Working from home is excellent, but it requires a lot of focus, self-discipline and organisation. A couple of years ago, when I decided to go back to work again, I knew that I’m not really up for a regular 9-5 working day. I liked the comfort of my home, and I thought that it would be just peachy if I could add ‘work from home’ to the ‘stay at home mum’ description.
If you work from home, you know that this is way easier said than done. I struggled at the beginning for many reasons. I’m an early morning and a late night person as I don’t sleep much. That didn’t work out well for me because I’d spend the day with the kids and then be exhausted in the evening plus not be able to get up early in the morning either.
I also got easily distracted because my focus required for work, performing and delivering tasks was practically nonexistent only because I didn’t have to focus on anything else apart from the kids for quite a while (about four years). A little project here and there but nothing regular and steady. And the focus is like a muscle, if you don’t practice it, it atrophies.
With a four-year-old and a six-year-old, there was always laundry to do, food to prepare, a small or big pile of toys lying on my desk or in my comfy sofa where I’d like to sit and read or plan. Then, there were things to be done in the town like shopping, volunteer work in school, and so on.
I was busy, but somehow I was also all over the place because there was no real structure to my days. I knew I could use the time when the kids are in school in a much more productive way. There was also that feeling, and I’m sure you have it too when you know that you can do better and that there is much more to you than what you’ve already done.
It was time for some tough love. Okay, Biljana, I said to myself, your time and mind needs some restructuring because your focus is crap. If you want to achieve some serious results, like create additional income or finish that bloody book that you’ve been working on for years now, get a grip. What’s missing?
The focus was missing, and I had to find the ways to exercise it again. Like muscles, remember? So, I did. Now, this may not make sense at first but hear me out.
First, I found a part-time job. Well, it was the other way around, the job found me. It’s an industrial automation company, and my friend who works there came to me one day and said that they need software testers. It was my a-ha moment. I knew exactly how that job would help me. I do it two days a week, flexible hours and it’s not as exciting as I thought it would be, BUT it serves the purpose. It shortens my week and forces me to focus and be more productive.
Although adding a part-time job to my schedule may seem counterintuitive and just for a moment it felt that way, this brings me to the second thing I did that may be more important. I eliminated everything that genuinely wasted my time and blunted my focus and replaced it with activities that only contributed to my productivity and growing myself and my business.
So, here’s a list of things that proved to be essential for my focus and productivity. They are numbered but have no particular order. I find all of them to be equally important and I make sure that I do them every day.
1. Make a Daily plan
I make mine at the end of my working day, which is usually in the evening. It’s a kind of a daily wrap up like I finished one day and I’m ready to lay out the next one. For two important reasons:
a) My mental state – keeps me sane. It helps me sleep as I’m not lying in bed thinking about tomorrow and possibly panicking if I’m going to have enough time for everything that needs doing or I think needs doing. When you set out a plan and make one for the day, it helps with prioritising too. What needs to be done first, how much time you may need, and all that goes with it.
b) Daily dynamic. Again, you’ll know exactly what will you do or where will you go first, and it helps to plan out routes or group tasks. Also, it helps set the tone for the day. You start your day calm and collected because you know precisely what will you do when instead of running around like a headless chicken.
2. Practice Yoga
Wow! Yoga was such a revelation for me, and I cannot believe that it took me so long to try it.
It changed me. I’m not exaggerating. Yoga has been an immense help on a mental and physical level. It improved my flexibility and stopped my back pain, and it helped my digestion and to lose weight (10kg!). One of the best things that happened was that it has eliminated my snappiness and mood swings, improved my communication, built my confidence and recovered my focus. Mindblowing!
I do it five times a week for about 30 – 45 minutes. When I do it on the weekends, my son treats me like a live climbing frame, so I end up practising weightlifting yoga if that’s a thing… If you haven’t started yet, do it now. Stop reading this article, (you can finish it later), go and do yoga. See you later!
3. Set time slots for emails and social media updates
Are you back? Right on time for the big one. It is hard to distance yourself from social media, especially if social media are your job or your job relies on them. BUT, it is crucial to separate your work from your private time.
We all know situations where you just want to check something or quickly read that message when, half an hour or 45 minutes later, you find yourself still scrolling down your Twitter or Facebook feed. Does that make you feel like you wasted your time? It felt like that to me.
A couple of years ago, I made reducing the time on social media one of my resolutions. I’ve stuck with it, and it feels great. I spend more quality time with the kids and hubby, but I also use the time to do more work, read, learn and research more.
