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How to stay focused when you're working from home

During more than a decade of regular remote work, I've picked up some lessons on how to drown out diversions.
Woman using laptop and wearing headphones
The Pomodoro Technique can be a great way to schedule your day, writes technology writer Whitson Gordon. All you need to achieve it is a timer. He offers up this and other tech tips to help you stay focused and organized.10'000 Hours / Getty Images

Millions of Americans are working from home for the foreseeable future, and while plugging away in your pajamas sounds lovely in theory, it isn’t always easy — especially if you’re confined to a tight apartment filled with distractions. I’ve been working from home regularly for more than a decade and have picked up some lessons on how to drown out those diversions — even if you don’t have a dedicated home office.

First and foremost, get a good pair of headphones. It’s nearly impossible to focus if your roommate is watching TV in the same room, or your kids are making a ruckus after their fourth straight day home from school. Earbuds will work in a pinch, but they aren’t going to be comfortable for the long haul, so I recommend a pair of closed-back, over-ear headphones that will block out noise and stay cozy for more than an hour or two.

1. AKG K371 Pro Audio Studio Headphones

AKG’s venerable K371 are some of the best closed-back headphones you can buy for the price. They’re insanely comfortable, thanks to their plush ear pads, they sound amazing and they punch well above their $150 weight class. Most importantly, they’ll block outside noise so you can focus on your work.

2. Sony WH-1000XM3

If you have a bit more to spend and want something wireless, try out Sony’s renowned WH-1000XM3. It’s insanely comfortable and has some of the most powerful active noise canceling in the business. And while active noise cancelling is best for consistent, low-pitched hums (it won’t completely stand up to noise from your kids or TV-watching roommates), I found it still does a decent enough job of drowning out chatty Cathys and Carls so that I can buckle down.

Even with headphones on, your eyes may be drawn to that “Breaking Bad” or “This Is Us” binge-watching session across the room. If you don’t have an empty room to work in, grab a privacy screen and put it around the dining room table. It may sound crazy, but if you just can’t keep your eyes off things happening around you, it’ll do wonders.

3. Rose Home Fashion Room Divider

Amazon is full of privacy screens in different styles, but this model from Rose Home achieves a decent balance of price and quality, with a decent selection of sizes and colors so you can get one that fits your space.

Next, don’t give yourself any excuses to get up. Get your coffee, sit down, and stay there — none of this “Oh, I’ll just get up for a little top-off because I’m bored” business.

4. Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

If you’re the kind of person who goes to refill they’re coffee just to avoid work, grab yourself a big, temperature-controlled mug like the Ember Smart Mug. At 12 ounces, it’s enough to keep you going for a while and you can set the temperature to whatever you want so your coffee never gets cold. The 10-ounce edition Ember Mug is more home-friendly (and sports a handle) and much more affordable.

5. Klean Kanteen Vacuum Insulated Mug

If a smart mug is a bit outside your price range, I can’t speak highly enough of Klean Kanteen’s insulated water bottles. I’ve been on the beach where the sun makes the bottle too hot to touch but my water inside is still ice cold. Whether you’re drinking coffee or iced tea, this 20-ounce bottle will ensure you’re set on beverages for a good, long while.

6. GRID-IT Wrap

Before you sit down, grab everything you could possibly need for the day and put it in one place. For years, I’ve used a GRID-IT wrap to keep my chargers, hand sanitizer, flash drives, and other gear on one little organizer that I can easily pull in and out of my bag. You may not be traveling to a coffee shop, but this little guy can still be useful — keep it with you and you’ll never have an excuse to get up when your battery starts yelling at you.

None of this is to say you should sit at that dining room table for eight hours straight. Breaks are important — you just need to plan them properly. If you aren’t used to working from home, the Pomodoro Technique can be a great way to schedule your day. All you need to achieve it is a timer.

7. Wrenwane Kitchen Timer

Sure, you could use your phone to set a timer, but having your phone sitting on the table is just tempting fate to text you with gossip you must read right now — or the latest coronavirus update. Instead, grab a cheap digital egg timer. It’s easy to set, and you’ll be able to see how far you are to your next break, keeping you motivated to finish up.

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