5 Ways to Stay Focused When Working From Home

Ramble On
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Life has been a little crazy lately. Well, maybe it’s not lately, to be honest it’s starting to feel like it’s been this way forever. Currently, we’re on our sixth month of COVID fun-times, and it doesn’t look like things are going back to normal anytime soon (efffffff). But things aren’t all bad, at least not in my neck of the woods, and I’m hoping not in yours either. There have been many people among all of this madness that have lost their jobs. Whether it be temporary or not it’s definitely not anything that can be planned and it makes me feel even more grateful to have the job that I have and to still be able to work. This doesn’t mean that things haven’t changed, oh no, things have most certainly changed. Instead of going into the office everyday, I’m now marching my lucky butt down my hallway to my new home office. Mind you it took me 5 months to get to this point, I was at the kitchen table for the majority; however, this move has made it so that I’m almost always working from home (excepting times when I need to go in to photograph, video or have face-time). And I gotta say, I’m super enjoying it, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

Working from home can be a distraction in and of itself. I know when I first started it was almost difficult to separate life stuff from work stuff and to make sure I was dosing a healthy balance of both. It took me some time to get my bearings straight, and a few tricks as well that I want to share with you in this post today. So, if you’re working from home and struggling to keep your head on straight like I was, keep reading to learn more about some simple actions I made to make my work-from-home life a little bit easier.

Have a Dedicated Workspace

Whether it’s a spot at your kitchen table or a separate room that serves as a home office, having a dedicated workspace is a must for working from and staying focused. I started out working at my kitchen table which wasn’t ideal, but I had a few things that helped make it bearable. I dedicated a full drawer in my side table to my work gear – laptop, notebooks, pens, mouse, etc. This drawer made it easy to pull out everything I needed at the start of my day and to put it all away at the end. If you don’t have a drawer, find a basket or a tub or any kind of organizer that you can place your work items in. It’s important to maintain a life-work balance when working from home and this is the first step in not having your work-life literally pouring over into your home. Obviously having a home office you can leave everything out and close the door, but also be sure to keep things tidy like you would at your typical workplace to avoid becoming overwhelmed with clutter.

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Keep a Planner

Keeping a planner has saved my sanity over the last six months more than I could have imagined. When March 2020 arrived I was ready to throw my 2020 planner out, but I’m so glad that I didn’t. I sit down at the beginning of my workday every day and make sure I have all of my daily tasks outlined for the day. I even put personal tasks on the right side of the page to keep my entire life more organized. As you move through your tasks you can check them off or move them to the next day depending on where you are. I also keep what I like to think of as a “big picture” plan which is a list of the larger projects I have on my plate. This makes it so I can list out my large projects and then use the daily planner to break those down into achievable daily tasks. Not only is this helpful to organize my day, it’s gratifying to see my checklist at the end of the day completed and to be able to review everything I accomplished.

Don’t Quit Your Routine

This tip was huge for me! Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you should work in your pajamas every day or stop showering, eating breakfast and moving through your normal daily routine. I like to continue my routine in an almost identical way that I did when I was going into the office. Not only does this make life feel more normal but it helps keep me on track to accomplish my tasks for the day whether they are for work or for my personal life. Don’t let quarantine make every aspect of your life pajamas and couch life – although cheat days are fully encouraged.

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Background Music

Having background noise is one of the most simple ways I maintain focus. Somehow it helps drown out other distractions and makes me feel like I can zone out on one thing at a time. And it doesn’t always have to be music. Sometimes it’s a television show playing in the background, or even just white noise from a water fountain. I prefer to listen to music that has little to no lyrics and a good beat – Lofi/Chill music on Spotify is my jam! And if I’m going the television/Netflix route, I like to make sure I’m watching something that I don’t have to give all my attention to or something I’ve seen multiple times that won’t be a distraction instead of just background noise.

All in all, times are super tough right now for many if not all of us. If you have the ability to work from home like I do it’s good to be grateful but it can also feel like things are spiraling out of control. Hopefully these small tips can help you maintain focus and find a bit of peace in your day to day.

Easy French Bread

Recipes

Going into 2019, I knew I wanted to make some changes to my everyday life. Some of these changes included more physical activity, a period of detox and some food changes, but overall I think my main focus is becoming more self-sustainable. This is fairly broad but to me it means making more of my own food, or growing it, and depending less on the idea that I have to spend money to take care of myself. This also ties in with the idea of sustainability, such as reusing items, buying less, and contributing less to our growing garbage problem. Basically, I want to buck societal norms and get back to a simpler way of life. Maybe I’ll do another post on my reasoning and inspiration behind this entirely, but for now let’s just stick to one point specifically.

