5 rules for work-at-home productivity

And how to focus when focusing feels impossible.

by Chris Bailey
Last Updated: 19 May 2020

Much like an overturned game of Monopoly, the economy has been disrupted overnight. It has become significantly more difficult to stay focused and productive. Concentrating is challenging during the best of times, never mind with a global pandemic sending shockwaves of worry through our lives. 

More than ever before, we need to invest in productivity tactics that accomplish two things at once: allowing us both to focus deeply and to be kind with ourselves. It’s infinitely easier to become more productive when we’re giving ourselves the mental space and patience to wade through complex tasks. During chaotic times, the path to productivity runs straight through calm.

Here are some simple strategies that will help you to keep calm and find focus when you need it the most:

1. Create a distractions list

Set a timer for the length of time in which you’d like to focus. Write down the distractions that come to mind—these are the productivity red flags that should be tended to afterwards. You’ll likely find news websites and social media a top distraction (Naturally, one hopes you wouldn’t consider Management Today a distraction - ed.).

Our impulse to refresh these platforms can be triggered by anxiety; while news stresses us out, checking it makes us feel in control. A distractions list lets us recognise these productivity traps so we can strike a better balance between staying informed and maintaining focus.

2. Let your brain warm up for important tasks

Our mind needs time to adjust when we switch between new and complex projects. Everyone experiences this adjustment phase. Set a timer for five or 10 minutes the next time you get started on a large task, and give yourself that amount of time to settle in.

3. Use the Rule of 3 to prioritise your workload

The Rule of 3 is my favourite way to set daily priorities. At the start of each morning, imagine what three important tasks you’d like to have completed by day’s end. This simple ritual only takes a few minutes, and forces you to think deeply about where you want to direct your focus. 

4. Track your time

Our internal self-talk becomes more negative during an anxious time like this. Negative internal dialogue makes us believe we’re far less productive than we actually are. Time tracking can remind you of how much you’re accomplishing.

Keep a log—whether physically or digitally—of how you’re spending each 15 or 30-minute time increment. This observation will lead you to focus more deeply, and it directly debunks the negative stories we tell about ourselves, an important element of staying calm. 

5. Keep a consistent schedule

Our brain craves consistency and these days we’re not getting it. More of us are working from home with disrupted routines—while also juggling multiple personal demands. It’s challenging to create boundaries between our work and home lives during times like this.

Maintaining a consistent daily work routine will help. Keep your workspace in a dedicated spot, ritualistically disconnect from work at the same time each day, and integrate breaks into your schedule. Routine is a framework that automatically makes you more productive. 

We’re all trying to navigate this new normal—at work and at home. The above strategies will help you find focus and settle your mind in today’s sea of distractions.

Chris Bailey is a productivity expert, and the international bestselling author of Hyperfocus, which is out now

Image credit: Bill Hinton/contributor via Getty Images

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