Top tips for working from home

Improve your focus, motivation and more with advice from a certified expert

As many members of the McGill community finish their fourth week of working from home, they may be experiencing difficulties from such a major shift in routine. To get some tips and tricks about establishing a balanced routine, staying focused during the day and keeping up motivation, we reached out to Joanna Harding-Duggan, a certified coach specializing in ADHD and executive functioning. 

Working from Home 

Joanna told us that it’s important to maintain some daily structure while working from home, as it’s too easy to make it through a day and look back wondering what you accomplished. The following suggestions can also help create some separation between work and home and maintain a healthy balance between the two.

  • Get up at your regular time, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast—do your normal morning routine before work. 
  • Establish a dedicated, organized workspace that only has the things you need for work. 
  • Take a lunch break and small coffee breaks throughout the day. 
  • Get outside at least once a day while following physical distancing protocols and applicable bylaws that have been enforced due to COVID-19. 
  • Manage your mindset. Remember this is a learning experience for everyone. If your day doesn’t go as planned, ask yourself questions such as “what can I learn here,” = “what could I do differently tomorrow”, or “what went well today?”   
  • Reward yourself for a job well done!

Staying Focused

Working from home comes with its own set of distractions—these tips and tools will help you stay on task throughout the day.

  • Try the Pomodoro technique: divide your work into 25-minute chunks of time, followed by a short, five-minute break. Use this break to get up, move around or get a drink—not to check your phone, email or social media! After completing four Pomodoro rounds, take a longer break. Ideally, use an app like Focus Keeper to track your time, rather than using a stopwatch. 
  • Use site blockers to stay away from social media if the internet is distracting you. 
  • Use noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds. To further block out distracting sounds in your workspace, listen to white noise or music without vocals
  • Turn off email notifications if needed. Consider checking your email only at certain times of day.

Maintaining Motivation

The ability to maintain motivation is influenced by various factors including, but not limited to, our ability to sleep well, maintain a good diet and get exercise. Take a look at the suggestions below with these factors in mind.

  • Try to get a good night’s sleep. Go to bed and get up in the morning at the same time you normally would on an average work day. 
  • Move your body every day. Exercise doesn’t have to be a vigorous cardio workout—it could be yoga stretches or walking up and down the stairs a few times. There are many good free apps that support at-home workouts and don’t necessarily need a lot of equipment, such as Nike Training Club. For yoga enthusiasts, the Yoga with Adriene series on YouTube is a great resource. 
  • Create clear intentions about what you hope to accomplish each day, and limit your “must do’s” to about three items. It’s best to create your list of intentions at the end of the work day for the next day. This takes less willpower than sitting down at your desk in the morning and deciding if today is the day to tackle a monotonous task. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, has a great blog about writing Implementation Intentions
  • Make your to-do list visible: hang it on the wall, leave it on the desk, but have access to it so that you can cross off items as they are done. This also helps keep you focused on your daily goals. 
  • Break larger tasks into small, doable chunks that you can cross off your do-to list as you go. 

Joanna is available for free 30-minute phone consultations, which can be booked online through her website

For resources on managing anxiety during the pandemic, read our recent article featuring tips by McGill professors Dr. Jason Harley and Dr. Tina Montreuil. McGill community members can also take advantage of free resources available through the Student Wellness Hub or the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP).


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