When was the last time you felt focused? I mean really, really focused? Doing the right work at the right time without feeling like you were scattered in a thousand different directions. Not, as Bilbo Baggins put it in The Lord of the Rings, like butter scraped over too much bread, but totally in the zone.
If you’re like most people, it’s probably been a long time. Even before everything changed in 2020, being consistently focused on doing the most important work was one of, if not the biggest challenge faced by modern knowledge workers.
Now, with many of us transitioning to remote work, we face a slew of new challenges: Zoom fatigue, working and parenting simultaneously, burnout, productivity panic, and more.
Basically, we’re all trying to figure out how to be productive and efficient in this strange new world in which we find ourselves. We’ve already talked about how solutions like employee monitoring are actually more harmful than helpful.
In this guide, we want to take things a step further and explore some concrete ways to overcome some of the new challenges we’re all facing.
I really don’t want to use the phrase, “We’re all in this together,” because it’s been repeated ad nauseum in every commercial for the past 12 months. Like, thanks McDonalds but somehow it doesn’t seem especially sincere coming from you given that your primary goal is to sell me more cheeseburgers.
But in the case of work and productivity, we really are all in it together. We need to find solutions that are empowering and don’t kill morale. So with that in mind, let’s look at some of the biggest struggles we’re all dealing with and how we can overcome them.
What’s your workplace kryptonite?
Kryptonite, if you’re unfamiliar, was Superman’s one weakness. It was pieces of his home planet, Kryptonite. How pieces of his home planet ended up on Earth was something I never understood, but that’s neither here nor there. For this guide, we’ll use the term “kryptonite” to refer to the things at work (home or office) that distract from doing what you should be doing.
So…what’s your workplace kryptonite?
The problem: you spend hours every day checking your email.
Most of us feel the urge to constantly check our email. Most work-related email feels at least somewhat urgent to us. But the reality is that most of it isn’t that urgent, and we would be far more productive if we only checked our inboxes a few times throughout the day.
The steady flow into our inboxes throughout the day keeps us in a constant state of multitasking, which is an absolute productivity killer. Constantly shifting our attention between our email and what we’re working on makes it very difficult to give our work the attention and focus it needs.
The solution: use Freedom to block email except for 2 – 4 predetermined times each day.
Decide when it would be best for you to check your email based on the particulars of your job and then block it for the rest of the time. This will help you stay laser focused on the task at hand instead of being driven by emails that feel urgent but really aren’t.
The problem: you have 20 tabs open and three unfinished emails sitting in drafts.
Gary Keller put it this way: “You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once.”
In other words, it’s possible to physically do two things at one time, like eat and walk, but our brains are unable to focus on two things simultaneously. They’re simply not built to work that way.
Yes, you probably know that multitasking doesn’t work well, but it’s hard to resist the temptation, isn’t it?
Every time you shift your attention to something else, it takes time for your brain to adjust to the new task, slowing you down, wasting mental energy, and even lowering your working IQ.
The solution: use Freedom’s Pause extension to help limit the constant browser tab hopping and impulses.
The extension shows you a green screen when you open a tab with a distracting website, forcing you to decide whether you really want to visit the site or should get back to working on the task before you. It’s a gentle accountability partner of sorts, like that one friend who says, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” before you finish the night with tequila shots.
If you’re feeling especially distractible, you can use Freedom’s Block All Except function, which allows you to block all the sites except the ones you need for your current task. That way, you can go down the Reddit rabbit hole even if you want to.
The problem: you lose valuable time and energy due to constant scrolling and checking social media and the news.
For many of us, the past year has felt like watching a train crash into a dumpster fire. It’s been bad…but we also can’t look away. An awful combination of attention-grabbing news and social isolation has led us to hours of doom scrolling. At the slightest twinge of boredom or break in our concentration, we reach for our phones.
At one point, I found myself thinking, “Why am I always so anxious?” Maybe the fact that I was constantly flipping between Twitter and Google News had something to do with it. Can you relate?
The solution: use Freedom to create a recurring schedule where you block your biggest doomscolling distractions.
Ideally, the blocked out periods will be during the times in the day where you’re most productive and motivated. If you’re freshest and most motivated in the mornings, block out at least a few hours so that you’ll be productive.
Use can also use the Limit extension to create daily time limits on your biggest temptations. At the end of the day, you won’t have that sinking feeling that comes from spending hours on sites that usually make you feel worse anyway. Instead, you’ll feel great about all that you got done.
People, people, people
The problem: you spend an excessive amount of time responding to others questions, needs, or priorities rather than your own.
