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Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Story Elements of Finding Focus & Winning the Day

**This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase goods or services through links contained in this post I may be compensated by the website, brand, or product. All the opinions in this post are my own. 

Guys I need you to know something about me. In this world of trust and transparency it is very important for you to have an honest perspective on my life. So, at the risk of losing you in about 10 words, here goes...

I'm 27 years old and I live with my parents.

Are you still there? Nice. I know reading that made you cringe. It was a scary sentence for me to write because I feel exceptionally unaccomplished for it (on top of other things that make me feel lame). But if I am going to be open about my journey, well, this would be exactly that. The Self-Improvement bus is leaving the station. First stop: Being Honest With Yourself.

The Story Elements of Finding Focus & Winning the Day - how to be productive when working from home

The Setting

When I came back to my parents' home last January it was intended to be a halfway house for young married couples. (It's okay. You can chuckle.) My brother and his wife were also here, and we had plans of the four of us moving into a house. First it was "as soon as possible." Then our plans became April, which became July, which became November, and finally, we didn't want to move in together at all. There always seemed to be some reason why not to do it - mainly the cost. One year later and we still live here: parents and ALL their children, and my parents' parents. Generational living. Can I get a what-what?

Yes, the space around here is cramped. Between converting all the remaining available space into bedrooms and the basement being used for band rehearsal there isn't really anywhere to get away when one needs privacy or quiet. I've been trying to keep up with my many projects to stay busy and to become more independent. Sadly, only one of those objectives has been met to date. Sort of. At times it seems the walls are closing in, and the worst part is the wallpaper isn't even made of dollar bills!

I'm not saying there is anything terribly wrong with our situation. I enjoy living with my siblings and grandparents. I learn a lot about communication and individuality, which I need. I admit trying to dream big with 12 other people in the house can become tedious. If the choice was there, we'd be in our own place faster than you can say "housewarming." But for now this brand headquarters will have to stick with its humble beginnings for a while.

I resigned to working from home due to only one car between the hubs and I, remaining available for Queens Over Kings, and not really knowing what I wanted to do at first. Finding the perfect job - flexible, consistently high pay, a pajama-level dress code, "paid" lunch - is not an easy task. So here I am sitting in the family room in my makeshift office space writing to you while the pup claws at my leg and someone in the distance is repeatedly asking me questions.

The Rising Action & The Climax

Hopefully you are envisioning your own work-from-home situation and you are agreeing that working from home makes the urgency of peace, and productivity, more noticeable. One can become very agitated when constantly interrupted. There is always someone or something that turns your head away from what you're actually supposed to be doing. Your bed, other people at home, the landline ringing, pets, daily chores. Distractions make it too easy to give up on your plans for the day no matter how structured. So the concern of the amount of work that actually gets done begins to bubble. It's a sickening carousel, my friends.

Trust me, it's the story of my life. In the beginning I would let anything take me away from work. This was especially true for watching television shows that needed catching up or a "refresher." I think I watched Psych two and a half times through last year. I can't imagine how much better quality my work would have been or how much further ahead I'd be in music and business if I had simply taken responsibility for my time.

This is the plight of the at-home workforce. We think we'll get more time to "do the things we really want," when in reality working from home takes up more time and we get less done if we aren't paying attention. An extreme amount of discipline is required to keep the day moving along. Otherwise we are left vulnerable to become discouraged about our to do list, am I right? Everyday the checklist grows until it is impossible to complete. Then we consider giving up and trying again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day until we give up all together.

One day while experiencing this I noticed that there were starting to be more "bad" days than "good" days. Things didn't get done. I was finding excuses for the excuses I had been using to avoid work. Mostly it was lying in bed upset and low-spirited, hiding because it seemed nothing had changed and I was so embarrassed: the band wasn't getting ahead, work projects were few and far between, my blog was boring and stupid, and my substitute teaching application was lost in educational bureaucracy limbo. Don't even get me started on the pile of laundry that took 2 months to get through. The thing is I had no one to blame but myself. Let's face it - us home-employed folks have to figure out how to kill it and get stuff DONE.

