day... the Night Before - Create a short guideline of what you want to get to done the next day. Getting this done the night before means that you
  • Wear Pants - I never thought I'd find myself writing about the basic need to wear pants... but I am. It's very tempting to just roll out of bed and get working. For me that's a recipe for failure. For some reason, I subconsciously associate pajamas with "Time to check out stats in my fantasy baseball league."
  • Eat Breakfast - Eating breakfast is like putting on pants above... it just gets you in a good rhythm. When I didn't have breakfast, I'd find that I'd attempt to get to work, get about 5 minutes in and then decide, "It's a good time to have breakfast." I'd then spend 5 minutes after breakfast trying to get back to where I was before breakfast
  • Organize Tasks - When your tasks aren't organized, chaos ensues. It's hard to stay focused when your brain is juggling too much data. So I try to use tools like Evernote, Google Calendar, mind maps, and even a simple text editor create order of any information in my head. Then I try create tasks that can be broken into 15-20 minute slices.
  • Grab a Kitchen Timer - While there are many software programs that you can download (or even web based ones that will the do the job), I prefer the old fashioned kitchen timer. I then set the kitchen timer and the race to complete the first task begins. It's extremely hard to get distracted in the middle of a race.
  • Schedule Some Small Breaks - All focus and no breaks make Lazy a dull Man. To avoid chopping up your family during a blizzard (or just to reset your internal clock and get back to productivity) take a break. That break might be something productive like fold some laundry or unload a dishwasher - or it might be getting to that fantasy league. I like to switch it up - one productive break for one fun break. Always make use of that kitchen timer while on the break.
  • Plan a Halftime - Similar to scheduling the small breaks above, I try to divide my day into two halves. That halftime usually consists of a quick lunch and something really mindless activity like taking my dog to the dog park or going for a swim (whether permitting of course). During these mindless activities, I reflect a little on what I accomplished in the first half and what the game plan is for the second half of the day. Reflection may or may not include imagining your favorite football coach berate your performance... that's entirely optional.
  • Limit Your Web Browsing - I created separate Firefox profiles for increased productivity and I suggest you do to. When I'm in the work profile, I don't have the quick auto-complete to my "fun" sites. During breaks I can load up my fun Firefox profile and quickly get to what I want.
  • Bonus Tip - If you seriously want to start a web based business venture from home then you might want to consult with a start-up expert like SunDoc Filings, who can advise you on all the legal ramifications associated with start-ups

What do you use to stay on track? Let me know in the comments.

Last updated on July 14, 2014.

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10 Responses to “Work From Home? 8 Ways to Keep Focused”

  1. Suzanne says:

    I have been working from home for the past 3 years. It definitely takes discipline to remain on task and not let your daily life interrupt your work life. You are right on with these tips! Even though I think I know what I need to do to be successful seeing it in black and white makes a big difference.Thanks for that reminder! :)

  2. Wayne says:

    Hi, I too work at home and do a very similar checklist like you. I get up / shower / get dressed like I would if I went into the office. Sets the tone by doing this. I also set up my office in the corner of my finished basement. Very similar to a cubicle (ie no windows so no distraction) I work like I would until my scheduled breaks (lunch which is when I also surf web and gym) I do have my day planned ahead of time to be productive. Task list and meeting list. Works well for me. Seems I am more productive at home than in office.

  3. I’m definitely a big fan of pants.

    Every now and then, I get the chance to work from home. It’s really nice in the summer when I can connect my laptop to WiFi and work from the deck. Sunlight makes me more productive.

  4. cm says:

    A friend of mine and I came up with something called the Pants-time Index, which is a measure of how dissolute or productive you are in life based on what time of day you first put your pants on.

    He was prompted to think about this by noticing that one day it was like 8 *pm* and he had yet to put his pants on yet (he was unemployed at the time) and was still lounging around his apt in his boxers. Then there are those who have crisply pressed pants on 7 days/week by 7am. Horses for courses.

  5. @ cm – I work for a huge corporation in a conservative industry in a fairly important white collar role … and I get to wear jeans and t-shirts to work. A bad day in jeans beats a good day in a suit, I think :)

  6. Thanks for the tips, I telecommute from home once or twice a week. I find that it’s hard to get myself together and I think these tips will help. Especially putting on the pants! Usually I just put comfy shorts and a t-shirt on.

  7. Kyle C. says:

    I have been working from home now for about two years, I am only in the office once or twice a month. The most important thing for me to stay on task is 1.) close google reader and 2.) make a list of everything I need to accomplish.

    If I make a list I know what has to be done and I start working through the list. It stresses me out to see all of the stuff on their so I start working through it until they are all gone.

  8. Will says:

    I find that sometimes it’s hard to stay away from time killing websites so I added a bunch of those sites to my hosts file so I can’t access them without serious work: http://www.gizmodo.com gizmodo.com

    When I try to go to gizmodo.com it now redirects me back to my machine, and just fails.

    – I also dress as if I was working at an office.
    – I don’t answer personal phone calls
    – I give myself more frequent breaks to stay focused when I am at my computer.
    – I type brb in my messenger client when I am away and clear it when I am back.
    – When I feel sleepy I immediately drop down and do as many pushups as I can. It really helps move the blood and acts like a mental redbull.
    – I make lists all the time and check them off, even small items go on the list so I can see that I’m making progress… even if it’s small.
    – I use Manic Time to see what I do each day and how much time I spend in each program. Every day I try for 1 extra minute of actual work time than the day before.
    – I start work at 7:00am every day because I get so much more done in the mornings than the afternoon.
    – I try to keep my hours to 40 every week because then I’m not feeling like I’m always working… off-work time is my time and I try to work hard so that I’m not always working.

  9. It was only recently that I began to work from home full time here. There’s a lot of bad habits to easily fall into for doing so, and it takes a good deal of discipline to break them.

    I mean, I’m pretty new to blogging as a whole, which is definitely showing a lot of hard work. I mean- Oh hey, my Team Fortress 2 Clan is calling!

  10. Home Guy says:

    Love these tips.

    @Will – I agree with the pushups. Gotta get the blood moving.

    My tactics are:
    – Don’t open your email unless you are sending something out that is urgent. Your email can wait. Do your work first from your list.
    – Don’t turn an instant messaging service on.
    – If you find yourself on a time waster site. Just close the window and return to your list.

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