Mastering the WFH Productivity Game Part 1: Essentialize and Minimize Distractions for Maximum Focus 

Explore different ways to overcome the challenges of working from home and boosting productivity while staying focused.

Alright, picture this: It’s December 2019, and you tell someone, “Yeah, I work from home.” You can see the confusion on their faces as they try to wrap their heads around it. “Are you some freelancer or a tech wizard?” they ask, because working from home was practically unheard of back then. Well, fast forward to today, and working from home is the new normal. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WFH trend has exploded, and now everyone’s embracing remote work or hybrid schedules.

Since 2019, the number of people who work remotely has gone from 4.7% to 27-50%. With this shift, employees and employers alike are now navigating the uncharted territory of remote work and seeking ways to excel in this work environment.

In this series, we will explore different ways to overcome the challenges of working from home and boosting productivity while staying focused. One of the most significant obstacles to productivity, whether in an office or at home, is distractions. Whether it’s the chattering of colleagues in the office or your adorable pets (or kids!) at home, distractions can hinder our ability to concentrate and get work done efficiently. Let’s dive into some strategies to essentialize what is in front of you and minimize distractions, helping you be more productive and energized throughout the workday.

Essentialize & Minimize Distractions: The Battle Plan

Distractions can be our arch-nemesis, whether we’re fighting them in an office with chatty coworkers and those “quick” pop-in meetings or at home with our furry friends, kiddos, and the never-ending reminder of household responsibilities.

We’ve all got pretty good at handling the obvious distractions outside of work, but sometimes even work-related stuff can derail our productivity. Picture this — your desk, laptop, and browser are loaded with like 50+ tabs, all fighting for your attention! We need to essentialize what you need for each task so that you can minimize your distractions.

Research tells us that it takes twenty-three minutes for our brains to fully refocus after an interruption. That’s insane, right? And we all know that it’s not just about the time lost; it’s the mental fatigue and stress that accompany these interruptions.

Sure, some tiny interruptions won’t take that long to recover from, like answering a quick chat or skipping a song, but when you get into big stuff like replying to an email about scheduling or mindlessly scrolling for five minutes, it’s like a brain reset, and you lose your productive focus.

And here’s the kicker — every time you shift your focus from one thing to another, you’re burning through brain fuel called oxygenated glucose. That’s the fuel that keeps your brain in the zone on a task. So, when you continually do that “constant task-switching” dance, you end up feeling stressed out and exhausted by the end of the day.

Who wants to work all day and feel exhausted, stressed, and unproductive? No one. So, let’s figure out how to essentialize and minimize distractions so we can be productive and feel energized and focused. 

Step 01: Assess Your Workspace

First things first – you gotta have a designated workspace. No more hunting for your favorite pen or laptop charger, all your work stuff lives in one place! Keep that space clear so it’s ready to go at the start of your workday. Now, assess your workspace critically. Keep the essentials and toss the rest.  Get rid of empty beverage containers, dead pens, all those “do-this-later” papers, and any other clutter that distracts you. Anything that is on your desk that is a visual reminder of “all the things you need to get done” (aside from an actual to-do list) is a distraction and a waste of mental energy. Clear it out, and you’ll free up mental space to focus on the important tasks. Those sentimental knick-knacks can stay, though, those are essential!

Step 02: Minimize Your Open Browser Tabs

Here’s an often-overlooked productivity killer – your browser tabs. It’s time to let them go! Seriously, close those unnecessary tabs and let your computer breathe. Having 20+ tabs open won’t make you a multi-tasking superhero; it’ll just slow your computer down, and you will waste time searching for the correct tab, and your brain will feel overwhelmed every time you see all the tabs left open pertaining to other tasks. Let’s focus on one thing at a time.

Keep only the tabs you need for your current task, and if you have a few extras, group them into folders. Your brain will thank you for the neat compartmentalization.

Pro-tip: Use Google Chrome’s tab groups or folders. It’s like organizing your digital chaos, and your brain will be forever grateful. You can also consider using bookmark folders to keep frequently used links accessible without cluttering your workspace. By compartmentalizing tabs and minimizing distractions, you’ll be able to stay focused on your current workflow.

Step 03: Set Do Not Disturb Boundaries (Virtually & IRL)

Ah, the pesky distractions from chat requests and emails! We get it; they’re part of the WFH experience, but our ability to think deeply and creatively is drastically cut down when constantly being pulled into the distraction of chat requests and emails. In fact, a study revealed that frequent switching between answering texts/emails and focusing on a task results in an average decrease of 10 IQ points. To put it into perspective, the effect is almost half of what you might experience from smoking cannabis! 

The solution isn’t living in a notification-free zone for eight hours a day, but allowing yourself to focus on one task at a time will allow you to complete it more efficiently without causing more stress by switching back and forth between tasks all morning. 

Instead, choose a task from your list, set your Do Not Disturb setting on for a set period, and knock out that task! Once you complete the task, you can address quick requests and add longer ones to your to-do list.

As for real-life distractions (yes, kids and family, we see you), create clear cues for when you’re in full work mode. Close the door to your workspace during work sprints and open it when engaging in less demanding tasks. Wearing headphones can also serve as a signal to those around you that you’re in a focused state. Additionally, use a visual timer visible to others to indicate when you’re free for interruptions.

In a Nutshell

Working from home isn’t all sipping lattes on a balcony, but with the right hacks, you can make it a productivity zone. Essentialize your workspace, close out those browser tabs, and set your Do Not Disturb boundaries like a pro, and you’ll be on track to optimized productivity while working from home!