When people shift from working in an office to working from home, many find it unbelievably easy to get distracted. This affects their focus and it means they get less done overall.
On their own, they find it harder to focus on their work. Whereas in a group, they find it easier.
In fact, it doesn’t just happen with working.
When a friend of mine trained for a half-marathon, he said it was often “an uphill battle”. It was hard and he found himself taking many breaks. He expected the event itself to be even harder.
When the day of the event came however, he said he ran faster than he did in any of his trainings. He said that in fact it felt easier, because seeing everyone around him run was, in a way, pulling him forward.
Now isn’t that interesting?
This means our environment and the group we find ourselves in has a big influence on us.
Let’s look at it from a different perspective.
What’s the main thing that changes when someone starts working from home?
Do they have more control over their new environment, or less control than before?
Chances are — more control.
This means that, in a home office, you have more control over the conditions that distract you, as well as those that help you focus.
You can pull these two levers to change your daily routine and steer your day towards being generally more productive.
Steer away from distraction
Imagine you’re the captain of a ship and you find yourself in a storm.
What’s the first thing you want to do?
Do you want to push forward even faster, so you can reach your destination as soon as possible?
Your priority is probably to get out of that chaos.
The same thing with distraction. When finding themselves in a chaotic, unproductive situation, some people instinctively want to get more done and work harder, without first addressing the elements of the environment which distract them.
The thing with distraction is that it’s not always obvious. It’s not always so dramatic, like the storm in the example above.
At times, it’s something small that slowly but surely saps our mental and creative reserves. In a way, these are often more dangerous because they often go undetected or unaddressed.
Let’s look at these smaller, more dangerous sources of distraction. How do we find them? How do we understand what’s causing them? And what do we do about them?
Here’s a suggestion:
For one week, take notes about what distracted you. Whenever you are distracted, write down:
- what distracted you?
- at what time did it happen?
- what did you do just before that?
- what did you think about just before that?
- what was your general state of mind when it happened?
After one week, review your list. Do you see any patterns? Based on these patterns, what is one thing you can change, that will eliminate one of these repeating distractions?
Chances are the 80/20 rule applies here and a few distractions occur a disproportionate amount of time.
Once you find what they are, you might also see a pattern in what triggers them. And once you know what triggers them, you can tackle them at their source.
Steer towards focus
Eliminating the things that keep you back doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll move forward.
Once you’ve dealt with the main sources of distraction, you can take it to the next level and improve your focus throughout the day.
So how does one become more focused?
Remember a time when you watched a movie and you were fully absorbed by it.
When watching that movie, you could say you were focused. Can you put your finger on exactly why it was so fascinating?
In other words, can you pinpoint exactly what made you focus on it for so long?
Chances are, it wasn’t just one thing that kept your attention. There were probably more aspects involved, from the storyline, to the soundtrack, the way the characters were portrayed and so on.
Focus is not binary, it’s not “on or off”. Just like an interesting movie, it’s a combination of several things which play well together. And, just like with a movie, improving one of these aspects can often mean a better overall experience of the end-result.
So, what are the “components” of focus? What plays into how focused or unfocused you are?
Well, since focus is a state of mind, anything that changes your state of mind will likely have an impact on your ability to focus.
You can use the same approach as with the sources of distraction to try out a few changes and to track how they affect your focus over a one week period.
Here are a few areas you may want to explore:
- track the time when you go to sleep and when you wake up + your general focus level the next day
- track what you eat and how much you eat at breakfast + your general focus level that morning
- track what you eat and how much you eat for lunch + your focus level that afternoon
Just like with the distraction example, you may find that the 80/20 principle is reflected here as well — a small number of changes can bring a lot of improvement.
Many people notice they’re getting more distracted when they work from home and they assume that’s just the way it is, they should just “try harder” or try this or that new productivity tool.
Few people take the time to look deeper and find patterns.
I challenge you to do just that. Use the approach I mentioned above to find
- one thing which distracts you and what you can do to eliminate it, and
- one change to your daily routine that has visible impact on your overall productivity