Being productive in an office is challenging enough: Fully 99% of people said they get distracted while working at their desk, according to a 2019 survey from communications company Poly of 5,150 workers. But as the pandemic causes more people to work remotely, the difficulties of working at home have also become clear. In your home, there are even more potential distractions, including partners, roommates, kids, and pets.
If you've found your productivity slipping while you work from home, here are seven things you can do to get back on track.
During a pandemic while everyone is working remotely, multitasking is not just necessary: For many people it is the only option, said Raquel Benbunan-Fich, an associate professor of information systems at Baruch College who specializes in user behavior and multitasking.
"Multitasking does work to a certain extent, but it really depends on which tasks you are doing," Benbunan-Fich told Grow.
If you need to complete a task that requires accuracy and concentration, then multitasking might worsen your performance, she said. If a task isn't stimulating enough, you may not be fully engaged, and that can make you less productive too.
Tasks that fall between these two extremes — challenging enough to keep your brain active, but not so challenging that you need to dedicate all your focus — are the ones you can bounce between while still being productive.
Our tendency to focus on immediate or top-of-mind tasks is why it is important to make one master list that includes bigger and long-term goals, Paula Rizzo, author of "Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Successful and Less Stressed," told Grow.
"Do a brain dump of everything in your head," she said. Keep this list handy and refer to it when you're making your daily to-do list.
If you compare your daily to-do list to a master list of bigger goals, you may find yourself changing what you actually should prioritize.
This works for Benbunan-Fich, who called her to-do list her "saving grace." Her daily, weekly, and monthly to-do lists help her keep track of urgent tasks as well as long-term goals.
Many people aren't good at predicting how long a task will take them, Rizzo said. "We'll get to the end of the day and say, 'I haven't done anything,'" she said. "Well, where did you spend your time?"
To solve that problem, she suggests timing yourself to find how how long tasks actually take. Perhaps you think catching up on emails will take you 30 minutes, but in practice it takes you two hours. Or you allot an hour to pay bills, but discover that you can be done in 20 minutes.
Video by Mariam Abdallah
Gathering data will give you a more realistic sense of whether any given task is something you can get out of the way quickly. Over time, this information can help you construct a to-do list that is more attuned with how many hours you'll be working that day.
If you're looking to tackle longer tasks, you might also want to use the Pomodoro technique, in which you use a timer to break work into 25-minute spurts separated by small breaks.
If you are sharing space, as many people are during a pandemic, it's important to not only create a schedule for yourself but also to coordinate that schedule with whoever else is in your home so that you're not distracted by a roommate's conference call.
Working parents, for example, might "block out chunks of time and take turns" focusing on work and caring for the children, Benbunan-Fich said.
Your brain can actually reward you for getting distracted, Chris Bailey, author of "Hyperfocus: How to Manage Attention in a World of Distraction," told Grow.
"Dopamine is this wonderful chemical we get every time we make love or we eat a delicious meal or do other things that stimulate the mind," Bailey said. "But it turns out we get that same hit when we check Instagram and when we open up Facebook."
That's why it's important for people to make a plan for themselves in the moment and decide what is the top priority. "Take 15 to 20 seconds and think, 'What is the most important thing I could be working on in this moment?'" he said. Setting that intention can prevent you from getting distracted by a roommate watching TV or the Twitter discourse.
Keita Williams of career coaching service Success Bully frequently turns off email or social media notifications when she works. "I recommend turning off all alerts during these focus times," she told Grow. "A push alert from email or a social media platform can create a knee-jerk distraction."
While technology is the source of many distractions, it can also save you from them if used wisely, Bailey pointed out. Apps like Cold Turkey and Freedom let you to program your computer to block certain attractive apps and websites for a set amount of time.
Sleep is really, really good for you — and if you don't get enough, studies have shown that you will probably be less productive.
So develop a routine that puts your mind at ease well before you actually get under the covers. In the few hours before you go to bed, take a hot shower and avoid alcohol and television. Doing this gives you a better chance at having a restful night and being able to get more done the next day.
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