Over this past year, the term “Zoom fatigue” has likely resonated with you now more than ever. We’ve all been there. You log onto your third, and sometimes even your first, Zoom meeting of the day and you leave the meeting not sure what was discussed. You had your video on, but instead of focusing on the slide deck or presentation, you respond to your text messages, refresh your closet with some online purchases, or find yourself checking off other items on your to-do list. Or, when you were supposed to be responding to emails or finishing up that Excel spreadsheet, you find yourself putting another load of laundry in and finishing up other household chores.
What started as a desirable work-from-home setup for introverts and extroverts alike has quickly become a means of constant distraction. The luxury of working from the couch with your pajamas on and the ability to avoid all those spontaneous office visitors sounded like a dream come true when remote work was first introduced. Somehow our 8-hour “workdays” quickly slip by, and we find ourselves not sure what we accomplished in the day.
If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that despite our internal struggles with focus, many industries have begun to look at remote working with a new lens. What was frowned upon before is becoming a new normal with more and more offices either postponing lease renewals, implementing hybrid work models, or electing an indefinite remote set-up.
Whatever your company’s long-term plan is, remote work will likely be a component. Like with every other habit you form, focusing during the workday is something that can be self-trained. With our six steps outlined below, you’ll be able to make “Zoom fatigue” a thing of the past and boost your productivity.
Step 1: Create a designated workspace
You’ve likely noticed that while working remotely it is easy to start your day working from bed while you watch the morning news and drinking your first cup of Joe. It’s even easier to crawl onto the couch midday to continue binge-watching a show as you respond to emails. Despite how relaxing those may be, neither feels like a productive work environment.
Instead, create a designated workspace for yourself, a similar setup to what you previously had every day at your office, where you aren’t slumped over on the couch. Set up your spot as you would in an office – however many monitors you prefer, whatever decorations you favor, or even any inspirational quotes that previously helped motivate you – make it somewhere that feels different than your house. It was common to previously joke that we spend more hours at the office than outside of it, so now that your work is confined to the walls of your home, it is even more important to make it feel like a new, and different environment than just a “desk in the kitchen.”
Step 2: Establish your standard work hours
You used to be in the office from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm but while working remotely, you may finish the project quicker without the social distractions. On the contrary, you may find yourself working too many, or odd hours. It’s become easier to respond to your boss’s email at 8:00 pm even if they don’t expect a response because we now take our work home with us every day. Not having a set end time to your day can also ruin focus in the daylight hours because you feel like you have an endless amount of time to complete a project.
Whatever your situation is, make a work schedule that makes sense for you and your boss. Now that you have set up a designated workspace, you are now treating this as an office setup – so treat your work schedule the same way. If you wouldn’t normally take a 3-hour lunch break or multi-task during a meeting, don’t do it in your home workspace. You wouldn’t take a break in the middle of the day to complete a chore, run an errand, or catch up with a friend, so avoid doing that now. All of that can be accomplished outside of your set hours.
Whether you decide on 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, 8:00 am – 3:00 pm, set your hours with your manager and keep to them. Be sure to keep your weekends free and leave your work at “work” after your cut-off time or the weekend – it’ll still be there at 9:00 am the next day or Monday morning – no one wants to respond to you after hours anyways!
Step 3: Plan out your workday
Once you have determined your set hours, try time blocking, or scheduling out your day in a way that works for you. At the start of each day, list everything you want to accomplish – don’t overstretch yourself though! If you complete everything, you can always add more. By listing your work in this format, you’ll keep yourself focused on the most urgent projects at hand. And doesn’t everyone love being able to cross off an item once it’s completed?
While you’re structuring, try having one day each week be meeting-free, or put holds on your calendar so colleagues don’t over schedule your time. During this scheduled time turn off or mute all email alerts and other notifications so you aren’t tempted to open anything that pops up on your desktop. This will keep you free from common distractions that historically side-track us.
As you’re scheduling your day, be cognizant of scheduling in breaks. Put an hour break for lunch or schedule a gym break or a walk. Taking a step away from your screen allows you to get a change of scenery, and helps you refocus.
Step 4: Set up workday boundaries
Who you need to set up boundaries with may vary – it can mean a significant other you now find yourself a wall away from all day long, a family member who knows you no longer have a 45-minute commute, or even a friend who wants to start a happy hour at 3:00 pm. Whatever your situation may be, try vocalizing the time at which you will be at your computer working and the times you will be unavailable.
Consider sharing that you are available to chat during one of your scheduled breaks or even suggest a lunchtime walk, but make clear that the spontaneous mid-day errand, or visit, does not fit with your remote schedule. By cutting out the distraction of your family and friends during the workday, you’re keeping to the work schedule you outlined for yourself and focusing on the job at hand.
Step 5: Keep (or re-implement) your pre-pandemic morning routine
It’s become so easy to eliminate our former morning routine when you only need to move from the bed to the couch, or to the kitchen table. You roll out of bed at 8:55 am, jump in the shower at 9:30 am, throw on your “day pajamas”, and feel like you’re finally ready to start responding to emails by 10:30 am.
Instead, in the spirit of the above steps, treat your remote day as an office day and return to waking up with enough time to complete your morning routine. That way you’re sitting at your desk at 9:00 am, and not feeling distracted that you still need to get ready. We aren’t suggesting you need to put on jeans, you can stay in your loungewear, just keep to a morning routine that works for you.
Step 6: Stay social with your work circle
When we don’t see our colleagues daily, we can feel disconnected from our work and lose focus. Even though we are working from home we are still part of a team. If we were in the office, we would be stopping by our work family’s cubicles and offices, so it’s important to maintain those relationships. Besides, no one knows your job and company culture better than them.
Catch up with your colleagues, volunteer for group projects, and check in on the work you are doing together. Not only does your job satisfaction skyrocket when you feel part of a team, but by checking in with a work friend, you’ll be focused on continuing to produce quality work so you can then share that back with your peers.
With every step, you are aiming to implement workday mindfulness. This new work routine can be trained, and the result will be a day free of distraction, centered on eliminating “half-focusing,” and full of productivity.