As remote workers, we need one of the most precious resources to get things done during the day, and that’s the focus. With an ability to stay focused on a task for a longer period come higher results. And with better performance come more opportunities for personal and professional development.
But staying focused can be a challenge, especially for remote workers many of whom work from home and deal with distractions every day. Lack of focus can not only reduce your productivity and speed but deteriorate your overall performance and negatively affect your results at the company. No matter what field you work in or what position you hold, whether you are a digital nomad or an office employee, keeping focused is critical to your long-term success.
Here are ten effective ways to train your brain and stay focused.
1. Plan tasks each day
When it comes to productivity and focused work, to-do lists have great power, and they help you get things done throughout the day. The reason is very simple: You put your thoughts into writing, and you get that small rush of motivation that leads to actions. And actions generate results.
We recommend choosing the form that’s the most convenient for you, whether it’s an old-school notebook, a bullet journal or an advanced mobile app. Then decide when is the best time for you to plan the day. Some people incorporate writing to-do lists in their morning routine while others prefer to be prepared the evening before. And write down several important tasks that need to be done throughout the day. You don’t need to list every single thing you need to accomplish. Some tasks such as sending an email only take two minutes, while writing it down and then crossing it out from your list would take more time.
If you list too many less important tasks, on the one hand, you’d enjoy crossing them out one by one and seeing you’ve accomplished 20 things that day. But on the other hand, that would be a false sense of productivity, because those tasks might not even contribute to your overall results.
2. Avoid switches
Have you ever been in a situation when you are working on a document and suddenly your phone rings? You get the call, go back to your computer and need a couple of minutes to gather your thoughts. Sometimes you don’t even remember what you have been writing about. We have all been there and it’s not fun.
It happens because our brain is so focused on the specific task that we go into the flow mode. And once we have uninterrupted time to work or think, we are more productive, creative and perform better. In other words, deep work gets you into the zone that allows you to reach higher results. Once we suddenly switch to another task, our brain needs to divide attention and we lose focus.
We recommend avoiding frequent switches to stay focused and productive throughout the day.
One of the reasons we tend to jump from one task to another is our brain reminding us that we have to make a call, send an email or feed a dog. One of the best ways to avoid this is to combine similar tasks. For instance, if you know that you have to make 3 phone calls today, set aside an hour for that. Don’t distribute those calls throughout the day.
A pro tip is to also avoid multitasking as it has been proven to reduce our cognitive abilities, especially when we deal with critical tasks. If you divide your attention into two tasks, you reduce the speed and quality at the same time. But remember that multitasking can be beneficial in specific situations – for example listening to a podcast while exercising can help you make good use of your time.
Another effective way to stay focused is to use the Pomodoro method. There are many apps that you can use to work for 25 minutes and then give yourself a five-minute break. During those minutes you give your undivided attention to finishing a task and enjoy the mandatory break later.
3. Find “your hours”
When it comes to productivity, some people perform better in the early morning while others prefer working late at night. It’s important to find your most productive hours so that to plan your tasks accordingly. For example, if you know that you have the most energy before noon, that’s when you would complete the most critical tasks of the day.
To find “your hours” you need to measure your productivity and performance throughout the day. Pay attention to your things like motivation, energy levels, and mood. Do you tend to be hyperactive later in the day and have less energy in the morning? Do you have to deal with at-home distractions before 1 pm? Or do you often lose motivation by lunchtime? You can experiment for a week or two. And finally, all of these patterns will help you establish the schedule that would work to your benefit.
4. Use self-discipline
As a remote worker, you have a certain level of autonomy and independence. But that comes with the necessity of a strong sense of self-discipline. Your team leader cannot walk over to your office a couple of times a day to ask how the project is going on. Even in a highly organized remote team, with advanced communication tools, you still work independently. It’s on you to go past distractions, intrusive thoughts, laziness and other things that might come your way.
But here is the good news: self-discipline is not something that only comes naturally. Instead, the more you practice it, the stronger it becomes. We recommend starting with simple decisions. For example, tell yourself that you will work out tomorrow morning and then stick to that no matter what. Or tell your friend you will call them on Monday and then follow with that. With these tiny actions, you’d contribute to building a stronger sense of self-discipline.