Obviously, there will be times when we need to respond to the needs of others during the workday, especially if we’re working from home. It’s not like we can just ignore our roommates or family members.
Despite all our best efforts, there will be times when this happens:
But we all know how distracting people can be. If we’re not careful, seemingly “quick” conversations and interruptions can eat up the day. We need to find a way to focus on our work without interruptions from others.
The solution: use time blocking with your calendar to carve out specific times for doing deep work.
Every day, block out sessions of time when you will focus on doing deep work. Tell those around you when these sessions will be happening so that they know you’re trying to avoid interruptions. The more consistently you do scheduled deep work sessions, the more those around you will come to expect them and not disturb you during them.
If you have an office, close the door. If you don’t, consider putting on headphones and listening to music that helps you focus. Set up a schedule in Freedom that corresponds with your deep work sessions and blocks anything digital distractions that have the potential to distract you.
Not a morning person/not enough sleep
The problem: it takes you a while to get started in the morning, and you don’t get much done before 10.
Let’s face it: sometimes mornings can be rough in terms of productivity. Sometimes it just takes a few hours for the grogginess to wear off, and during those times we’re particularly vulnerable to distractions.
Other times, we’re tired because we didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Instead of going to bed at a reasonable hour, we binged Netflix or spent hours scrolling through pictures of Instagram influencers doing yoga in exotic locations.
Whatever, the reason, distracted mornings set a bad tone for the rest of the day. We lose valuable hours when we could be working on our most important tasks.
Solution: create clearer mornings and consistent bedtimes with a recurring nighttime block schedule.
Instead of laying in bed and staring at your phone, use Freedom to block social media, news, shopping, and Netflix from 10 PM (or whenever you start winding down) until the next morning. Do activities that actually help you fall asleep, like reading, meditating, etc.
A consistent bedtime will contribute to better quality sleep and having intentional, more productive mornings.
Focusing during meetings
The problem: you struggle to keep my focus during meetings.
The struggle is real when it comes to focusing during meetings, especially Zoom meetings where we can pretend to be listening even though we’re actually scrolling through the latest recommended products from Amazon. Paying attention when there’s an endless supply of entertainment just a few clicks away is really tough.
The solution: create Start Now Freedom blocks for scheduled meetings.
This will help you avoid the lure of online shopping and Redditing during your meetings so that you can give your full attention to what’s being discussed.
Feeling overwhelmed and burned out
The problem: you feel overwhelmed and burned out.
When we’re staring at a long list of tasks and projects, it’s really easy to feel overwhelmed and burned out. Even doing simple tasks feels difficult, let alone more complex, challenging tasks.
It’s not paralysis by analysis. We know what needs to be done. It’s paralysis by reality. There’s a ton to be done and we have a limited supply of time and energy. And so we procrastinate and avoid starting anything.
The solution: Use Freedom in conjunction with the Pomodoro technique to help prioritize your tasks and complete one thing at a time.
In her book on writing, Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott tells the story of when her brother had a huge report on birds to do for school and was feeling totally overwhelmed. She writes:
We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
That’s good advice for just about any big project or task. Don’t think about the enormity of what you need to do. Prioritize your task list so that you’re clear on your most important tasks. Then use the Pomodoro technique to help you work in focused bursts on those tasks. During each Pomodoro (period of focus), use Freedom to block distractions so that you’re hyper focused.
Days when you just can’t focus
The problem: some days you just can’t seem to get anything done.
We all have days when we just can’t seem to focus. When the distractions feel too alluring and our motivation levels are low. When all we want to do is lounge in the lazy river of social media, letting ourselves be carried along in the warm waters of memes, conspiracy theories, and having things explained to us like we’re five years old.
The solution: remove ALL distractions using Block All Except and Locked Mode, which makes it impossible to quit a session in progress.
Sometimes you really do need to use the nuclear option. You need to literally block every website except those that you absolutely need to do your job. And, you need to throw the keys away so that you’re not able to unblock things when the temptation arises.
There’s no shame in admitting you need some help to focus and get things done. You’re human, not a productivity robot. Sometimes you need to lock distractions away and throw away the key.
Be kind to yourself
At the risk of sounding slightly cheesy and like someone who has a “Live, Laugh, Love” placard in their kitchen, let me offer one final word of advice: be kind to yourself.
We’re living in unprecedented times. We’re all trying to figure out how to navigate these weird and challenging circumstances that we find ourselves in. If you’re not as productive as you usually are, don’t beat yourself up. Shame never made anyone more productive.
So yes, take action to eliminate your workplace kryptonite. But make sure to give yourself plenty of grace in the process.