Closeup of headphones and a clean pair of Vans

WFH Focus Hacks

Published 2021-03-29

When I was writing my Master’s thesis — TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO — I realized that for some weird reason, if I had trouble focusing, it helped to put on shoes. My “office” was in my bedroom and it was too easy to get distracted. And this was with 14.4K dialup.

Something about the act of putting on shoes sent a signal to the focus centers of my brain: “you are not at home, where you can slack off. You are at work, where you must focus.” Sometimes I would get up in the morning, and go straight to my desk where I would put on my shoes and start typing. In my underwear. With shoes on.

I gradually dropped this habit through my freelance career. My deadlines arrive at a much more rapid cadence than “once a quarter,” and deadlines keep everyone focused. Also: I had acquired other hacks, specifically shifting to a remote location like the corner coffee shop, or working every-other-day at my clients’ offices. For about three years I maintained a for-real office outside the house, where focus was seldom a problem.

Also, Jenny insists on a no-shoes-in-the-house household, so there’s that, too.

Last Spring when we moved into full-time pandemic lockdown, I realized I might have trouble again with focus. Especially as I was subject to frequent interruptions as the stay-at-home parent & part-time homeschool assistant.

So I bought a pair of slip-on shoes (Vans), specifically for wearing in the house when I needed to focus. These shoes would never go outside & thus could circumvent the no-shoes-in-the-house rule.

But, weird enough, this hack was no longer necessary. Instead I have discovered another hack:

Put on my headphones.

Because the house is full of people all trying to work/school remotely, it is noisy. So a set of heavy, noise-dulling headphones is necessary as a matter of course. (We all have a pair but Jenny never uses hers.)

But just as donning a pair of shoes used to signal “work time,” slipping on headphones does the same after a year in my home office. Even when no one else is home. Especially when no one else is at home. And just like grad school, when I would wear shoes and almost nothing else, often I will put on my headphones with no music as a signal to my lizard brain:

“You are not at home, where you can slack off. You are at work, where you must focus.”