Saturday, January 14, 2017

Tips for Maintaining Focus And Motivation When Working From Home

Motivation. It's this elusive commodity we could all use more of in our lives, right? (The pile of unfolded laundry onn my couch is silently agreeing with me...) When working from home, it can be especially difficult to maintain motivation when there are so many distractions near at hand to tempt you (and no physically present supervisor to be accountable to). Focus is hard to maintain as an extension of this; there are so many things around me I would RATHER be doing (like sleeping) than working sometimes that it's hard not to make excuses for letting my interest wander sometimes. Below, we'll explore a few strategies for staying on-task and focused when all you really want to do is stay in bed some days.

Write your to-do list down somewhere you can see it.
I have a small chalkboard set up on my desk that I write my to-do list out on every day when I first sit down to work. When I start to get distracted and look around instead of at the work in front of me, the first thing I see is my to-do list. It's a visual reminder of how much I've accomplished and how much I've yet to do for the day, and the ability to cross off items as I meet my goals motivates me to keep pushing forward rather than allowing myself to slip into distractions.

Keep your paid work and personal tasks separate.
When I first started working from home, I would work on my to-do list in whatever order I felt like. While this seems like a nice dose of flexibility, in reality it allowed me to dodge projects and tasks that I didn't enjoy in favor of personal stuff that made me feel productive but didn't advance my bottom line. Now, rather than using cleaning or answering email as a means to avoid my actual job, I schedule reasonable amounts of time into my day to handle those tasks and keep them entirely separate from my actual work. No more dodging boring projects in favor of catching up on laundry!

Have some kind of schedule.
One of the most attractive things about working from home is the flexibility, but it can also be a major pitfall. When you work with no schedule whatsoever, it's far too easy to procrastinate and fool yourself that you're working more than you are. You don't have to have a rigid 9-5 schedule like you would in a traditional workspace if you don't want to, but some kind of structure is important. I figured out recently that the best system for me is coming up with a generous estimate for how long a task will take me and then breaking up my day into blocks to make sure I can get everything done. So for example, let's say I have an article to write that will take me approximately two hours, I have roughly an hour's cleaning to do, and I need to put in about three hours of transcription work to meet my income goals for the day (a much shorter list than I normally have, but it'll work for the sake of simplicity); my rough schedule may look something like this:
  • Work on article -- 60 minutes
  • Clean -- 20 minutes
  • Coffee break -- 10 minutes
  • Transcription -- 90 minutes
  • Clean -- 20 minutes
  • Work on article -- 60 minutes
  • Coffee break -- 10 minutes
  • Transcription -- 90 minutes
  • Check email -- 10 minutes
  • Clean -- 20 minutes
In this way, I make sure that I'm not overextending myself and also that I am devoting adequate time to each thing on my list. This can also help you avoid getting so deeply sucked into one project that you neglect everything else on your list and/or run out of time for equally important tasks because you were too deeply focused. I use timers to block out my schedule since most things aren't set in stone as far as their exact start time for me, but if you wanted something a little more rigid, alarms may work for you.

Use timers to break up difficult or boring projects.
When I set my timers for how long I'll be working for, I also set sub-timers to break up those tasks and set mini-breaks into my schedule. This really helps me with the tasks I'm dreading, because breaking them up makes the work a little less intimidating. So for example, if I'm setting down to my transcription work and I'm really dreading it that day, I will set my 90 minute timer and then break up that 90 minutes into a 25 minute/5 minute/25 minute/5 minute/25 minute/5 minute split, where the five minute blocks are my chance to stretch/refresh my coffee/return text messages. This is known as the Pomodoro method, and it has made me noticeably more productive when I have a task I don't want to do on my list. You might think 'losing' that five minutes would hurt my productivity, but I've found it to be quite the opposite. A quick search of the App Store or Google Play will find several Pomodoro timers that you can use to streamline this process.

Set up short term and long term rewards for meeting your goals.
One thing that helps me a lot with motivation is setting up short term and long term rewards for myself that I only get if I meet my goals. Everyone is motivated by different things, so the below is just to give you ideas what that might look like for you, but here's my list of short term rewards:
  • Finish my to do list -- stream an episode of my favorite show
  • Meet daily income goal -- finish the night with a cup of sweetened tea (I normally stick to water and black coffee throughout the day, so this is something I really look forward to every day)
For my long term rewards, I use the following:
  • Get a 4.0 for my school term -- buy new clothing item (I'm addicted to clearance racks, so this serves two purposes; I stay motivated and I don't overspend)
  • Get a 3.67 for my school term -- $5 baloney money (this is what I spend on silly purchases like phone games or silly socks, two of my weaknesses)
  • Meet monthly income goal -- $15 manicure
  • Exceed monthly income goal by $50+ -- buy new clothing item
  • Exceed monthly income goal by $100+ -- $45 pedicure
  • Exceed monthly income goal by $200+ -- new pair of shoes
You can see that none of these rewards are exorbitantly expensive -- they're just small things that I really love and want, and I'll work harder to get them. This only works if you limit your access to these rewards outside of earning them, by the way -- my tea is on a high shelf and only gets brought down for my nightly reward, I don't buy new clothes outside of  'earning' them and my birthday, and I NEVER get a manicure or pedicure unless I've earned it.

Use instrumental music to improve your focus.
While this may not work for everyone, it helps me (and others) quite a bit. I find an instrumental focus playlist on a music streaming service and turn it on when I sit down to work. This helps me 'zone in' and tune out background noise. The reason I use instrumental music is because I find lyrics distracting, but this may not be the case for you.

While working from your home office is an attractive prospect, it comes with a unique set of challenges. By employing some of the tips above, I manage them and can meet the full potential my flexible work field provides me. :)

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