Here’s a recent statistic that just five years ago would have been laughed off the ledgers of the Department of Labor: a recent survey by the US-based CareerBuilder has revealed that some 35 percent of folks who work from home put in eight hours or more a day, consistently outworking their office-bound counterparts. Quite surprisingly, stay-at-homers, given Facebook and all its social-savvy kin, and all the other distractions that can ambush them while working from home, are more productive than office workers—and can be even more so.
Being really productive at home is all about being single-minded. But focus is not most people’s strong suit. In fact, going by the scientific research then and now, focus was never our strong suit as a species. We all were born to multitask and to be sociable, and because of these pesky predispositions we as a species of curiosity struggle to focus on one task exclusively for any length of time. You can almost say that tweeting, liking, and messaging are in our genes.
So whether you’re doing research or medical transcription or real estate blogging, you have to go against the grain to be single-minded about work, but especially when you’re working from home. You need all the help you can get. So here are some well-tested tactics to get the blinders up and the hands and knees dirty in the name of high productivity.
Off with the head(set)! The very first thing you must do to help yourself focus is to shed all the electronic doodads while you’re at your desk. Admit it or not, they are unmitigated distractions, each one of them. Remember that you’re a creature of curiosity and the more you introduce stimuli to your senses via the many gadgets available to you, the more distracted you become from your task. It used to be just the TV, the radio, and the phone. But now there are electronic temptations galore: smartphones, iPad, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. The list goes on. It’s the curse of the 21st-century worker to be so blessed with so many distractions.
Now you might say that music helps you focus, which might very well be the case. But ask yourself how much time you waste singing along with Bruno Mars or furiously tapping the controls on your tablet to queue Lady Gaga’s latest hit. And, sure, Facebook or Twitter helps you connect at the speed of light with your clients, your sources, and the office. But what about the siren call of a Facebook or Twitter message to or from your one zillion followers? Time’s a wasting, time to Like! It takes just a few seconds to send a message; it takes a whole lot more than that to break off from a hot conversation.
The bottom line is: Why distract yourself?
Develop a routine. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it’s actually a great way to help you achieve focus. Routine is really rhythm without the music. It eases you into the job at hand each time you start your workday and guides you back into the groove whenever you go astray. Having a routine is almost like having an autopilot: it keeps you moving in the right direction even if you’re not up to it yet—and keeps you going until you are. An effective daily routine can be as simple as: first hour, check Gmail; second hour, call up clients; third hour, research, etc.
Organize. Another trick to get you focused on the right things comes straight from the corporate world (or the library): Get organized. And the best way to organize is to have a list of to-dos, with the items grouped by relevance to each other or sequenced according to their deadlines. Remember to include your household chores as they usually take up a big chunk of your work-at-home hours. The list is your security blanket—it keeps you from inconveniently forgetting to pick up the missus at the supermarket and it gives you a convenient handle on your workday. Being organized, in other words, prevents you from getting overwhelmed.
Say NO. Learn to say no—not just to people who may derail your routine, but also to yourself. Well-meaning people, your family included, can easily fall into the habit of taking advantage of your inability to decline (say, an invitation to have a round of beer at Joe’s) to the extent that your entire routine is disrupted permanently. It’s certainly not the best way to stay focused.
It will also immensely help you to focus if you can learn to say no to yourself. If you can say no to answering your phone or to checking for new Facebook messages every few seconds or to opening your umpteenth Doritos bag, then congratulate yourself—you’ve just taken one giant step towards high productivity.