Are you now working from home every day? Are you struggling to focus?
You may be finding it really hard to get work done because other family members are around and/or because you now have other responsibilities (such as home-schooling), leaving you with only a half hour here and there to do your work.
Or maybe it’s simply being in a non-work environment without the usual structure and routine that means you’re struggling to concentrate.
Here I offer some tips to help you focus and be more productive in those potentially short work slots you have available.
Written during the COVID-19 Coronovirus lockdown period, but useful tips at any time.
Most importantly, above all else, be realistic with yourself. This is a completely new situation for us all and you have to adjust your expectations of what you can and can’t achieve, not just in your job, but in your home and family life. Decide each day what your main priority will be and ‘let go’ of the rest.
Learn what you need to concentrate well
Take a few minutes to really consider what you need to concentrate at your best:
- Do you prefer it quiet or with music? Perhaps it depends on the type of work.
- What do you need around you? e.g. Laptop, 2nd screen, tidy desk, cup of coffee, scribble pad, client folder, key documents open etc.
- What do you need to have got out of the way? e.g. had a drink, eaten, been to the loo, ticked off some quick jobs that were on your mind etc.
- What time of day is best for different types of work? e.g. creative work, tough problem-solving, admin etc.
- How often do you need a break?
- Do you work better after exercise?
And now consider the things that really distract you:
- E.g. your phone, social media, other people, piles of other work lying in sight, to-do lists, worrying about other things, having multiple windows open on your PC etc.
Before you start doing any work, review your list from the previous point. Is everything as you need it to concentrate at your best? Are there any potential distractions that you can deal with now? Have you got everything you need? Are things you don’t need out of sight?
Is it often your own busy mind that distracts you, rather than external things? Do you find it hard to stop thinking about other tasks and worries? Before you start, write down all the things that are on your mind and put the paper out of sight. (If new distracting things pop into your mind while you are working, write them down too and put out of sight).
Set a clear goal
Before you start your work, set a clear goal of what you are going to achieve within a particular timeframe. E.g.
- In 1 hour I will have written my draft client contract…
- In 15 minutes I will have designed my new email template…
- In 30 minutes, I will have reviewed all my emails and responded to the most urgent…
and add what you will do afterwards:
- …and then I will take a 5 minute break and get a coffee.
- …and then I will do that really fun task from my to-do list.
Keep in mind the time of day and your ideal type of work, plus the frequency of breaks you need.
Keep the goal realistic. If you only have 15 minutes, don’t set yourself up with a huge task. Break it down into smaller chunks and tackle the first thing.
Plan in breaks and exercise
Don’t forget that regular breaks and exercise can give your concentration a real boost. If you’re getting frustrated or stuck or just can’t settle, even getting up and moving into a different room for a few minutes will make a difference. Even better, get some fresh air and go for a walk, if you can.
Setting a clear goal and getting prepared make a big difference to my concentration. If I don’t do this, I spend a lot of time getting settled into work – finding things I need, getting distracted by other paperwork lying around, getting up for a drink, getting up for a jumper, changing my mind about what I’m going to work on, checking social media… and so on.
I also regularly use walking to help me solve problems, de-stress or come up with ideas.
Of course, distractions out of our control can still happen, but you may find that there is a lot you can control to set yourself up for increased chance of success in getting that piece of work done!
What’s one thing you can do differently today to help your focus? What new habit do you want to build?