How not to lose Focus and productivity while working remotely
May 25, 2022
NOTE: This article was originally published in Russian in 2019 and you can read it here.
If you are lucky enough to be able to work remotely, you know that sometimes you will find yourself unproductive or unable to keep focusing on some specific task. It doesn’t mean that you just don’t want to work (for me this never wasn’t the case). It means that your attention will be distracted by some unimportant tasks like personal stuff, social networks, and so on. Commonly the fact that you are working remotely means that you decide by yourself when to begin to work and when to finish. Here I do not consider some employers, who are trying to control every minute of your working time, especially by using some type of time trackers for that. When you are working remotely you can’t feel ashamed of the fact that you are looking on some YouTube video on your monitor and not on the code editor. To say the truth, I don’t mind to be distracted from the main task from time to time, but when you are working in the office surrounded by other people, it is easier to control yourself.
I’ve been working remotely for 5 years already, but during the last year I started to notice some declining in my productivity. Sometimes it is really hard to keep my attention on the current problem (I should say, that my responsibility circle became much wider and amount of projects significantly increased in a last few years). The core issue is not the impostor syndrome) or just unwillingness to work. It is about awareness of the fact that you can do more with your time. But you don’t do that because of constant loose of focus and constant switching from one task to another. It sometimes feels like your brain is telling you: “Stop. Take a break. Look at that funny video on Facebook. Check out this thread on Twitter. You should rest before you will start a new task”.
The main problem is that at the end of a day you feel like a squeezed lemon, but in fact you even didn’t finish your to-do list. At one of those evenings I decided to change something and fix my broken work routine. The obvious solution was to block all unwanted distractions, so I installed app called Focus, which allows you to block distracting apps and websites and even create an automatic schedule for all weekdays. The next day at 9:30am this app sent me a notification that focus mode is on and I should start working. But after some time my fingers opened new tab, typed “tw” on the keyboard and selected the first result in browser’s history – “twitter.com”. It was like an autopilot, unconscious decision. But result of this action was surprising for me: “Ok, let’s go back to work” were the words I told to myself, closed the tab and continued to work. The same thing has happened few times at that day. Whenever I had a few minutes for a break (i.e. my team was reviewing pull request, or I had to wait for a meeting to start or just switching a new task), my mind was forcing me to get a new dose of entertainment or information to feel in this “void”. This is a common thing to feel some type of addiction for such resources as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and so on, because it causes release of dopamine (hormone of happiness).
Three days later I noticed that this bad habit started to fade out. I was able to detect this impulse to check some social media and stop it. Some research shows that people need to repeat something for 21 days to make it a habit. And the same thing happened to me. After three weeks of using the app, my working time became more predictable and qualitative. And I think it’s more important then the amount of working hours.
I want to clarify that it doesn’t matter what app or approach you are using: self-control, blocking URL’s in your hosts file or some fancy tracking app. The result is what matters. You should try and see it by yourself.
Manage your time and focus in the right way!