When I first became a digital remote worker back in 2005, I had no idea how big of a role distraction would play in my day-to-day life.
Having a computer connected to the internet and no coworkers or boss around to remind that I was at work made me prone to web surfing. I’d start by going to the New York Times website, then end up on Facebook, then maybe watch a video on YouTube. The next thing I knew, it’d be lunch time, and I’d have done nothing.
Over time, I learned how to combat distraction, get focused on what needed to be done, and be more productive.
Eleven years later, I work remotely as a content marketer for Betterteam, which requires me to be online constantly, and often on social media. If you’d like to learn more about how Betterteam can help you find great employees, check us out.
But don’t let me distract you with that! First, check out my tips on being more focused while working online.
1. Go low tech—use sticky note reminders
This is one of the first things I did to help me stay on task. It was pre-iPhone, so there were no slick apps to help me pay attention.
I got a whole bunch of yellow sticky notes and wrote “Focus!” on them, then stuck them on the edge of my monitor, on my desk, on the wall behind my chair—anywhere a casual glance would take me during work.
This actually helped me catch myself many times while I was distracted, and get back to the task at hand.
I still keep one note above my desk that says “focus.”
2. Let your body help your mind
Another thing I found that was really helpful was getting some sort of exercise.
On days when I spent most of my time sitting at a desk, staring at a screen, I found that after a few hours I just couldn’t focus. But if I broke it up with some quick exercise, I could get back on track easily.
Think you don’t have time for this? Check out the New York Times’ 7-minute workouts. I am 100 percent sure you’ve got seven minutes for a workout.
3. Try the Pomodoro technique and Tide app
OK, eventually I came around to the smartphone era. For the most part, I found that it made my distractions ten times worse (see my last tip on fixing that). But, I have found a few redeeming qualities from a focus perspective.
One of the best ways of using mobile apps for focus is the Pomodoro technique, with help from the Tide app. The idea of Pomodoro is that you can get better focus by breaking your time into increments focused on just one thing.
Traditionally it’s done in 25 minute focus periods, but I find that I get more deeply focused if I go 45 at a time. The Tide app itself is pretty simple. It lets you set the length of your focus period, gives you white noise to help you block out distraction while it’s going, and cues you to meditate or take a short walk between focus sessions.
It may sound really simple, but it’s been very effective for me.
4. Reclaim your freedom from the most distracting websites
I’ve noticed over time that if anything takes more than a second online, I reflexively go to a handful of sites, including Twitter, Facebook, and the New York Times.
What was intended to be a quick peek while I waited for a website to load or a file to download would end up being 30 minutes of surfing the web. Even if I did get back to what I was doing quickly, the break in concentration would keep me from doing great work.
Eventually, I discovered the Freedom app. It lets you lock yourself out of the websites and apps of your choice for as long as you choose. This is great to use in combination with the Tide app.
I block myself from the most distracting sites—Twitter, Facebook, and so on, for 45 minutes, then start Tide, and get some serious focus time in.
5. Tame your phone
I love my iPhone, and in a lot of ways, it’s improved my life. I use it to listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music, to track my exercise routine, to navigate when I’m driving, to take photos and videos of my kids—oh yeah, and to call people.
But in many ways, the distraction it brought into my life wasn’t worth it. There were several times when I really considered the idea of going back to the flip phone.
Then I decided to get my phone under control. The main thing I did?
I started deleting apps. I deleted Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the Apple news app. In my opinion, these were not adding any meaningful information to my life. I didn’t need the constant updates (or the distraction) during the small portion of the day when I was away from the computer.
After that, I shut off notifications for everything except key email accounts that I need to react to quickly, and of course calling. My phone feels like something that actually makes me more productive these days.
I hope these tips help you get focused on your work. After years of being a remote worker, I really believe focus is the key to producing your best work. For better or worse, the internet is built on an economy of interruption scientifically calibrated to cut through our willpower.
Resolving to be less distracted isn’t enough—take steps like the ones I’ve outlined above to create surroundings that make it easy to focus.