How to stay mentally focused
June 30, 2004 7:46 AM   Subscribe

Suggestions for getting and staying mentally focused? [mi]

My last day of work at this job is Friday. After that, I'm a freelancer--doing web development on my own from home. One problem that I've been having working from home is that it's harder than at the office to stay focused on work. The distractions I can deal with by shutting my office door, but what strategies can I use to keep my mind fresh and on the task at hand? Jumping jacks? TM? Yoga? Yerba Mate? I'm willing to think outside the box.
posted by vraxoin to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Routine is your friend. Think of the things you did to focus at work, and take as many of those into your at-home situation as possible.

Have a set of "work clothes" (it doesn't have to be a suit, but even just a second set of comfortable clothing; I tie my shoes tighter, and that helps me focus). If you were used to coffee or tea or whatever in the morning, be sure to have it on hand.

A tote board somewhere prominent (by your monitor, on the nearest wall) helps me too. I find it harder to slack if my to-do list is staring me in the face every minute.

And don't be afraid to take breaks, but make sure they don't bleed. Give yourself 15 minutes every couple of hours to go off and do something. But don't let it become 20. Stay off the slippery slope. Routine, routine, routine, at least until you're comfortable with the new lifestyle that you can mess with it.

And congratulations on making the jump, vraxoin. Best of luck.
posted by chicobangs at 7:57 AM on June 30, 2004

Make it explicit that that when your live-in girlfriend is home on vacation, she is not allowed to call you out of your office to see the cute dog that's on "Animal Planet" right now.

Seriously, you're going to find that some people equate "working from home" as "not obligated to work". They must be reminded that your schedule is effectively as inflexible as anyone else's. Avoiding temptation (to wander) is much easier than fighting it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:19 AM on June 30, 2004

On interruptions from SO's: A friend who works from home said that he had to tell his wife to ask herself before coming into his designated office area to talk to him, "is this something I would call him at work about?" If so, she was allowed to interrupt him.

As for staying focused, I have no idea. I'm reading AskMe at work instead of doing any work.
posted by fletchmuy at 9:09 AM on June 30, 2004

As for staying focused, I have no idea. I'm reading AskMe at work instead of doing any work.

Me too. That's one of my problems--after Friday, I won't be getting paid to look at MeFi anymore...
posted by vraxoin at 9:44 AM on June 30, 2004

Set reasonable limits, and make a lot of deals with yourself. Once you're self-employed, the amount of time you spend working has more to do with what you need/want to be earning and less to do with some sort of abstract value of the concept of work. So, figure out how much you'd like to be working [include stuff like trips to the post office, phone conferences, marketing and promotions &c] and set up a budget that you try to stick to. Have back-up jobs when you don't want to do your primary job [so instead of working on the client's web site you post flyers all over town hyping yourself, for example, or defrag your hard drive]. Also remember that you now have all day in which to work or not work, so set up a schedule that is humane. If you work better on the 2-hours-off-two-hours-on model, go for it. Make sure you're checking in with roomates and SOs to see that this is practical for everyone, if you must share space and lives.

Once you're at work, make sure you don't goof off all the time. Turn one big job into micro-jobs, set time limits and try to stick to them. If you spend 15 minutes on MeFi, owe yourself 15 minutes later on the same day, try not to push things off a little at a time. Drink water to stay sane & hydrated and to give you the automagic excuse of a trip to the bathroom every hour or so. When you get up, do a few little stretches, walk around outside, do something to focus your body on something else and focus your eyes on something that is more than 12" away from yourself.

An easy thing to do when you work from home is have your job and home life slop over into each other. I found that having a work space, even if it's just a desktop and a chair and a window, that is only for work can be helpful. The old "when I am in this little part of the bedroom I am working" thing is not just good as a cue to friends and family, but it helps you feel in the work zone as well.
posted by jessamyn at 11:41 AM on June 30, 2004

My wife and I are both self-employed, and both work from home. We both have entirely different strategies for keeping ourselves working.

She sets herself very regular "office hours", has a designated work area, goes in there, closes the door, and I don't see her again until the end of the work day. It seems to work pretty well for her.

I've tried that, and it didn't work for me at all -- I wound up putting the hours in, but they were hours spent listlessly staring at the screen wishing I was doing something else. Instead, I tend to sit down at the computer when the mood strikes me; if it's not going well, I stop and go do something else -- take a bath, check the mail, play ball with the dog, whatever. Instead of setting regular hours, I tend to set myself lots of small, achievable deadlines; if I happen to feel like keeping going after I finish that day's task, so much the better. It helps to have three or four different jobs going at once; if I get bored with one, I can always switch to another.

Back when I had a "real" job, my average eight-hour workday tended to consist of three or four hours of productive work, scattered among four or five hours of unproductive meetings, post-lunch food coma, websurfing, file shuffling, or just plain clockwatching. (And how many of you are reading this from your cubicles right now, eh?) Now I get to skip the unproductive time and just do the good part. (And I find those three or four hours of good time generally tend to stretch into seven or eight or ten hours all by themselves -- I'm a lot more likely to stay at my desk if I don't feel like I have to stay at my desk, if you know what I mean.)
posted by ook at 11:42 AM on June 30, 2004

I work from home and basically organize around deadlines. If something has to be done, I do it. If not, I play with the cat, surf, learn new things, etc.
Works, basically, though I could probly be more productive.
posted by signal at 1:33 PM on June 30, 2004

I find that keeping the room cooler makes it easier to work, set the AC fairly high and you won't get all lazy in the afternoon.
posted by milovoo at 2:50 PM on June 30, 2004

A second to milvoo's suggestion. When the place starts warming up in the afternoon, the wheels stop turning. Sometimes it's hard to resist the urge to nap. A great time to turn up the A/C or get some exercise. Food, at that point, just turns up the sleepiness. So beware.

Personally, it's easier to focus on things that (a) are a mental puzzle, (b) can be done one at a time so I'm not tempted to wander while switching gears, and (c) are a tight fit with my skills and interests. When starting a new business, it's very tempting to take on pretty much any project that comes your way. However, if you start to treat marketing as a filter for finding projects worth digging into, then over time the focus issues resolve themselves. Of course, that's not much help in the short-term. For that, um...yeah, it's hard. Don't forget to be your own manager: acknowledge good effort, reward accomplishments, and establish tempting incentive plans.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 3:26 PM on June 30, 2004

I'm taking advice in this thread more than giving it out, but one thing I've found that seems to help is creating separate user profiles (in XP) for work and personal. Your browser in the "work" profile doesn't even have any of the personal sites (like MeFi) so you have to explicitly type them in to get there, and you're not tempted to click on any favorite blogs or anything else that's just a menu-drag away.

It's also good, if not always possible, to have separate computers. The "personal" computer can be the one that you can watch TV while on, too.

And in general, get and keep yourself organized. Don't let your client stuff slop all over the house, and don't let personal stuff slop into your office area. Keep the office twice as organized as the rest of the house, perhaps. Discipline yourself to close up shop at the end of the day and really file those papers, really print and mail those invoices, really whatever you need to do. This will establish a mental routine that separates work time from personal time.
posted by dhartung at 1:11 AM on July 1, 2004

delete every video game you have on your computer.
posted by th3ph17 at 7:26 AM on July 1, 2004

« Older Driver's Test Screwups   |   Suggestions for keeping track of business expenses... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.