How to Stay Focused and Productive When Working from Home

Dana Guterman
Published: July 6, 2020

There are a lot of distractions in this world, and when you’re working from home, those distractions are front and center all day long. Without a separate workspace, your personal and professional life become one, and you suddenly find yourself taking a 15-minute laundry break mid-day … or a two-hour video game break starting at 9:00 am.

As we all settle in for (at least) a few more months of remote work, it’s crucial that we stay focused and productive. So, how do you avoid distractions and manage your time when you work from home? Here are our top tips.

Stick to a schedule

Most offices are open from 8–5, with several meetings and a lunch break wedged in to break up the day. One of the best ways to stay focused when working from home is to create a similar work schedule for yourself.

Write down when you’ll log on and when you’ll log off. Then, schedule time to write emails, attend meetings, work on different projects, and take breaks. Whenever you find yourself drawn to the TV, just look at your calendar. If it’s during your pre-scheduled work hours, hit the “pause” button. Ask yourself, “Would I do this in an office?” If the answer is no, put your nose back to the grindstone.


Create a separate workspace

One of the reasons you’re productive in an office or your school library is because they’re places that are solely for work. When you’re in the office, your brain knows you’re supposed to be productive; if you’re at home all the time, your brain’s like, “So … what am I doing again?” By having a dedicated workspace, you’ll stay more focused and get more done. Whether it’s a separate room or the corner of a kitchen counter, try to put aside a small piece of real estate for work. That way, you’ll associate being in your workspace with actually working, and you’ll be less likely to get distracted.

Another bonus? Ergonomics. If you’re curled up in bed with a laptop for eight hours a day, you’re going to get distracted by the lower back pain very quickly. A good home office setup ensures you’re feeling your best mentally and physically.


Go with your flow

Do you get super sleepy at 3:00 pm every day? No worries—a lot of us do, and when you work from home, there’s an easy solution: take a nap. A great way to stay on track when working remotely is to listen to yourself—something that’s near impossible with a 9–5 in-office job.

If you work best at 6:00 am, great! Do the heavy lifting then, take an extra-long lunch break, and leave the mindless data entry for the early evening. You want to work when you’re most productive, so prioritize tasks accordingly.

Oh, and there is one caveat: be sure to check with your supervisor before shifting your schedule. You still need to attend any meetings and be available for last-minute requests during regular working hours.


Just say no to social media (and the news)

Without anyone looking over your shoulder, it’s easy to spend many, many hours on social media and other websites, especially when the news is changing by the minute. Because a five-minute Twitter break can turn into two hours before you know it, it’s best to stay off social media and other websites during working hours. Try scheduling 30 minutes to peruse your favorite sites while you drink your morning coffee; then, limit yourself to one or two 15-minute media breaks throughout the day.

If you absolutely can’t resist the siren song of YouTube, you’ll need to get strict. Block certain sites, put your phone in another room, or use an app to limit your social media use.


Set boundaries

Maybe your dad likes to pop in and say hello or your cat has a tendency to push open your office door and walk on your keyboard. When you work from home, it’s important to let everyone know that you’re actually working—and that means they have to respect your schedule. If you want to stay focused, you need to set boundaries, whether it’s locking your door or wearing noise-canceling headphones.

On the flip side, you also need to set clear boundaries with your colleagues when you work from home. Many people actually work longer hours when they work remotely, so let everyone know when you’ll be signing off each day. Then, actually do it.


Write it down

There’s really something to be said for the classic to-do list. By writing everything down, you see all your obligations, and you can hold yourself accountable. We recommend writing down everything you have to do at the end of each day. Then, you start the next day fresh, knowing exactly what to do. As you go through the day, cross each item off as you complete it, and then write a new list, with the remaining items as well as any new tasks, for the following day.

You can use project management software, type up your list in Word, or treat yourself to some snazzy lined notebooks.


Take a break

Without set lunch breaks or chats around the water cooler, it’s easy to go hours without a break—and that makes it more likely that you’ll burn out quickly. Breaks give you a reset, so they actually help you stay focused. Schedule breaks into your calendar so that you remember to take them. Then, use the time to get away from your computer with some stretching, a break to read a (paper) book, a walk to the local coffee shop, or a phone date with a friend.