Stay on Track for Productivity

UPDATED: March 30, 2023
PUBLISHED: March 30, 2023
woman working from home distracted by her phone

Technology makes it possible to work and run a business from anywhere—and millions of U.S. workers have packed up their cubicles and headed home to do just that. Although they bade a not-so-fond farewell to challenges such as commuting, meetings and rigid hours, the solo situation isn’t 100% rosy: It’s easy to fall into time-wasting traps that deplete energy and sabotage productivity. In Buffer’s “2022 State Of Remote Work” report, 21% of participants reported “difficulty focusing” as one of their struggles with remote work. So, what can you do to stay focused while working form home?

How to stay focused while working from home

We asked working-from-home experts and entrepreneurs to discuss common problems and solutions.

Set boundaries with friends and family.

Lisa Kanarek, a Dallas-based home office guru, freelance writer and author, says many entrepreneurs who use home as their headquarters share this thorny situation: Friends and family don’t take your business seriously.

“When I started my first home-based business, [people asked me] to wait at their homes for service people,” she says. “When I pointed out that although I was home, I was still working, they took me seriously.” The takeaway: You should nicely, but firmly, set boundaries.

Put focus time in your schedule while you work from home.

Elaine LaPersonerie, who has run her company, Wink Public Relations, from her home in New York City for over 20 years, says you have to open and close shop.

“When you work from home, your brain automatically tells you that when you’re home, you should be working,” LaPersonerie says. “Give yourself a startup and shutdown time each night for the following day. Shut your computer off at the end of the day, which will prevent you from popping over and just doing ‘one more thing.’”

Debra M. Cohen, franchise development team lead at Neighborly®, goes even further—suggesting you divide the workday into blocks of time dedicated to specific tasks to better focus while working from home. “People tend to work most efficiently when they know that they have a limited number of hours to get something done,” Cohen explains. “Breaking your day into two- to three-hour blocks of time devoted to client calls, writing, paperwork, etc. helps you work more efficiently. Determine when your most productive hours are and schedule your workday accordingly.” 

You can mark these blocks on your email calendar—Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar, for instance—so it sends you reminders to stop and start.

Sidestep time traps.

A huge time-suck for home-based workers and entrepreneurs is checking and responding to emails. More time-wasters: social media and web-surfing. Check that Facebook page, start following a couple of interesting threads and BOOM! 45 minutes vanish. Look up that new restaurant to make reservations for Friday night, get sidetracked reading the reviews and BOOM! 20 minutes evaporate.

How do you curb those impulses? Mariana Abeid-McDougall, owner of Dreams into Goals Writing, identifies plenty of tools that can stop your dilly-dallying. If you’re distracted by web-surfing or checking Facebook, consider using free or paid tools such as StayFocused from Google, Freedom or Anti-Social.

Give yourself a break to stay focused while working from home.

LaPersonerie believes that sometimes isolation can make you more stressed. To counteract the loneliness, reach out to others for a vital break. “You must leave your desk for 30 to 60 minutes a day to refresh yourself,” LaPersonerie says. “Schedule a meeting or lunch with a friend, take the dog for a walk, run an errand—anything. Just be sure to leave the house!”

When you’re stuck and can’t spontaneously brainstorm with a cubicle mate, conventional wisdom tells us to walk away from the problem. Another alternative is to get your blood (and/or creative juices) flowing. Try working out to an exercise tape, doing some sit-ups, taking a short walk or bike ride, or heading to the gym for a quick workout with friends or an exercise class.

Kanarek also shares these ways to escape from a rut and come back feeling more focused to work from home:

  • Pack up your laptop and head to your local coffee shop. Perhaps being around others who are working will motivate you to work, too. You don’t even have to talk with anyone. The energy from the coffee shop alone may spark a breakthrough.
  • Set up a Skype session to video chat with another home-based business owner. Share ideas, give opinions and motivate each other to keep moving forward.
  • Pick up a pad of sticky notes to record your ideas. Go to a blank wall and think of as many ideas as you can, write them on the notes and then slap them on the wall. When you review and refine them, you may well find a winner.
  • Create a vision board that illustrates your goals, dreams and wishes. When you get stuck, use the board as a road map to stay on track and get back to work.
  • Rearrange your home office. Move your desk near the window or away from it. Bring in plants or artwork to brighten the space. Add photos of your family. Your home office should be a place that inspires you.

This article was published in May 2013 and has been updated. Photo by Josep Suria/Shutterstock