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How to Stay Focused and Productive When Working from Home

If you work from home like I do, you know the struggle is real. When you commute to work, your life has clear divisions; a place to work, and a place to come home to.

That division no longer exists when you start working from home. Now, there is no "off" switch, and the division between home and work becomes blurred. Distractions like food, TV, pets, children, and significant others can make staying focused incredibly difficult.

That is, unless you manage 3 things:

Yourself 

Yep. Just like Mr. Strickland said in the Back to the Future trilogy, "You're a slacker!". Staying disciplined when there is no one watching you can be really challenging. Who's going to know if I browse Tumblr for 4 hours? You need to stay accountable to yourself. Besides, if you don't get down to work, how do you expect to get paid?

One way I have found to stay focused is using a time tracking app like Harvest. It's free to use for a basic account, and offers a desktop app for Mac which I use all the time. (Harvest also has apps for Android and iPhone.) I add my project info and start the Harvest timer. It automatically logs all my completed tasks, and gives me incentive to stay focused. For some reason, I feel like I need to work faster when I'm being timed.

If spending time on Facebook is your Everest, there's an app for that. SelfControl is a free website blocking app for Mac, which helps you avoid distractions. Add the URLs you wish to block and a time-frame. Once activated, the app will show you a 404 page when you try to go to a blocked URL. You can indicate your working hours and when you wish to have the URL unblocked.

This strategy may seem a little extreme, but mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds can be oddly soothing. Sites like Facebook actually trigger dopamine release in the brain, which controls pleasure sensors. Clicking on "Like" or infinitely scrolling through pretty photos of cakes, gives us instant gratification, which can quickly become addictive.

Your Environment

Controlling the noise, feel, and other stimuli of your work environment is key to staying focused. There will always be unforeseen circumstances, but as a general rule, maintaining a relaxing work space is very doable.

You may need to be creative to find a quiet place to work. I've found that my house can quickly become chaotic during the day, so I tend to focus on bigger products in the evening. Depending on when your deadlines are, try doing detailed work at night, as long as you feel rested. Try sleeping in (when possible) and doing menial tasks when the house is busy, leaving focused tasks for the evening. You'll have less distractions with a quiet house. I've always been a night owl anyway, so this strategy works great for me. I tend to get more done in less time, especially when I know within a few hours the house will be bustling again and I'll be fast asleep.

If this strategy doesn't work for you, investing in a great pair of noise-cancelling headphones is a great option. I purchased ones from Bose over 8 years ago, and they are still going strong. I wouldn't be able to do my work without them.

Your Family

Communication is key here. You need to set boundaries that your family understands, so they don't distract you during key working hours.

If possible, set up a separate home office to work in. If the door is closed, you are not to be disturbed. If a separate room is not available, try using noise-cancelling headphones. That way, your family knows that headphones = work time. Scheduling regular work hours, and letting your family know also helps keep distractions to a minimum.

It can be quite simple to slip into doing work throughout the day, even when you should be "relaxing". Keep to a schedule, so your brain is able to rest and you can do your best work. Smartphones should also be put away when enjoying quiet time with your family.

Please note: I am not receiving any compensation for the products and services I mentioned in this post. I just like them, and have found that they work for me and my workflow.

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