How to find your focus and get s**t done
With the outbreak of COVID-19, a large percentage of the world’s workforce has been forced to adapt to new ways of working, with many now working from home.
As a Freelance Yoga Teacher and Project Manager, I’ve been working from my studio apartment in Berlin for the last year, so fortunately I’m familiar with this way of working. However, I realise this is new to a lot of people and can be a little daunting. To offer some support, I’ve compiled some tips on how to keep energy and productivity levels up and avoid giving into distractions.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
For me (and Arianna Huffington – the queen of sleep), the process begins the night before. I like to clear my mind by writing a ‘to-do list’ – old school, with a pen and paper, not typed on my laptop. Studies show there is a power in putting pen to paper – writing a list allows your brain to filter through your ideas and decide which pieces of information to hold onto and prioritise. This activity is an opportunity to completely free the mind so I encourage you to include other thoughts, not just those that concern work. Personally, I like to write headers of ‘work’, ‘home’, ‘friends’, ‘family’ etc. in my notebook and then make bullet points under each one, getting everything that’s in my head down on paper. In doing this, you’re preparing yourself for the tasks and priorities for the next day and increasing the chances of a restful night’s sleep. I also recommend keeping a pen and paper beside your bed to allow for any middle of the night anxieties or those ‘A-ha!’ lightbulb moments to be collected in one place.
IN THE MORNING
My most productive days are when I’ve made time for some morning meditation. A great intro resource to this is Oprah & Deepak Chopra’s 21 day meditation challenge. If meditation isn’t your thing, then try simply taking some deep breaths, breathing in and out through the nose, breathing out a little more than you breathe in – try to inhale for a count of 4 and out for a count of 6 and repeating until you feel ready to stop. I also recommend trying to get outside for a dose of fresh air before you sit down at your desk, encouraging fresh oxygen into your brain and body. A run, cycle or even a short walk around the block (at a safe distance from others) – will wake you up and help you feel energised and ready to start your day. And of course, having a healthy and nutritious breakfast is key. I tend to have lemon and ginger tea followed by a nut and seed-based muesli with oat milk and a black coffee.
PREPARING YOUR WORKSPACE
Before starting work, it’s important to create the right environment – a clear and quiet workspace with the right tools to support you. Setting up your workspace near natural light is highly recommended – we’ve moved our table to face our patio doors and have also invested in a lumie. As for your desk itself, one that is approx 73.5cm (which most dining tables are) is the general rule, however, we’re all different, some of us have longer legs or torsos than others so you might find that a different height of desk works best for you – play around with cushions on your chair or books under your laptop if you don’t have a laptop stand, to find your optimum height. Once your desk space is set up, consider what you put on top of it and I mean really consider. Less clutter = less distraction. That doesn’t mean that it has to be boring, it should be a space you want to be in so perhaps there are a couple of bits of colour and inspiration you can add in. Here is my list of essentials:
- Water bottle
- Desk lamp
- A candle
- Fresh or dried flowers
REMOVE DISTRACTIONS & GET STARTED
So your workspace is set up and you’re ready to jump into the day’s work – how do you ensure you don’t give into distractions online?
Set aside time to look at your phone and maybe even move your phone to a different part of the house. As I write this, my phone is completely out of sight! And even when you do take a break to look at it, try putting on a timer so you don’t get lost in a social media rabbit hole – it’s also a good awareness exercise – I was shocked to learn how much time I was spending on social media each day.
Turn off any unnecessary notifications – you probably need your work calendar and email notifications on but you probably don’t need the cute YouTube video of the fluffy dog on the swing on or your daily horoscope open in other tabs.
Self-development and productivity writer, Brian Tracy advises that we “Eat the Frog” – what he means by this is that you should start each day by tackling the most important thing that you need to do but often avoid, because it scares you. The difficult tasks are ‘the frogs’ and the way to deal with them is to ‘eat them.’
REMINDERS THROUGHOUT THE DAY
Stand up and stretch regularly – until my iWatch took a spin in the washing machine (oops!), it was a great way of reminding me to stand up and move. But you don’t need a fancy piece of tech to tell you this – your body will naturally tell you. If you get a bit fidgety and restless, that’s the time to stand up and move. I love this simple forward fold with hands clasped behind your back.
How to: Stand with your feet at hip-width distance, and slowly bend forward from the hips to come into the forward bend. To take the strain off the lower back, bend the knees slightly. Then, try adding an arm bind to stretch the shoulders – Interlace your hands at the lower back and stretch the arms over your head and hands towards the ground in front of you
And if you want to move more, there is a wealth of incredible teachers and trainers who have reacted quickly and creatively to their studios and gyms closing and have taken their classes online.
Another good productivity hack is to stay hydrated – if you’re not well hydrated your concentration will likely suffer and you may experience headaches or other health issues. I always have a water bottle on my desk – it’s also a good excuse to get up and move when it runs low.
END OF DAY
It’s important to celebrate the little wins from the day – writing a short ‘have-done list’ can be a good way to acknowledge all of the day’s accomplishments. My husband and I always do a little end of day debrief – it’s something that we just naturally started doing, not planned but it’s a nice way to connect at the end of a long day.
Winding down at the end of the day is so important. Working from home can blur the lines of the working day – try to stick to your usual work hours as much as possible. Having something scheduled for the end of the day, like an online yoga class or a video call with a friend, are just a few ideas to help detach from the working day.
Louise Boyd is a yoga teacher and an experienced brand manager and creative producer. She is a certified vinyasa yoga teacher, teaching public and private classes (currently online) and also collaborates and consults wellbeing and lifestyle brands. Louise also writes a weekly email called ‘Purpose Break’ where she offers ideas for how to spend a break that’s more than just a caffeine hit. To keep up with what Louise is up to, follow her on Instagram or check out her website