What week of lockdown are we in now? Four? 56? In these times (‘unprecedented’ as we keep being told), of remote work and social distancing we’re all finding ways to adapt and get things done both work-wise and in our home lives, which have definitely muddled over the past few weeks.
As this previously defined line between home and work gets blurred it’s understandable that some of us are struggling to find that essential focus that we need to stay productive. So, taking some time to address those contributing factors is a good idea, for our productivity and, let’s be honest, our sanity.
There’s a fancy term – ‘attention management’ – that applies to the process of controlling what you give your attention to and noticing what is stealing it, which could be any number of things both internal and external – your own anxiety, random thoughts, or that creak somewhere upstairs that you can’t pinpoint.
When you’ve recognised what these distractions are it becomes easier to manage them. Think of them as bad habits: when you realise what they are and the negative effect they have, you can work on getting rid of them.
So, what are your distractions? Working from home, we reckon we can guess a few…
For me personally, I’m incapable of working at my desk if I know that there is some washing up to do. I just can’t focus, so I make sure that before I sit down there is nothing waiting for me in the kitchen apart from a pot of coffee.
Another way of looking at this – and something I’ll try and teach myself – is to divert your attention away from those thoughts and tell yourself that you’ll devote some time to it later. Whether it’s tackling the breakfast dishes, walking the dog (abiding by NHS guidance on social distancing), putting on a load of laundry or running the vacuum cleaner around, physical movement is an ideal break from more mentally involved activities, like reading or writing.
Decide when you’re going to do these more physical tasks and look forward to them. It sounds silly to ‘look forward’ to a chore, but this way you’ll keep your attention on your work and know that you’ll be able to take a break in a few minutes and get up and move around. Nobody should have to waste valuable energy thinking about dirty socks.
Allocate your time well and you’ll have a productive and successful day both in your work and home activities.
Tricky, isn’t it? How to be all things to all people at home and also do your job.
If you have younger children who’ll need you more than older children, take a look at your work to-do list and separate everything on it into low-attention and high-attention tasks. Low could be things like populating spreadsheets or placing equipment orders, while high could be working on budgets or drafting emails to clients.
If there is another caregiver in your household, work in shifts and focus on the low-attention tasks when it’s your turn to look after the children and they’re (briefly) occupied, saving your high-attention tasks for when it’s not. Be specific with your lists so that when you come to them the work won’t seem vague or overwhelming.
If you’re the only caregiver, be sensible and adjust your expectations of yourself. Recognising where we’re limited and learning to adapt is one of the more important things to do at the moment and will probably end up teaching us all some important lessons in the long-term.
For older children, you can be a bit more direct. Put a sign on the door and make sure everyone knows that means you can’t be disturbed except in an emergency. If you can, try to limit these moments to an hour at a time. Your kids will probably want to see you after an hour, and you’ll certainly need a break.
Your own thoughts
Similar to a previous blog I wrote on avoiding self-sabotage, learning when to recognise your own anxieties and moments of gloom goes a long way to maintaining your focus. We’re bombarded daily with bad news and nobody knows what the immediate future looks like so it’s natural for our minds to wander and think up all sorts of exaggerated scenarios.
Instead, focus on the positive things about our situation and if you feel like it, write them down. You could do it daily, weekly, or whenever you feel a real surge of positivity, and look back on them on those days when things are a bit difficult.
It could be something simple like noticing flowers coming out in your garden, learning a new recipe, getting outside for some fresh air, or feeling gratitude towards someone. They don’t have to be big, but if they’ve made you feel good, write them down.
Everyone is different, but I think we can all agree that none of us are enjoying the current situation. So, taking ownership of your time and tasks, and the focus you’ll need to work through the days productively, is a good start towards making our situation work as well as possible.