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How to Stay Focused When You're Working from Home

Over the past few years, remote and hybrid work arrangements have become the new normal for many organizations. While working from home offers flexibility and independence, it also comes with its own set of challenges. Without the structure and social oversight of an office environment, it can be easy to lose focus, become distracted, or procrastinate on important tasks when working remotely. However, research shows that focusing deeply on one task at a time significantly improves productivity and outcomes.


Today we will explore research-backed strategies for staying focused when working from home, along with practical applications and examples across different industries.


Setting up an Effective Home Office Space

One of the most important things leaders can do to optimize focus when working remotely is to establish a dedicated, distraction-free home office space. According to research on environmental psychology, our surroundings deeply impact our behaviors and mindsets (Kjell et al., 2021). Having a separate, well-organized work area away from distractions like the kitchen, couch, or bedroom tells our brains it is time to focus (Mark et al., 2020).


Some best practices for setting up an effective home office include:


  • Designate a space, even if small, solely for worktasks. A corner of a bedroom or living area can suffice if necessary.

  • Ensure adequate lighting, a comfortable chair, clear workspace, and fast internet connection.

  • Store or remove anything non-work related like snacks, TV, or other electronics from the space.

  • Customize the space to feel professional yet calming with decor, plants, or inspiring photos.

  • Establish clear boundaries. For example, tell family not to disturb unless urgent during work hours.


For example, during the pandemic, many teachers adjusted to remote learning by dedicating an entire room or partitioned area of their home solely for video teaching and grading. Having this dedicated space separated their personal and professional roles, allowing deep focus on student needs.


Developing a Ritualized daily Routine and Schedule

Another crucial element for optimizing focus and productivity when working remotely is maintaining a consistent daily routine and schedule. According to time management guru Brian Tracy, having predictable routines trains our subconscious minds to enter “performance mode” at designated times (Tracy, 2013).


Some tips for developing an effective daily routine include:


  • Wake up and start work at the same time each day to establish a morning rhythm.

  • Block out periods for specific focus periods like responding to emails, project work, meetings etc.

  • Schedule breaks and recharge periods to avoid burnout and refresh focus.

  • Distinguish clearly between work and personal hours so you can fully detach in evenings.

  • Use a calendar to plan your day in hourly or half-hourly increments.


For example, many software companies standardize daily standup meetings and require developers to block out focus periods without distractions like instant messaging during “flow” times.


Using Productivity Tools and Apps to Limit Distractions

Technology offers both opportunities and threats to focus when working remotely. While collaboration platforms and communication tools enable getting work done flexibly, sites like social media and online shopping can seriously derail focus with just one click.


To leverage technology's strengths while limiting distractions, consider:


  • Using browser extensions like StayFocusd to block distracting sites during focus periods.

  • Installing apps like Forest to generate real rewards for avoiding phones during deep work.

  • Leveraging habit tracker apps to log and reinforce positive productivity behaviors.

  • Configuring email and messaging apps to limit notifications to specific times.

  • Using tips like the pomodoro technique with timers to enhance focus in short bursts.


For example, some law firms have strict guidelines requiring virtual assistants to enable website blocking and limit app notifications during billing hours to minimize distractions when researching cases or drafting client correspondence.


Staying Connected with Colleagues and Managers

Isolating work from home can exacerbate the perception of being “out of sight, out of mind” among managers and peers compared to those in the office. However, focus depends on feeling supported, motivated and aligned with organizational goals.


Some best practices for staying connected and informed remotely include:


  • Scheduling regular check-ins with managers via video calls to discuss priorities and address any roadblocks.

  • Attending all team meetings remotely instead of just audio to maintain engagement.

  • Proactively sharing project updates and status reports at designated intervals.

  • Using instant messaging judiciously to ask quick questions instead of long emails.

  • Participating in online communities or forums relevant to your work.

  • Taking annual or sick leave normally instead of always being “available.”


For example, engineering and manufacturing firms hold daily remote standups where home workers showcase tasks completed or demonstrating progress on production lines via screen sharing—fostering accountability as if on-site.


Achieving the Right Focus-Recovery Balance

While focusing intently allows completing tasks efficiently, constant focus without breaks leads to burnout and reduced productivity over time. Our brains need periodic recovery breaks to regain focus and sustain high performance.


Some strategies to achieve the right focus-recovery balance include:


  • Working in 90-minute focus periods followed by short recharge breaks, repeating as needed.

  • Getting outdoors, exercising, meditating or relaxing during longer breaks.

  • Disconnecting fully after work by avoiding workspaces, emails and notifications.

  • Taking full vacation days periodically to fully unwind from responsibilities.

  • Practicing hobbies, passions and self-care activities on non-work hours.


For instance, accounting firms encourage remote staff to stick to 45-minute focus sessions in the mornings to complete urgent assignments uninterrupted, followed by flexible break periods in afternoons.


Dealing with Distractions at Home

Even with the best planning and routines, staying focused from home presents inevitable distractions like household chores, family needs, or simply relaxed working conditions versus an office environment. However, with flexibility comes responsibility to still consistently deliver results.


Some helpful strategies for dealing with unexpected distractions include:


  • Being transparent about focus hours to family and roommates to respect boundaries.

  • Blocking dedicated work hours even for minor interruptions like laundry or meals.

  • Using headphones or closed doors for focus-heavy tasks needing depth of concentration.

  • Batching non-urgent tasks to the end of the day to avoid context-switching.

  • Getting straight back to work quickly after breaks to regain momentum.

  • Not being too hard on yourself and viewing occasional distractions as acceptable breaks.


Therefore, tech startups encourage transparency about plans among cohabitants, and discourage prolonged social media or video calls during scheduled sprint goal completion windows.


Conclusion

Over the past few years, remote and hybrid working arrangements have empowered employees with more autonomy and flexibility while also presenting new focus challenges away from an office environment. Staying deeply focused allows entrepreneurs, professionals and knowledge workers to maximize productivity, outcomes and career growth whether working remotely full-time or in a hybrid model. With strategic planning around a dedicated workspace, consistent routines and schedules, selective use of technology, social connectivity, work-life balance, and flexibility amid household demands—achieving optimal focus from home remains very attainable. The research-grounded strategies discussed provide a strong foundation for optimizing work quality, efficiency and results regardless of location.


References


  • Kjell, O. N. E., McGillicuddy, D. E., Titchener, K., & Swinkels, H. M. (2021). Environments for focused work: How workspace design impacts performance and well-being. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 74, 101526. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2020.101526

  • Mark, G., Iqbal, S. T., Czerwinski, M., & Johns, P. (2020). How blocking distractions affects workplace focus and productivity. In Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1-13). https://doi.org/10.1145/3313831.3376590

  • Tracy, B. (2013). Eat that frog!: 21 great ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.




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