Since it wasn’t easy to stay away from social media, I had to resort to different tricks. As the case may be, the trick that gave the best results is also the simplest one. Ready? Every time you reach for your phone to check your social media feeds – grab a book instead. Whaaat?! It’s that simple!
4. Switch notifications off
All of them. This one goes hand in hand with allocating the time slots for email and social media, and it may be a slightly harder one. I switched off notifications on my phone for all social media and my emails only a couple of months ago and let me tell you something – it is liberating. Liberating.
It reduces stress, interruptions are down to a minimum, and it saves time. All these three together contribute to improving your focus. I find it even more important and more to the point than the time slots allocation. It also puts you back in the position of control, which is where you want to be when you run a household, business or a project.
I get that it could be too much to take both on at the same time but try it. You will not regret it. It’s one of the best things I did for myself last year.
5. Say No
Many people struggle with saying ‘no’ and this was a hard one for me too. It took me years of active practice to get it right. I got there in the end. You will, too. And I’m not talking about ‘no, but…’ or ‘no because of…’. No. I’m talking about a simple, short ‘no’.
The ‘no’ to what people expect you to do, think or feel. For example, your family has a gathering that you don’t feel like attending, but they expect you to attend. Say ‘no’ to it. If it makes you feel better, say that you’re busy because the deadline is approaching, or whatever else you think will work best but say ‘no’. Treat giving the explanation moment as your transition time and then slowly progress to the simple, pure ‘no’.
The fact is that you don’t want to go there, and as the event is approaching, you’re getting anxious asking yourself what excuse could you use that will be accepted. Or, how you don’t want to go there because you’ll meet X, Y, Z and you don’t want to. Or, well, (fill in the blank).
I’m sure you can think of at least three similar scenarios that happened to you with your friends or partner or even kids. We do things that we don’t want to or when we don’t want to, only because they are expected from us, or it’s a social norm. Then, we get caught up in thinking that if we don’t do them, we’d feel bad.
When you think about what you DON’T want to do, then you’re not thinking about what you DO want to do. Thinking about what you don’t want to do gets you preoccupied, and further wastes your time and dilutes your focus.
Your goal is to say ‘no’ without explaining yourself, and that is hard, I agree. But, it’s also crucial for reducing stress, saving time and preserving your focus. You need all these three. Right?
Start practising today. Say ‘no’ to a phone call that you can make when it suits your schedule. Or to uninvited guests that popped in just when you were getting ready to read/sleep/work, you get the picture. Say No. You can do it.
6. Eliminate negativities
Every and any negativity. News, people around you who always complain, unsupportive friends, anyone and anything that causes negative feeling in you.
It may be hard if you live with someone who is a perfect example of negativity, but then you could try to find a space that they cannot invade. Go to a café or library to work or close the office door, or stick earphones on in an open plan working space.
Try to find a way to guard your space, because that’s what you need to do – protect your physical and mental space from negative influence especially if you’re a sensitive soul or an introvert, like me.
I eliminated two (now, former) friends from my life early last year and it felt, again, liberating. I realised how good it felt after I cut them out of my life and let them know about my decision. Looking back afterwards, I remembered the feelings of irritation and anxiety they caused in me before they came for a visit or before I was about to see them. I wondered how did I not relate these emotions with them.
Please don’t get me wrong, cutting these people out of my life was not easy one bit. I thought about it for days, cried the night before; talked to my husband about it, I never slept that night, it was a real agony for me. I remember, being on the phone with my husband and saying through the tears ‘I think, I lost a friend’. As we talked, it became clear to me what I needed to do, but I wasn’t sure what should I say to her and how and I’ve never done this before, what am I going to do?! I was in a state of panic. Then, I decided to sleep over it and give it a few days to make sure that I’m making the right decision. No matter how hard I thought about it, everything led to the same conclusion – to end the friendship. And, so I did.
I never regretted the decisions. Also, I know now that I can do it. I’m not saying cut everyone who upsets you out, of course, but there comes a time when we can’t repair things anymore, and when it appears that their only role is to cause us grief. Like the appendix, for example. That’s when we need to remove them.
Doing all these things caused a chain reaction for me. Not only did I improve my focus and productivity but I also felt better about myself and I gained more confidence and clarity about what I can and will achieve.
So there! My current list of magic tricks and superpowers to use to make your world a better place. I’m still testing a few options and will be updating you if they prove to be successful at the end of the trial period. In the meantime, do tell what tricks you have up your sleeve?