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The SolarWinds Guide to Work From Home: Stay on Task and On Time

Level 17

The last entry in our work at home series covered work/life blending. We shared some tips for creating boundaries for yourself, others, and your work as well as some commiseration as we’re all in this together, which comes with a healthy dose of empathy.

This time around, we want to discuss your options for staying on-task and on time. There are a lot of distractions at home, and your mind won’t be in the same headspace as if you went to the office. At least not right away—this takes a (usually small) adjustment period. Here are some tips and tricks from a few WFH veterans on maintaining focus, taking breaks, and managing tasks among other things.

  • While you’ll see a lot of jokes about how people who work remote spend their whole day in pajamas, most WFH veterans will tell you keeping the same go-to-work routine you had when you were in the office is a far better way to keep you focused.
  • That said, if you find you get a real productivity boost from working in more comfortable, less “traditional” work clothes (presuming they’re appropriate for video meetings with coworkers, of course) then have at it!
  • Get up and moving from time to time. Office layouts naturally get us moving, at least a little bit. House and apartment layouts? Not so much. Every hour or so, make sure you walk away from the keyboard for a minute. Do some stretches or take a walk around outside. Just because you shouldn’t be in social settings doesn’t mean you can’t step outside for some fresh air.
  • Staying on task and focusing can be difficult when in a WFH situation. The main thing to remember is distractions are always there—the ones at home are just different than the ones at work. Try different methods of organizing until you find one that works.
    • Set an outline or schedule for yourself of things you need or want to accomplish for the week (and prioritize it).
    • Work with music on—if lyrics are still distracting, try just instrumental options or ambient noise.
    • Wear noise-cancelling headphones to help keep distractions down.
    • If the unmade bed or sink of dishes is grating at your nerves, it’s totally OK to go deal with it. Once it’s out of the way, you can get back to the task at hand.
    • Engage in “productive procrastination”: putting off one task by doing another equally important one. If you can’t face the monthly budget report, go make a sales call. Can’t deal with talking to another person? Write another section of the employee handbook. Do you hate writing? Go back to the budget report. And so on.
  • Gauge and limit your media intake—from radio to TV news to social media scrolling. Even if we ignore the misinformation floating around, consuming a constant feed of news can make this challenging situation feel overwhelming. In addition, the situation we find ourselves in today has such a high rate of change, the crisis at 9 a.m. is no longer even relevant by the time the 5:00 news rolls around.
  • Twitter provides filters to block stressful subjects, so you can use it without being inundated. For example, putting these into a search and making THAT the page you go to instead of just twitter.com can have the following effects:
    • “filter: <something>” will include that something,
      while “-filter:<something>” will exclude it.
      • Example: filter:follows -filter:replies
    • filter:follows
      tweets only from accounts you follow
    • filter:news
      tweets containing news
    • filter:links
      tweets containing links
    • filter:images
      tweets containing images
    • filter:videos
      tweets containing videos
    • filter:periscope
      tweets containing Periscope videos
    • filter:retweets
      classic RT retweets or quote tweets
    • filter:nativeretweets
      retweets via the retweet button
    • filter:safe
      tweets excluding adult content
    • filter:verified
      tweets from verified accounts
  • Additionally, browser plugins such as StayFocused limit the amount of time spent on specific websites. These can be used to minimize social media intake or just as a reminder to move on to a different task.

Try out different things to see what works for you. As you can tell from our suggestions above, there are many options and if you get distracted by one thing, try another, or even something completely different. Don’t be afraid to test something out or get creative.

In the next post in this series, we’ll address how work actually gets done. This topic will touch on the business tools you can use and what differences, if any, there may be from when you’re in the office. Disclaimer: we cover the tools we know and use, and there are many more out there. Your IT department will be able to answer specific questions on your tools we may not have the answers to.

1 Comment
Level 14

Thanks for the article.  I often listen to string quartets while I work.  I find that it helps me stay focused on tasks, but only as far as my own task management allows.  It's important to stay organized, and something I've been guilty of is simply allowing myself to get too overloaded.  To the point where I have some tasks that have sat idle for over 2 years now!  How embarrassing....but at the same time I feel like it's also out of my hands and I've simply gone as far as I can with the resources allotted to me.  With that being said, I think some people would benefit from task management how to articles during this time.  Establishing independence and self sufficiency during a time like this is a prime opportunity for skills to be birthed and grow.  

About the Author
In my sordid career, I have been an actor, bug exterminator and wild-animal remover (nothing crazy like pumas or wildebeasts. Just skunks and raccoons.), electrician, carpenter, stage-combat instructor, American Sign Language interpreter, and Sunday school teacher. Oh, and I work with computers. Since 1989 (when you got a free copy of Windows 286 on twelve 5¼” floppies when you bought a copy of Excel 1.0) I have worked as a classroom instructor, courseware designer, desktop support tech, server support engineer, and software distribution expert. Then about 14 years ago I got involved with systems monitoring. I've worked with a wide range of tools: Tivoli, Nagios, Patrol, ZenOss, OpenView, SiteScope, and of course SolarWinds. I've designed solutions for companies that were extremely modest (~10 systems) to those that were mind-bogglingly large (250,000 systems in 5,000 locations). During that time, I've had to chance to learn about monitoring all types of systems – routers, switches, load-balancers, and SAN fabric as well as windows, linux, and unix servers running on physical and virtual platforms.