No matter where employees physically work right now, most are struggling to stay focused, productive and passionate about their job.
They’re distracted by uncertainty, new or changing responsibilities, newsfeeds and an unsettling desire to return to normalcy.
On top of all that, there’s work!
And it turns out it’s even harder to focus on work when they’re remote. Almost 60% of employees say there are too many distractions and temptations at home, according to a SmartBriefs poll.
“This means attention management is more important than ever, not just for our productivity, but for our peace of mind,” says Maura Thomas, author of Attention Management, in the Harvard Business Review. “(It’s) about maintaining control of where your attention goes and recognizing when it’s being stolen.”
If you can get yourself to focus again – and help your workforce do the same – you’ll regain some of that normalcy and passionate employees will help drive productivity.
Try these steps and best practices:
Recognize what distracts you
For those who now work remotely, the distractions are infinitely different than they were onsite: kids in the background, homeschooling to be done, chores to be finished, meals to be prepared, etc.
For those still onsite, it’s the increased demand and nagging consciousness of those around them – Why is Ron coughing so much? Am I sitting 6 feet from Rory? Who can help me with this when so many people are out?
And no matter where you work now, there’s the draw of newsfeeds and social media with round-the-clock updates on how bad things are.
Monitor what distracts you from starting or getting back to work. Be honest with yourself and consider:
- What time did I plan on focusing on work, and what time did it happen?
- What did I do in the time between?
- What caused me to stop being productive?
- How long did it distract me?
- Was it necessary to give that distraction attention?
How to handle remote distractions
To stay focused on work in a house, Thomas suggests:
- Adjust your expectations. We all want to accomplish as much as we did when we worked together with our colleagues. It’s OK to change your expectations and goals – just not the quality of your work – based on the new limitations. “Show yourself the same compassion you would show someone else in your situation,” says Thomas. Be adaptable to weekly, or even daily, challenges and changes.
- Put up a sign or close a door when you can’t be disturbed for up to 60-minute increments. Keep a dry-erase board or chalkboard near your boundary so others can write what they need in an emergency or a reminder on what they want for when you can take a break and address it.
- List your responsibilities every day in order of priority. Focus on the high-priority, high-attention tasks – such as writing reports or online collaboration – when you’re least likely to be interrupted or distracted. Plan low-priority, low-attention tasks – such as cursory web searches or sorting paperwork – for times you’re more likely to be distracted.
- Work in shifts. If there are two adults working from home, set a schedule so one can attend to children, homeschooling and chores for a couple of hours while the other can work uninterrupted. Then switch it up.
- Schedule double-duty breaks. Take care of those nagging chores – laundry, emptying the dishwasher, walking the dog – at the same time you’d likely take a break if you were working onsite. The physical movement will be rewards for thought-intense work you do while holed up in your new, in-home digs. Even better, Thomas suggests you tie the personal responsibilities to a work goal. For instance: Once I gather and organize the files and screens I need to share in the video conference, I’ll take the dog outside for a walk.
- Book a room. Some hotels have started to open up rooms as office space at a special rate on a day-to-day basis. With no tourists or business travelers, the hotels offer remote workers a proper desk, high-speed internet, a minifridge and practically no distractions.
How to handle mental drain
To curb the negative and “what-if” thoughts and regain a positive and passionate outlook:
- Be conscious of what you allow in your space. Researchers have proven the media (and sometimes those around us) exaggerate negative news. Focus on positive things and plan work and life toward them. If you’re still drawn to the newsfeeds, remember what Fred Roger’s said: When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’
- Start and keep a gratitude journal. You’ve likely heard of it, and maybe even wanted to start one. Now’s the best time. It’s easy, positive and gratifying: Just jot down three good thing about the day. Try to include at least one work-related item on your list. It can be as a few simple words. For instance, The walk outside, Jane’s laugh, daffodil bloom. No need for explanations (unless you want to, of course.)
- Even better, thank more people more often. Let them know how their actions and words positively affect you. It’ll help both of you regain a better perspective.
“Your ability to get important work done depends less on where you work and more on how you work,” Thomas says.