As millions of people are now finding out, working from home (or WFH for short) can be both a blessing and a curse. While avoiding the daily commute and doing paperwork in your robe is as sweet as it sounds, there are plenty of new problems to grapple with. We’re not just talking about potential distractions like unruly kids, unexpected noise, or intrusive pets, either. Rather, working from home allows you a certain tier of freedom and with that newfound freedom comes a struggle to stay focused.
Hence, learning how to work from home and how to stay focussed both become essential to your ongoing success. Whether you’re working for yourself or for someone else, it’s important that you stick to a schedule, just as you would inside an office. Does that mean you don’t have time to quickly check Reddit or scope some Instagram girls? Of course not. But let’s be honest: you were doing that in the office anyway.
So how does one work from home and stay focused during the current pandemic? Since it might very well become the norm both now and in the future, we’ve put together a guide on all things WFH. In it, we answer those two fundamental questions and so much more.
Benefits of Working From Home
For many, working from home sounds like a dream come true. Here are some reasons why.
1. Less Commuting
One of the many benefits of working from home is that you get to sleep in a little extra and avoid the daily commute. That also means avoiding traffic, foul weather, crowds, horns, parking, and everything else. And if you miss certain rituals like listening to your favourite podcast, you can still stream it as you drink your morning coffee.
2. Relaxing Environment
Okay, okay, so this one is a little conditional in the wake of COVID-19. After all, most schools are cancelled and if you’re stuck with kids, it can be the opposite of relaxing. Presuming you can carve out your own office space and some quality hours of isolation, you’ll find that working from home puts the environment on your terms and reduces anxiety in the process.
This benefit comes with an asterisk as well, since a number of companies are monitoring their employees via Zoom and other video conferencing services. Nevertheless, it beats the experience of being crunched into a cubicle or having your every move micro-managed by some wannabe. Then there are those who work for themselves and know all about the wonders of autonomy.
Challenges of Working From Home
Along with the benefits of working from home come a handful of built-in challenges. Here are some of the biggest ones.
1. Increased Distractions
Everything from a kid to a pet to a significant other to a loud neighbour can be distracting when you’re trying to get work done. As a result, you face the risk of being less productive.
2. Motivation and Procrastination
Like something out of an ancient parable, the more freedom you have, the more likely you are to procrastinate. Even without external distractions like neighbours and pets, figuring out how to stay focused represents one of the biggest challenges. After all, there’s beer in the fridge and a gaming console one room over.
Even with video conferencing services at your disposal, you might find it harder to communicate with clients and colleagues when working from home. This can, in turn, reduce productivity and invoke feelings of stress or helplessness.
Working from Home Tips
You’ve now seen some of the benefits and the challenges of WFH, and are probably experiencing a few of each at this very moment. Naturally, you’ll want to crank up those benefits while overcoming the challenges. Here’s how to work from home consistently and effectively.
1. How to Deal with Distractions
Superman had a fortress of solitude and you should have one too. Naturally, yours doesn’t have to be as big or as far away. What’s important is that you establish a distraction-free zone, where it’s just you and the work and maybe a desk toy or two and nothing else.
2. How to Stay Focused at Home
While easier said than done, learning how to stay focused at home is arguably the most important challenge to master. It starts by creating a distraction-free zone (see above). However, there’s far more to it than that. Consider the following pointers:
- Start your day early – The earlier your workday starts, the sooner it ends.
- Stick to a schedule – At the office, there’s usually a list of tasks or goals to complete before the end of the day. Treat WFH the same way, i.e. determine what needs to be done, complete one task at a time, and don’t call it a day until each task has been completed. You should also schedule out the following day’s goals before pouring yourself that first drink.
- Take occasional breaks – Working without breaks can burn you out and fast. Eat some lunch and go for a walk before moving on to the next task.
- Restrict your access to non-work activities – Instagram, Netflix, and Nintendo Switch might be vying for your attention. Don’t let them win. Take proactive measures to cut off your access. Unplug the Fire Stick and gaming console. Log out of your social media accounts. Treat these things like end-of-day rewards as opposed to concurrent distractions.
- Stay connected – Thanks to modern technology, the term “self-isolation” doesn’t have to be as literal as it sounds. Use that technology to stay connected with colleagues, clients, and friends or family throughout the day.
- Control your communication – Don’t let the technology control you. Set specific times to check in with your manager or co-workers so that you don’t get overwhelmed or distracted.
- Milk your preferences – Some of us like to get meetings out of the way first thing in the morning, while others don’t want to see another human face until mid-afternoon. Determine what works best for you and proceed accordingly, thereby maximising peace of mind and productivity alike.
3. How to Create a Motivating Workspace
If you’ve ever worked in an office, then you’ve probably mastered the art of self-motivation by now. Apply that same craft to the homefront by way of similar techniques. Read an inspiring quote, set daily goals, visualise your future, think positively, and do whatever else it takes. One technique that rarely fails is the “reward method,” where you give yourself a little treat after completing a given task.
4. Time Management Tips
Time is money, as the saying goes, and that’s as true when you’re working from home as it is when you’re not. It’s therefore very important that you manage your time effectively. Here are some tips:
- Create to-do lists – Lay out everything you need to achieve before the workday (or week, month, etc) is done. Take things a step further by dedicating set windows of time to certain tasks and goals.
- Keep an activity log – Not only will an activity log help you keep pace with your own progress, but it will also do the same for your manager or employer.
5. Work/Life Balance at Home
Home is where the heart is and it’s where the distractions are too. Friends. Family. Pets. As lovable as they are, they can get between you and your work. On the flip side of that coin, don’t let your new work patterns interrupt your personal life. Consider the following pointers when seeking proper balance:
- Create designated work areas – We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: establishing a distraction-free work zone is key to your ongoing productivity.
- Establish designated break times – You take breaks at the office and you should take them at home as well. Use the time to play with your kids or your dog or both, but don’t get too lost in the action. You’re still on the clock, after all.
- Create tech-free zones – Technology can be as much a disruptor in your personal life as it can be at work. When the day is done, put down the phone or computer and spend some quality time with those you love.
- Set start and finish times – There’s an ongoing cliche about the man who spends all his time at work, just as there’s an ongoing cliche about the man who doesn’t spend enough time at work. Avoid both traps by starting and finishing your day at designated times. And that’s how to work from home.
Depending on your personal habits and the demands of your job, working from home can be either relatively effortless or quite difficult. Stick to a schedule and avoid distractions to ensure that it's no more difficult than working from the office.
Working from home delivers a slew of benefits. For instance, you don't have to commute to the office, you can work on your own terms, and you can cultivate a relaxing environment.
There are a ton of WFH-related apps, extensions, and services to consider, including Zoom, Slack, Google Drive, Dropbox, OfficeVibe, HipChat, and more.