And when you feel less motivated to do the work that is when the discipline comes in and saves the day. Most of us cannot afford to only work on those days when we are full of excitement and can’t wait to dive into the new project. Self-discipline helps us stay focused and achieve results, even on days when we find it hard to complete the simplest tasks.
5. Avoid distractions
Along with many benefits that come with remote working, there is one major setback: distractions. No matter what your schedule looks like, there would be some kind of distraction. It can be your phone that keeps lighting up with notifications or some noise in the café that you are working in. As a remote employee, it’s your responsibility to limit those distractions as much as possible to stay focused on your tasks, even if it means turning off the notifications on your phone.
Here is what we recommend:
- Move to a quiet and comfortable area.
- Close all unnecessary tabs on your browser.
- Turn off unessential notifications on your phone.
- Close any programs that might distract you.
- Put a lock on social media (at least for a while).
6. Build productive habits
We already have some habits that we perform daily, without any motivation or self-discipline. For example, we wash our hands once we come home or turn the lights off when we go to sleep. We perform these tasks without any significant amounts of energy or focus. Our brain already knows how to act in different situations.
It’s important to build empowering habits so that your brain recognizes the pattern and you need less willpower or focus to complete the task. For example, if you choose to start your mornings by writing down a to-do list, after a certain number of days you will find yourself getting a pen without even thinking about it. That’s when the habit is locked for good.
You might find some of the productive habits less enjoyable, but that should not stop you from following them till the end. We recommend giving yourself a small prize or doing something you enjoy after completing that habit. For example, if you don’t enjoy exercising but love an iced coffee, tell yourself you will get one after doing a quick workout. That way you get excited about something that comes after the task and feel motivated to complete it.
7. Don’t forget mindfulness
Mindfulness is a relatively new practice and people often underestimate its power. While mindfulness implies self-awareness and trains your attention by focusing on the present moments. You are free to choose what you focus on – the environment around you, music, feelings, breath or anything else. And you can choose the situation, from washing dishes to walking in the park – opportunities are endless. Once you practice mindfulness in your daily life, it would become easier to use it when you need it for work.
Mindfulness can also play a role in pushing back against the distractions once they arise. For example, you are working on a project document and get a restless itch to log into Amazon and buy that desk you’ve been eyeing for a while. If you tell yourself to be at the moment, be present and focus on your breath, there is a good chance the distraction would go away. And you’d go back to work.
8. Read more
In today’s competitive world work-life moves quickly and you need to keep up. That often means less time for activities such as reading. Instead of fully reading a book, we often skim through it or look for a smaller version. That’s when reading is one of the best ways to train your undivided attention and become better at staying focused.
There is no real trick to it – all you have to do is to carve out time every day to read. Develop a routine of 20 to 30 minutes of reading during your lunch break, before work or before bed. And as you read block out any distractions that might come up and immerse yourself into the story. You might even consider rereading a book that you are familiar with to find new observations and nuances.
9. Practice listening
Making an effort to focus all your energy on someone else and listen attentively strengthens your concentration muscle. So next time you have a conversation with a family member or a friend try to practice attentive listening and focus on what they are saying.
10. Treat your mind like a muscle
When it comes to building muscles, exercising is the proven method. And we are not talking about doing a workout once or twice a month, but exercising regularly, whether it’s in the gym or at home. In the same way as muscles, training your brains to stay focused is a matter of constant practice and effort.
And remember how they say that once your muscles start hurting during the exercise, that’s when you should push through. Whenever you feel unmotivated to complete the task or have a strong itch to stop working midway through, that’s when you should push a little further. But don’t push yourself too much, build your focus gradually. For example, start by focusing for 10-15 minutes and then take a break. Two weeks later take 30-minute intervals and then increase up to an hour if you can. Imagine how much you can get done if you can stay focused for that long.
Whether you are dealing with too much work, lack of sleep, simple laziness or have lost your motivation, not being able to focus can set you back from your goals, both professional and personal. If you let yourself get carried away by your emotions, thoughts, anxiety or immediate pleasure, you will struggle with staying focused and getting things done.
That’s why it’s important to have a couple of tips and tricks right at your fingertips and apply them when necessary.