One of my main resolutions for 2019 is to become more self-sustainable with my food. This includes making more of my own items from scratch, such as breads, sauces, jellies etc., as well as growing a larger garden than I did last year. Obviously with it being January, starting the garden is a couple months away, so to keep myself busy until then, I’ve been learning how to make things that I can do inside away from the blustery weather. My favorite of these so far is bread. Bread is one of those things that I think makes a kitchen feel homey and inviting. The smell, the process and the feeling of being able to create something so simple and yet so widely consumed is very special to me. I remember my mom making bread and rolls and pastries and thinking that she must possess some kind of magic to be able to create things that were even better than store bought. As I got older, I seriously thought that I needed some kind of special training or voodoo to be able to accomplish the same thing. The whole process seemed so complicated. The yeast rising, the kneading, the rolling – it all felt so out of reach. What if I messed up? What if my bread didn’t rise? What if I fail? It seems very dramatic, I know, but I do feel like this is the stigma around bread (or dough in general)! Finally, I mustered the courage to give it a shot, and I’m happy to report that tasty baked goods aren’t just for those with fairy dust. With no tricks up my sleeve, and no magic bread-wand, I am able to confidently create warm loaves of bread that make my house smell as if a bakery exploded in my kitchen.

The most difficult part of making bread, I think, is the time consumed to create it. It’s not like making cookies where prep time takes 20 minutes and you bake each batch for 8 minutes and voila! – cookies for everyone! It’s at least a 2-3 hour process because of the rising times. Now, don’t get me wrong, waiting for dough to rise is not difficult in the slightest. You literally do nothing but wait (which for those of us without patience can be quite trying). With a stand mixer, your job is even easier. Pour contents into mixer, wait; pull contents out of mixer, wait; put contents into oven, wait. OK, so maybe it’s not THAT simple, but it’s close. This bread recipe is one of the first that I’ve tried that isn’t a “30 Minute Roll” or a quick bread recipe (like banana or pumpkin). The first time I attempted it, I doubled the recipe and was able to give one loaf away. The bread was good, don’t get me wrong, but it was a little more dense than I had hoped it would be. So, for my second try, I did only one loaf and I tweaked the recipe a bit to what I thought might provide a better outcome. And boy, was I pleased when my fragrant and golden brown loaf was ready to come out of the oven. Not only did it smell divine, it looked like one of the prettiest things I’ve ever been able to bake. As I pulled it out and checked it for done-ness (a fully baked loaf of bread should sound hollow when you tap on it) I think my eyes may have welled up a bit, like I was holding my very own baby for this first time. It was perfect. I slathered the baby in melted butter and waiting for it to cool a bit before digging in. OK, comparing the bread to a baby now sounds wrong… and quite gross. Anywho, I paired this perfect loaf with my Vegan “Chicken” Noodle Soup and could not have been happier with the results. It was light, it was buttery and filled with carby, bready goodness.

I guess what I’m getting at here, is if I can make bread, so can you. You’d be surprised at how much money it could save you versus buying bread at the store. We’ve used this bread now for french toast, dipping and just for snacking, but I think it could also be used for sandwiches, homemade croutons, bread pudding and pretty much anything else. And money isn’t the only thing you’re saving. Think of all the plastic wrapping and those little plastic bread clips and zip ties you aren’t throwing away. I like to keep my homemade bread in a small paper bag on the counter, but I’ve also heard you can wrap it in foil or make fabric bread bags (which I may do with some fabric scraps in the future). So cast your doubts aside and get your butt in the kitchen. You don’t need any special skills or bread fairy dust for this recipe, just a few hours to wait for the dough to rise and a bit of optimism.

Do you like to make your own bread? What are your favorite recipes? And what are some ways that you try to make your home more self-sustainable?

<b>Easy French Bread</b>

1 packet of active dry yeast

2 Tbsp sugar

1 cup warm water (for yeast activation)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for coating large bowl

  1. Dissolve sugar in warm water. Once sugar is mostly dissolved, add yeast and let sit for 5-10 minutes or until foamy.
  2. Once foamy, add the salt, vegetable oil and half of the flour. Stir to combine (I use my stand mixer with a dough hook throughout this whole process).
  3. Add the rest of the flour and mix until a dough ball forms. I let this knead in the mixer for about 4-6 minutes.
  4. Coat a large bowl with vegetable oil and place dough ball inside to rise. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a dish towel to keep any drafts out. Let sit for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  5. Once doubled, remove dough and work with your hands for a few minutes. Stretch it out in a rectangular shape and roll into a loaf, folding the ends under to create the rounded edges.
  6. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking sheet and let rise for another hour. At this point I like to slice little lines into the top of my loaf. Some people wait until the rising time is complete – to each their own, do what makes you happy. I like my lines to be smaller so that’s why I do it before.
  7. After the hour is up, preheat your oven to 375°F and bake for 25 minutes.
  8. Enjoy the smell coming from your oven and prepare for goodness.
  9. Once the bread has finished baking (tap to ensure that it’s done), remove from the oven and brush melted butter over the top. Move to a cooling rack and let rest before slicing.
  10. Pat yourself on the back, because you just made your very own French bread! Well done!