Maintaining Your Focus and Productivity

Distractions at Home

Our new “normal” consists of stay-at-home orders, remote work, kids home from school, and constant news updates on the negative impacts of COVID-19.  If you feel like you are having trouble maintaining your focus and productivity right now, you are not alone. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Maura Thomas explains that constant distractions can actually lead to the habit of allowing yourself to become distracted. When you are working from home, distancing yourself from distractions can be even more difficult. That is where “attention management” comes in.

Practicing Attention Management

Thomas explains that practicing attention management helps control where your attention goes, helps you recognize when your attention is being taken elsewhere, and helps you bring your attention back to the task at hand. She uses three of the most common distractions at home and gives the following examples of how to maintain your focus and productivity.

1. Children

If you have children at home, it is understandably hard to focus on your work, especially if your children are younger and very dependent on you. Here a few tips to help you stay on track while still being there for them:

  • Make a task list and sort out high attention tasks and low attention tasks. High attention tasks should be saved when you have the most uninterrupted time, such as during nap time, while low attention tasks can be completed while still keeping an eye on little ones.
  • If there is another adult in the household, create shifts. One adult is primarily responsible for the children for an hour or two while the other adult can get high attention tasks done, and then switch.
  • If you have older children, create a system such as a sign on your door, that lets them know to not disturb you unless it is an emergency. You can have a chalkboard or list on the fridge where the older children can write down things they need or want to do, and once you have completed a high attention task, you can assist them or spend time with them doing a fun activity.
  • Most importantly, lower your expectations and be compassionate to yourself as you work to balance all the new challenges in your life.

2. Chores

One of the most difficult challenges of working from home is the constant thought of household chores that need to be done. Whether it is starting a load of laundry, cleaning up the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher, walking the dog, etc. It can be very hard to focus and stay productive on one task when you are mentally torn between chores and work. Thomas recommends trying  these tips to help:

  • Don’t try to push all your personal to-do’s out of your head during “work hours.” It uses an unnecessary amount of energy.
  • Instead, use the urge to complete chores to your advantage and treat them as a reward. For every work task you complete, get up and complete one of the chores on your list. It not only gets you moving around, but it also provides a mental break that will have you feeling more relaxed and focused once you start to work again.

3. Your Thoughts

It is normal for our minds to wonder sometimes, however, when there is a global pandemic going on, it is easy for thoughts to slip into negativity. This leads to higher levels of stress and anxiety, which makes it nearly impossible to maintain focus and productivity. To help you stay in the present and keep your thoughts positive, follow these tips:

  • Start a gratitude journal. At the beginning or the end of the day (or both!), write down something you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be in depth or complicated, just a pure and simple statement of gratitude. This will not only improve your mood and lower your stress levels, but it will help keep your thoughts positive throughout the day.
  • Practice mindfulness. Living in the moment, having present-centered awareness, taking the time to appreciate the small wins or moments of happiness; these are all aspects of mindfulness. The more you practice mindfulness, the better you will be at noticing when your thoughts are leading you astray and bringing your focus back to the task at hand. For more information, check out our blog post, “Tips for Practicing Mindfulness During Uncertain Times.”
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