Home isn’t just a place to eat and sleep anymore. For a lot of us, it’s the place we work. Ideally, we’d have a room dedicated as our office. It would be as free from clutter as possible and only include the most necessary things for work.
But things aren’t always ideal. My “home office” is in my basement. No, not my mom’s basement. It’s also my man cave. Apart from my desk and computer, it’s also home to my musical instruments, my record collection, my books, my video/photo studio, my packaging area, and an area for my kids to hang out featuring a TV, Xbox, and Blu-ray player.
Most of my work is creative. I often get stuck on a problem or am coming up short on ideas for what I’m working on. It’s easy to glance over to my Xbox or guitars and jump to those — they’re right next to me. And they’re a lot more fun than problem solving for a difficult client. Before I know it, I’ve been wreaking havoc in Grand Theft Auto for three hours, and work deadlines loom. I’m even more stressed at that point.
Don’t get me started on distractions right in front of me at all times — social media, email, Netflix, and online content. Those are black holes that will claim my whole day.
How can we get things done? We could take immediate action and do what every productivity article tells you to do — turn off the phone, get rid of the video games, and pack up the guitars. Get away from the things that steal your attention.
While those can help, they’re just putting band-aids on the problem. Distraction goes deeper than that.
Experiment with different times of the day, and get to know when you’re at your best. You’ll find that you’re more focused and productive at certain times. When you discover them, protect them and use them to the fullest extent.
Schedule these times. Write them on your planner, and don’t let anything steal them from you.
Get Up Early
I used to think I was best at night. I thought I was a “night person” (I’m grumpy and disoriented in the morning). I would stay up until 2am. Then I experimented — going to bed early and waking up early to start work. I found that I got a whole lot more done in those early hours than I did at night.
Part of this change for me was due to my family. I have small children who wake early. They’re a handful, and when they finally get to bed that evening, I’m exhausted. I’m in no condition to do any sustained work. It makes sense for me to get to bed early, rest, and be ready to go early the next day.
There are a lot more advantages to waking early. And also keeping a consistent sleep schedule. But I’ve heard it from others time and time again — waking early gives you a big advantage.
Get Your Mind and Body Going
The first three things I do in the morning (after gulping down some water) is write, stretch, and meditate.
I write for around 10 minutes about whatever comes to my head, doing wonders for clarity (even extending throughout the day). I’ve been keeping a dream journal for about 15 years, and write whatever I can remember.
Then I do 5-10 minutes of stretching. Many people exercise right out of the gate, but I’ve found that I don’t exercise well in the morning. I’ve been doing this set of stretches recommended by the Tapp brothers. The stretches feel great, and help to get my body going.
Then I meditate (I use Headspace and Insight Timer). It helps me settle in and get ready for focusing on what I’m tackling next.
Have a Plan
I struggle with this one, because I’m not naturally a planner. I prefer to ride the wave and take things on as they come.
But if I take time to get some sort of a plan together the night before, I’m much more likely to follow through and actually do those things.
Part of my night meditation includes visualizing those things that I want to accomplish the next day. I imagine myself doing whatever it is I want to do — and doing it well, with confidence and efficiency.
Focus on Now
Mindfulness has become a huge part of my life. I’ve incorporated the practice of settling my mind on the single thing I’m doing at the moment, instead of putting my actions on autopilot and thinking about other things.
While I’m at my computer working — the vast majority of my day — I use brain.fm to focus. Don’t ask me to explain how it works. I’m pretty sure it’s witchcraft. But they’ve scientifically crafted these music/sound blends to get your brain to focus. It’s eerie how well it works. I do almost all of my writing under the influence of brain.fm.
Working from home full-time makes me stir crazy. Sometimes I don’t get out of the house for days on end. When I force myself to leave — even if it’s to run to the grocery store — there’s a mental reset that happens. More often than not, when I return, ideas begin to come easier and I can get focused and productive.
Or, if I can’t leave, I’ll distract myself for a short time where I am. The key is to keep it short. I’ll pick up a guitar and bang around for a few minutes, or pick up a book and read a few pages, or just get up and stare out the window. I won’t think about work or whatever project I may be going through.
Becoming less distracted through short distractions? It can work if you keep it under control and not let those brief distractions swallow your whole afternoon.
Trying just one or two of these may make a big difference in your day. See what works for you and what doesn’t, and make it your own. The key is to find out how your mind and body work, and to tailor your schedule and habits in a way to take advantage of your uniqueness.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Keep track of what works for you, and what could use improvement.