Are you distracted at work? Do you lose your motivation partway through your day? I sure do, and I’m here to tell you that it’s perfectly normal and expected.
Distractions, lack of motivation, real life and family needs — these things happen to all of us, whether we work at home, in an office, at a coffee shop or while looking after our home and kids.
Now that I work solely from home, I have to embrace distractions. In fact, they help me keep focused when I’m writing, because they let me know when I need to take a break.
In fact, while writing this piece I had to walk away and return many times. I lost my flow, the laundry needed changing, and I just knew my creativity needed a boost. We have to give ourselves grace and recognize when we need a change of scenery (or just a change) so that we can continue to do our work to the best of our ability.
So how do we take advantage of these natural cycles, and use them to keep our focus and creativity during our workdays (or any days)?
Discover your natural rhythms
Some people are night owls, some are perkiest at midday, and then there are the early birds. Hopefully, you already know when you are at your best during the day. If you’re lucky enough to be able to do the majority of your heavy work during your best hours, you already know how to use your natural rhythms.
Shortly after I began working at home as a writer, I realized my most creative time is in the morning. My kids are out the door by 8 a.m. so I can usually focus and get the actual writing tasks done first thing in my days. Of course, this doesn’t always work out, but most days it does, and by 10:30 I’m ready for a break.
Your natural rhythms also include your stamina. As a writer, I can only focus steadily for about an hour at a time. Then I need to set aside the document or article, and look elsewhere for a short period. For me, that’s checking email, getting up to grab a snack or drink, and sometimes a quick scroll through social media. (Be careful with that last one — we know how easy it is to get sucked in there!)
You may find you have a different length of time you can maintain a consistent focus. Focus can also change based on what you’re doing. Every job or task is different — the timing that works for one won’t necessarily work for another.
Try time blocking
Once you better understand your natural inclinations for focus and creativity, consider time-blocking. This practice divides your day into pieces which are devoted to a single task.
Perhaps you begin your day with 30 minutes of emails. Read, respond, and deal with any emails that came in overnight, or are left from the day before, then minimize your inbox and move on to the next block. This could be phone calls or meetings, content creation, breakfast, research, whatever fits next in your day.
Make these blocks set amounts of time (30 mins for email, 15 min breaks, 45 mins to write/research/do client work, however it works for you) and focus only on that task during that time block.
I have mixed success with this, as a media writer. I can’t ignore emails for a long period of time, but I can triage them, and allow any that aren’t urgent to languish until I’m through with my current piece of writing.
Over the years I’ve tried doing tasks in different orders and for different lengths of time. You will need to do the same. Find the best flow for your days, and consider setting timers or recurring calendar events so you can stay on track with your time blocks.
Listen to your body and take your breaks
While this may feel like a repeat of the first point above, this is more about your physical body. We were not meant to sit still for long periods of time. We also were not made to focus on a single task, or use a computer, for a full day. Our bodies were made to move, to experience, and to enjoy.
Movement and fresh air are excellent at refreshing our bodies, and our minds. Getting away from your desk, couch, or office, and creating motion in your body will not only boost your mood, it will also improve your focus and creativity.
My movement breaks often include gathering and putting in a load of laundry, or hanging the load on the clothesline. Sometimes I just go stand on my deck in the sun for a few minutes, which literally feels like a battery recharge for me. Neighbourhood walks are often in my day planner as well – as a writer, there’s nothing better than a walk to get my thoughts flowing again.
Related: How to make self-care a priority in your busy life
Fuel your workday
We’ve all been there: suddenly you look up, it’s 3 p.m., and you realize you haven’t had anything to eat all day but your morning coffee. You feel awful — sluggish in mind and body, heavy eyelids and eye strain, sore stomach or acid reflux.
Once in a while, this can be forgiven. Looming deadlines, intense (successful) focus sessions, back-to-back meetings. But don’t let this be the norm. It’s hard on both your body and mind.
For those trying out time blocking, make sure to schedule food breaks as well as body breaks. I’m not one to eat the minute I get up, but I do try to get some food in my body within two hours of awakening. Then I have to try not to snack all day!
Working from home can be dangerous for snacking. Your kitchen is so close, and you can grab something every time you move. I keep a glass of water close by and try having a sip or two every time a snack attack comes on. If I’m still hungry after that, I’ll consider a snack.
Make a decent lunch to eat at your lunchtime. Try not to skip this meal, as it will help you power through the afternoon. I’m not going to tell you what to eat, but balanced meals are always best. And make sure you eat enough to keep your energy up through the afternoon.
Get enough sleep
As parents, we know this can be tough. In the early years, kids don’t sleep on a schedule. Then they draw out bedtimes. Eventually they stay up later than we do, or go out and need to be picked up at a ridiculous hour. Our sleep is never quite our own.
However, sleep is very important for our productivity and sanity. Your body uses this time to restore, repair, and rejuvenate itself. Our brains continue to do important work while we sleep as well, including moving your short-term memories to move into long-term storage.
Related: How busy moms can get better sleep.
Lack of energy, moodiness, and high blood pressure are just a few of the many side effects of poor sleep, and we don’t want any of those. Our days need to stay productive and happy, so make sure you’re getting a good amount of sleep.
It’s not always easy to work with your body and natural cycles. But with time, you will come to know what can work for you inside your workday, or your waking day.
We haven’t made it this far in life without having some awareness of our needs and natural cycles. Embracing them further can help improve your productivity in all aspects of your life. Try the tips above and let me know how you manage your days in the comments!