Yay! You finally took the step to become a work-at-home freelance writer. You’ve ditched the commute, as well as the need to exchange your pajamas for appropriate work attire. You’ve stocked up on coffee and memorized the kids’ school, dance lesson and soccer practice schedules.
But after the first day, you’ve caught up with work emails (and Facebook posts), decided that more than one pot of coffee eliminates (pun intended) the boost in productivity, delivered the boy and girl to their respective activities at (almost) the correct times—and completed exactly 3 pages of a 10-page writing assignment. Obviously working from home isn’t going to be all you thought it would be—it’s going to be more.
Life happens, and it’s going to happen while you are trying to complete your next assignment. To make a successful transition to working at home, you need to figure out how to separate the distraction of everyday life from the looming reality of your next deadline. Here’s how to stay focused.
Prioritize, Plan, Set the Rules
If more time with the family was a primary reason you wanted to work from home, it’s ironic that the family is one of the primary reasons working from home is so difficult.
Set your priorities. Know when you have to be available to clients and when you have family obligations. Schedule your day to accommodate priorities and provide sufficient uninterrupted work times. Let your friends and family know not only when you are not to be disturbed, but also when you WILL be available.
Block Out the Silence
You’ve got your Do Not Disturb signs out and all is quiet. Too quiet. If you’re used to a noisy household, silence can be disturbing in itself. Now a car driving down your street, a dog barking a block away or the refrigerator motor kicking in—things you normally wouldn’t hear—can divert your attention. Try noise-cancelling headphones, light music, or white noise such as a fan to cancel out these attention grabbers.
Clear the Chatter
Is a worry about your child or a client nagging at your concentration? If it’s easily fixed, do it and come back to the work at hand. Otherwise, promise yourself a worry period where you’re allowed to fully worry about what’s nagging at you and come up with possible solutions. Often, that’s all you need to clear it from your mind and move past it.
Train Your Brain
There are several techniques you can use to help keep distractions at bay. Keep a tally of how often your mind wanders and at what time of day. This not only helps you determine when you are more prone to distraction, but often simply keeping track of daily distractions helps reduce them.
When your mind wanders, tell yourself, “Be here now,” and slowly bring your mind back to what’s in front of you. As you continue bringing your attention back throughout the day, you will find the period between straying thoughts increasing.
Train your mind to ignore outside stimuli. If a door slams or someone sneezes, make an effort to not look up. By not giving a distraction your attention, your mind soon learns to ignore it.
Tunnel Your Vision
Tunnel vision often connotes narrow-mindedness because those with tunnel vision block out other influences. But that’s exactly what you want when trying to concentrate on work. Even physically creating a tunnel with your hands to narrow your vision to the work in front of you can be a very effective method for boosting concentration. With practice, you can then learn to create a tunnel within your mind.
Break for Coffee
You may think you get more done if you hunker down and continue working until you finish or hit a good stopping point. But your brain can typically stay focused on a topic for only about an hour (sometimes a bit more or less) before it begins to fade and you become less efficient.
Use a kitchen timer or one of the myriad of electronic timer apps. Set it for a half hour, then take a timed 10 minute break. Experiment with longer times to determine which works best for you. You’ll be surprised how a 10 or 15 minute break in which you leave the desk, grab a snack, stretch or take a walk around the block will refresh you and leave you better able to focus. Stick to the schedule you set up and soon your body and mind will adjust to automatically signal a break.
Most anyone can benefit from the above techniques, although some will be more effective than others. Give them a try, see which ones work for you, and make them a habit. Your work will improve, you’ll get more accomplished, and you’ll have more time to spend on other things besides work.