How to focus when working remotely

Working from the comfort of your own home comes with a different set of challenges when it comes to focusing on your work. Loud neighbors, easy access to your favorite distractions, your spouse, your kids, everything, and everyone wants your attention.

How to focus when working remotely
Photo by Stefan Cosma / Unsplash

Working from the comfort of your own home comes with a different set of challenges when it comes to focusing on your work. Loud neighbors, easy access to your favorite distractions, your spouse, your kids, everything, and everyone wants your attention.

Let’s see how and what we can do to improve your focus while working from home:

Create or improve your workspace.

The most actional thing to improve your focus while working from home is to create or level up your home office. The best advice I can give you is:

Get away from the kitchen table.

Create a place in your house or studio that is for work only. The productivity shrine that each time you sit at it, you can get into the zone.

Contrary to what many people think, creating such a space doesn’t have to be expensive. You might not even need to spend any money if you already have a desk and a chair. Sure, I recommend you get an ergonomic chair, but it’s not something that should keep you from getting started with creating your space.

For more tips on creating or improving your home office, check out my series on the home office via this link.

Declutter your space

While some people swear by a messy desk for creativity, most people are actually suffering from it. Clutter means noise, noise means distraction, and well distraction means not getting your best work done.

You don’t need to get rid of everything, but be mindful of what you keep on your desk. What things can stay on your desk that improves the way you work? For instance, I have a notebook and a pen on my desk for when I can’t get thoughts out of my head via my keyboard.

Find an outside-the-house spot to work from.

While I enjoy spending most of my time working from my home, I have been in a couple of situations where I would have been better off grabbing my bag and working from somewhere else.

Especially last summer, there was heavy construction work going on right next to my house. I was trying out everything, from changing my schedule doing most of my deep work in the hours when the noise wasn’t that bad to blasting ambient music through my noiseless headphones.

Looking back, I wish I had packed my bag and looked for places to work from outside of my home.

Sometimes distractions are out of your control, but what’s in your control is to pick up your stuff and get your work done from a cafe, library, co-working space, or whatever else floats your boat.

Manage your distractions.

While working from home, you deal with two types of distractions every single day:

  1. Software distractions
  2. Home distractions

How to deal with software distractions

Let’s start with the most manageable distractions, the software ones. Primarily notifications and infinity pools can easily distract you from the thing you need to focus on.

Notifications

Whenever you are behind your computer, you get greeted by all the unread indicators from Slack, your email, and the other applications you use. Are those notifications relevant to the task that you are currently working on? Probably not, so turn those notifications off.

To stay focused, you need to manage your notifications. Want more tips on how to manage your notifications? We went into more detail in this post.

Infinity pools

How many times a day do you browse to a website to find yourself after 10 minutes thinking, “wait a minute, I just wanted to check something, and now I am just aimlessly scrolling.”

Welcome to the world of infinity pools; sites, or applications that are great at stealing and keeping your focus/attention.

Luckily there are two easy ways to stay focused on your work:

  1. Use a website blocker, a browser extension where you put in a list of URLs of your infinity pools, and whenever you try to visit one of those URLs, it will get blocked. Don’t worry; you can still access the sites if you need to with a couple of extra clicks.
  2. Log out of Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, or any other social media every time you’re done browsing.

More often than not, you will browse to these infinity pools out of habit. These two methods will help you catch yourself in the act before it’s too late.

How to deal with home/family distractions

When you live alone, you might only have to worry about not turning on your Playstation. But when you live together, may it be with roommates or kids, you need to develop a system so that the people around you know when you are not to be distracted.

You need to come up with a system to prevent the following two questions from ever being asked again in your household:

"Are you busy?" or "Do you have a moment?"

One clever thing I came across was using a method they use in Radio or recording studios. You might have seen it before, the "on-air" or "recording" sign that hangs outside of the studio, which turns red whenever people inside of the studio are not to be interrupted (or you can still enter, but quiet).

You can buy such a sign pretty cheap off of amazon.

If you want even a cheaper option, grab an old (desk) lamp from your attic and place it outside of your office. Whenever it's on, people know that you are in crunch mode.

When you don't have the luxury of having a separate office, place the sign or lamp on your desk—that way, the people around you can still see when you don't want to be disturbed.

An alternative system

You could also invert the system; whenever someone in the house needs you, they light up the sign. It might still distract you, but when used right, it might be the right system for your household!

If you don’t already, track your time.

Another method that works well for staying focused is tracking your time.

I use Toggl to track my time while working on this blog post, for example, or when I am working on other tasks like planning in my social media and uploading my YouTube videos.

I am still getting used to properly tracking my time, sometimes I forget to start/stop a timer, but I noticed that I am much more focused on a certain task while there is a timer running.

When I get distracted or interrupted by something, I am more mindful that I am getting distracted from what I am working on since I have to update my time tracking app. More often than not, I don't stop the timer and decide to look at the thing that distracted me after I've finished with what I am working on.

Try it out, and you'll be surprised!

Balance your hours.

Now that you've managed your distraction, we are going to bring them back to create balance.

Many productivity gurus love to brag about how they never get distracted, and you could too if you buy their $9000 course.

Well, let me tell you that it's actually good to be distracted every now and then. It's good for your creativity as well as your problem-solving ability.

Sometimes we need a little distraction to work on something in the back of our minds to get back at it with a fresh mind and approach.

Whenever I am working on something, and I get stuck, I'll watch a YouTube video or grab my guitar. More often than not, I'll get back to what I was working on within 10 to 20 minutes because I thought of another way to look at the problem and fix it.

Communicate how you want to work.

Most teams love to hang out on Slack or Teams, but this can feel like a burden, keeping up with every channel relevant to your job.

If you don't set boundaries and communicate them with your team, nothing is going to change. Setting boundaries can be as easy as letting your team know that when you update your status to "busy," you won't be reading any messages.

No one on your team will be mad at you for telling them that you are going to get some deep work done.

The same applies to meetings. You might not be able to cancel every meeting, but if you keep accepting every meeting request, nothing is going to change.

You are in charge of your focus and time.

This brings me to the key takeaway of this post:

You are in charge of both your focus and time.

You are responsible for managing both, and you should protect them. Everyone wants a piece of you (when it's convenient for them), but you should decide when and how much of your time you can give away.

This might sound crazy when you work under a boss, but in the end, both you and your boss want the same thing: achieving the best results.