February 25, 2017

Staying Focused in the Home Office

Sorry – I’ve been planning to write this for a while… just got around to it…

While staying focused in general can be tough for some people, at home it can be a real problem. On top of family distractions, there are all the diversions that constitute home life. When your mind is looking for distractions, you’re literally surrounded by them. Bills on the desk to your left, small chores you’ve been putting off out in the house, maybe I’ll just do the dishes while I’m getting a drink. And if you’re working on the computer, let’s just check Facebook. Then reddit. Then Pinterest. Maybe check Facebook again…

The first priority is to talk to your family about setting boundaries in your home office. When I started working at home, my wife and kids would pop in to talk to me whenever something crossed their mind. As much as I love having them around, having someone come in every fifteen minutes is not conducive to concentration.

You also need to get the business distractions out of your way. When you’re going to focus on working, if you find you have problems getting into the flow, then turn off the phone, set your IM to “busy” or close it. As for email, instead of answering everything as it comes in, get in the habit of reviewing your email in the morning, at lunch, and before going home for the day. The rest of the time, close your email program. (Or at least turn off the notifications.)


The next step is to get organized. A cluttered room or desk is just plain distracting. But what’s more insidious is that having a cluttered office gives you an excuse to avoid work at any time to clean your desk, or sort files. Finally, when everything is organized, then if you do need to find a document or folder, you can go right to it and go back to work. Having to shuffle through a pile of papers will pull you out of the zone on whatever you’re working on, and can simply waste time.

Okay, so you’ve briefed your family and cleaned your desk – now what?

There are various reasons that you may find it hard to concentrate:

  • One huge important task that’s weighing on you: This hurts because it can act like a roadblock to everything else. You know that it’s the first thing you should take care of, but it’s so huge you just can’t start it. So you take short break after short break to avoid the task.
  • So much to do: You have many tasks to deal with, some large, some small. This is somewhat the same as the previous problem, since you look at the aggregate of all the tasks as… one big task.
  • An unpleasant task that has to be dealt with: You have to tell your boss something is late, or you have to face a creditor, or even simply that you have to make phone calls and you’re not happy making calls.
In each of these, there are various mental approaches you can use to try and keep yourself on task. At the very least, keep them in mind to try to drive yourself.
  • Every large task is made up of smaller tasks. No task is truly one big piece – anything can be broken up. Break up your large task into smaller tasks. Once you’ve done that, then consider each piece and take it on.
  • Start with something easy. Once you have a collection of smaller tasks, take something easy and do it. Find another small task and do it. Your goal is to build up a momentum of working and keep plowing through the smaller tasks.
  • Ignoring it won’t make it go away. The work in general, and the things you’re avoiding, aren’t going to take care of themselves. They’ll still be there tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow… The only way to make them go away is to do them.
  • “Multitasking” is doing two things in three times the time. More and more evidence is coming out that “multitasking” simply does not work. Get off the phone, close Skype & IM, turn off the TV or talk radio. Focus on your task.

Now obviously one page isn’t going to solve all the focus and concentration problems. This is simply meant as something of a mental guide for your own behavior modification. If you generally can get work done, but sometimes have problems tackling it, or if you need a shove in the morning – hopefully this will help.

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