Under normal circumstances, study after study found that workers’ productivity increased when they shifted from working in an office setting to working from home. Of course, in the current pandemic, school closures have thrown a wrench in the gears for working parents. And across the board, parenting or not, a plague of pandemic anxiety is no help.
But according to Harvard Business School Researcher Prithwiraj Choudhury, who authored one of the aforementioned studies, working from home can yield great results. It simply requires forming and sticking to routines that help you focus.
“When you’re at home, you have more distractions and disruptions to take into account,” Choudhury told The Boston Herald. In fact, distraction lurks around every corner: the laundry room, the kitchen, the dog that wants to go for a walk, the cacophony of social media trying to lure your attention away from the daily grind.
Defeating distraction and passing on to the next level of work-from-home success is easier said than done, but here are a few of the most tried-and-true recommendations.
- Define Your Routine
Good news: Adopting a routine can make you more productive. Now all you need to do is put it in place.
“Make sure your routine sets boundaries for yourself and whoever you live with,” Choudhury said. “This will, in turn, create a strong balance in both your work and personal life. Once you find it, follow it religiously.”
Get up and dressed for the day, carve out time for yourself in the morning as best you can, and once you arrive at your desk — whether that’s in your pristine and luxurious home office, at a worktable strewn with extension cords you’ve rigged up in your garage, or at your breakfast table — keep it sacred.
Experts recommend replicating your office desk as closely as you can, or improving on it, and creating a space in which you want to work. Pay attention to factors like ergonomics, natural light, and noise pollution.
Then, as needed, set a mood of productivity, whether that is silence, noise-blocking headphones, or programming the right soundtrack. Brain.fm — “functional music to improve focus in 15 minutes” — and Focus@Will (“personalized focus music”) each create focus-friendly soundtracks for your workday.
- Avoid Multitasking
Folding laundry or other seemingly “mindless” side tasks during conference calls have more of an impact than one might guess: According to researchers at the University of Southern California, a recent study found that participants who multitasked while carrying out tasks related to their job experienced an IQ score decline similar to those who have stayed up all night. Some of the multitasking men had their IQ drop 15 points, leaving them with “the average IQ of an 8-year-old child.”
Once you get to work, “keep the boundaries,” organizing and productivity expert Julie Morgenstern recommended on CNBC. “Do your work during your workday and only stop for self-care. That’s it. Do not do household chores.”
In the category of self-care, Morgenstern files activities including eating lunch, taking breaks to stretch and get fresh air, and anything else utterly demanded in the scope of maintaining one’s sanity.
- Get Your Web Surfing Under Control
If your distractions of choice are of a more digital persuasion (attention: Facebook and Twitter addicts), there’s an app for that. Freedom and LeechBlock are two that help you block apps and websites, thus allowing you to lock yourself out of your biggest online distractions for whatever length of time you choose.
For a lighter touch, Mindful Browsing is a browser plug-in that issues gentle reminders instead of barricading access.
Phones and email inboxes are other irresistible muses that tend to pulverize productivity. If your job allows, only look at your phone or email at certain intervals. Tools like the Tomato Timer, which breaks work into 25-minute increments per the Pomodoro Technique, may help.
- Mind Your Mental Health
Per physicist and theologian Blaise Pascal, “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.”
Researchers have found that focus is like anything else, one can only do it for so long before efficacy begins to erode. Quick, refreshing breaks — like going for a walk (even if it’s just walking around the room), making a snack or taking a shower — are crucial when it comes to staying productive.
Portions of this article originally appeared on the BISNOW website.
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