The Resolution

Whether entrepreneurs or remote staff, we face the same hurdles to reaching a place of serene focus. To me the experience is like finding your way through a dense, wet jungle. Slashing through the brush with heavy arms and you have a wary desire to look back at where you started, where it was already open and cleared. But you were vulnerable there remember? The distractions got you and had you spinning on a spit. You've got to dig in, build your fortress of solitude and use it.

Maintaining focus is a contingency plan. Obviously the purpose of working from home is to be available. But you still have to do your job, and in a perfect world you would wake up, do work, and repeat. The reality is some days turn out better than others. The flashes of distraction disappear almost as quickly as they come. You make it through alright. Then there are days when all those distractions pile up. There never seems to be a productive stretch of 5 minutes in a day. Or you are feeling particularly blocked or bored meaning you are susceptible to those drag-you-down thoughts. That's when they get you. To find your way back you can't be caught unprepared. So you have a backup plan.

I've learned a few tricks in the last year to keep myself on track during the day. Here's how I keep the interruptions at bay:
  • Shorten Your To Do List. While making your list for the day include less than you expect to be able to accomplish. You'll be more likely to check it off over the course of the day. If you do you'll have more time to do extra tasks. What a beautiful feeling to have control of your time!
  • Switch to Airplane Mode. Admit it. You're phone is really the source of your problems. I know it can be for me. Take responsibility for your time by utilizing Airplane Mode while on the ground. During your breaks you can check and indulge in the string of notifications you receive. Until then you'll have the quiet and focus you need to get *ish* done.
  • Relocate. If the distractions get really tough grab your things and head to a quiet spot outside the house with internet access. I go for my local library. There are private rooms and as a bonus there is access to all kinds of resources.
  • Call It A Day. When my distractions put up a wall, sometimes I can't do enough to break it down. I get too overwhelmed to accomplish anything. I'd rather re-evaluate tomorrow and center my attention on a more meaningful task. No use wasting time since I've done that so much already.
  • Listen To Appropriate Background Music. I highly recommend Focus@Will, a music streaming service for better productivity. The music selection is based on scientific data that promotes good focus habits. So none of that bumpin' rave music you've been trying. There are all kinds of personalization options as well such as energy level, a focus timer, and different types of music stations to choose from to fit your mood. And since I just found out it's a mobile app, I almost can't live without it. Try the benefits of Focus@Will for yourself.
At the end of the day we should feel good about what we've accomplished because we used our time wisely. The goal for working from home should be doing the most. The threshold should be doing enough to see positive results while staying sane. I measure my days by whether or not I did something worth sharing with the people in my life. Basically that comes down to having something to show for a day of effort. That way winning is about being fulfilled and not overworked. Set your standard and strive to meet it. And on the days you are less effective, be prepared to whip out Plan B.

If your plan B involves taking a scheduled break make the most of it with the Make Leisure Sweeter checklist. Get the download here.


  1. I totally get where you're coming from - my step-dad passed away last year and my mum started going down hill from there, so I moved in with her to make sure she's eating and keeping calm etc. I'm 26 and feel like such a failure living with my mum, even though I know it's necessary for the time being. With that, there are sooo many distractions at home! Ugh! I've really had to knuckle down and find where I can work with the least amount of interruptions. Thanks for the post :)

    1. I'm so happy to know I'm not alone haha. Don't let those distractions get you!

  2. Great advice. I worked from home for a long time and the distractions (TV, bed, fridge lol) really took a dent on my productivity. It didn't help to have a micromanaging and demanding client that was incredibly uninspiring and annoying. Your tips are great to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing.

  3. After a failed marriage, had to move into the basement of my parents with my daughter. There were too many distractions to get anything done. LOL. We've since secured a home and been here for 4 years, got my computer business started in my living room and now, while there are still distractions, I've found a good groove and getting much done!


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Kristyn here. I'm really good at Googling, dreaming, and thinking outside the box. Someday I'm going to save all the puppies and perform on a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float.

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