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Writing at Home: 10 Tips to Keep You Productive


Writing from home can present a host of challenges that office workers don't face. When you work at an office, you can leave the house and enter an environment in which you are expected to be productive, and at the end of the day, you can leave your work behind. This year, workplace restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have introduced telecommuting to more office workers than ever before. Since your home is where you relax, it can be difficult to concentrate on writing in the same place that you watch TV and eat ice cream. Here are ten strategies to try in order to boost your focus and concentration.

1. Establish a dedicated workspace

You won't be leaving the building in the morning, but you can still devote a corner of the house as your workspace. The couch is comfy, and staying in bed all day while putting in a full day of work sounds great. But if you want to get more work done, you need a dedicated spot for your writing. It can be a home office, a desk in your living room, or even a card table in the corner of your kitchen. Anything you have will do, just make it a spot in which you feel inspired and comfortable (but not TOO comfortable!). Once you've done that, commit to do your work there (and ONLY work). Don't eat there, and don't use your workspace to watch movies online. If you have a spot devoted to your writing, your brain will associate that area with hard work, and you'll be more likely to focus while you're in this space.

2. Get dressed

People who work from home often brag about being able to work in their pajamas. Sounds great, right? While that's a nice occasional treat, if pajamas are your work uniform day after day, your workdays can start to get pretty depressing.

Even if no one sees you all day, getting dressed for work signals to your brain that you're ready to write. While you don't have to wear a three-piece suit or a pencil skirt, dressing up a bit can boost your confidence and increase your productivity. A recent study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University examined the effects of wearing a lab coat on individual performance. During the study, the participants who wore a lab coat showed increased attention. If you don't have a lab coat lying around, dress yourself up a few notches above pajamas. Side note: research suggests that wearing natural colors like green and blue can further enhance focus and efficiency.

3. Start the day with mindfulness

Just as you commit to your deadlines, commit to spending a few minutes checking in with yourself. Give yourself some time to engage in meditation, breathing exercises, or affirmations. Self-care will enable you to quiet your mind and anticipate your goals more clearly, enabling you to write more productively throughout the day. You might even find that writing inspiration comes to you more readily during these moments.

4. Set goals

Working with a goal in mind can give you a great source of motivation as opposed to just keeping busy. According to goal-setting theory, those who have clear, challenging goals enjoy better task performance and increased motivation. A clear goal is one that is specific, often time sensitive, and measurable, so you have a well-defined point at which you've achieved it – you can see the finish line. While a goal should be challenging, it still has to be reachable. Take a look at what you'd like to get done during your workday. Can you stretch your expectations slightly beyond what you usually get done?

5. Find an accountability buddy

Once you've set your goals, find someone to help you stick to them. When you make plans with someone, you're much more likely to show up (even if you really don't want to!). I've found this to be true about workouts, writing sessions, classes, and service projects. Often, if the task itself doesn't provide enough motivation to get you to move, accountability to another person can give you that push you need. I have applied this principle with a colleague of mine for years; she and I connect on an online chat platform and we apply the Pomodoro technique to our work. We set a time goal, usually about a half hour. We plan on the amount of work we want to get done, and then we set the timer. At the end of those 30 minutes, we reconnect and review what we've gotten done. When I know I'm going to answer to someone for my work, I get more done than if I were working alone.

6. Take breaks

Sometimes when you hit a wall in your writing, a break can help you reboot your mind and even give you a fresh perspective. While you shouldn't get into a task that will interrupt your mental flow (like getting your household chores done), you should get up and walk around for a couple minutes to get your blood flowing and give your brain a break. Your eyes need rest too; upon learning that I work in front of a computer screen daily, my eye doctor encouraged me to follow the 20/20 rule: every 20 minutes of computer work, look up at something at least 20 feet away for a few seconds. This exercise can help you avoid eye strain and headaches after a long day in front of the screen.

One very important aspect of your day should be your lunch break. When you've got a looming deadline, it can be tempting to work through lunch. Especially when you work from home, a proper lunch break is super important. Do your best to move away from your workspace and enjoy your food. Not only will you fuel your body, but it will also give your mind a needed break. Another benefit of eating mindfully is that you'll enjoy your food more than if you gulped it down while working.

7. Incorporate movement into your day

Another way to take a break is to engage in a few short bursts of exercise. Those who work from home get much less physical activity than those who work in an office. Physical movement triggers the production of endorphins and enables your brain to prioritize tasks. For some, short sets of exercise help them focus, while others gain more benefit from an longer, more intense workout before they sit down to write. That's how I roll – when I get a good workout done before I work, I feel less antsy and preoccupied, and it's easier for me to concentrate. Whichever way you approach your physical movement, commit to get it done. Try out different exercise times, routines, and strategies to see what helps you focus the most.

8. Schedule a call or meeting

Writing from home can seem luxurious at first, but eventually it can start to feel isolating. Make an effort to connect with colleagues, fellow writers, or other friends to help you feel connected to the world, and this will help prevent discouragement and depression. Set regular appointments with others for both professional and social interaction, whether it's a weekly remote lunch or an afternoon phone call, and make it a priority to keep those commitments. Humor and human interaction will help you stay grounded and sane.

9. Play some background music

Research supports the notion that certain types of music or ambient noise can help you focus, calm your mind, and concentrate on your work. Not only will it lift your mood and boost your productivity, but it might also stimulate creative ideas. Take a look at this blog post for YouTube channels that are especially designed to help you concentrate. I can add my own testimonial that music really works; while writing that blog post and sampling music stations, I felt more relaxed and productive!

10. Tidy up your workspace

Easier said than done for some people (me), keeping your physical desk space free of clutter can have a calming, centering effect. Some people feel more stressed when their house is cluttered, and we don't need any more stress than we already have! If you're having a tough time focusing, try clearing up your workspace and see if it helps you concentrate.

Your virtual workspace can sometimes use some tidying too. Keeping your computer screen and internet browser free of unnecessary tabs will help you keep your eye on prize. Most of the time, I've got Facebook Messenger, Gmail, and other distracting tabs open in my browser. I notice that, when I feel even the slightest bit distracted, I'll click over and engage in a site completely unrelated to the task I'm trying to focus on, and just like that, I'm off task. If those other websites are closed, there are fewer distractions from my work.

Try out these tips to help you maintain your focus while working from home; I hope they help you out as much as they have for me. Good luck, and happy writing!

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