Editing: 4 Tips on How to Stay Focused When Working From Home

Those Oreos in the pantry may be calling your name, but let the ants get them. You have work to do!

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you work from home. There’s no specific reason for me to think this, but you probably won’t find this article to be as useful if you don’t. Just sayin’.

Many people who have “real” office jobs (i.e., those who leave their house to go work somewhere else) sometimes find it baffling that anyone who works from home can possibly get anything done. “Doesn’t [insert item of distraction here] distract you?” they may ask. They don’t see how not leaving the house all day can be productive.

And well, sometimes, they’re right.

It is very easy to get distracted at home. Let’s face it, all your stuff is here: books, movies, TV, Internet – and there’s no boss around to tell you to stay on task. You’re the boss! That may sound freeing (after all, if you just want to binge watch Parks and Recreation all day, who’s to stop you?), but it also means you’re the one responsible for any and all work being done. Can’t blame Janice from Department 3 for not getting you those files in time. (Sorry, Janice.) If you forgot to do something, ran out of time, or simply messed up, it’s all on you.

Working from home sounds great – and it is! – but it isn’t for the lazy or unorganized mind. You have to be able to coordinate your projects, manage your time, and keep your clients happy. And yes, to be honest, many times when things go wrong, it isn’t always your fault. Clients may request last minute changes, the dog is sick, you were only supposed to have one project this week but for some reason you have three, etc. Life is unpredictable, especially at home, when you are much more accessible and vulnerable to changes. Fortunately, working from home also means you’re pretty flexible. If you know how to stay organized and remain on task, then you should have a schedule that allows for virtually anything unexpected. If you have to push around a project or pull aside a Skype meeting, you can do that, and still have everything done on time.

Here are four tips on how to stay focused when working at home.

#1 – Keep Your Work Area Clean

This may seem kinda obvious, but having a desk free of clutter can really help you stay organized. My desk is pictured above, and while it’s not Martha Stewart-pristine, there’s no extraneous items or trash. Laptop, paper, pens, stapler, Post-Its – all things I use while working. The cute decorations just make it more comfortable and relaxing!

#2 – Make a Project Calendar

Say you have two articles due for Client A, and four for Client B. The former must be turned in by Wednesday, and the latter by Friday. Today is Tuesday. Obviously, you should do the ones due on Wednesday first, but don’t forget to make time for the four on Friday, especially since much of your time on Tuesday will be finishing up the Wednesday ones. Sounds confusing, but the more you do it, the easier it gets to juggle projects around. You should know how long it takes for you to do certain tasks, too. Lay out all the projects that are due this week, and figure out the best way to complete them all. If a particular big project is due, you probably want to give yourself a few days to finish it. A quick article can be pushed back a little, or done super early. Figure out how everything works best for you, and stick with it.

#3 – Put Yourself in a “Work” Mindset

This is probably one of the most important things you can do to stay focused. When it’s time to work, make sure you know that. Whether that means keeping your office off-limits when not working, not eating while working, or putting on “work clothes”, a working state of mind makes it easier to remain on task. Some people even turn off their Internet or block non-work-related sites. Others just make sure they won’t be bothered during a specific time frame. Anything that keeps you from distraction (without making you feel too restricted) is helpful.

#4 – Prepare a Time Schedule

I discussed this last week, and it bears repeating, especially if you have a busy daily life. A schedule can be anything from a couple of sticky notes plastered on the computer screen, to a tricked-out Excel sheet with highlighting and different font colors, but whatever you use, make sure you actually follow it. When it’s work time, work. If work time was taken up by something important, make time later on, and then work. Letting yourself get distracted, and spreading all your projects all over the place will just leave you feeling stressed and confused.

Have any useful tips of your own for working at home? Share in the comments below!

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