I work from home and can’t focus

A reader writes:

I graduated in 2018 and began a job where officially I’m a freelancer but in reality 99% of my work comes from one person. I record my hours and bill my client for them, and we have an unofficial agreement that I will make myself available to work X number of hours daily for him, and in return he provides me with pretty steady work, and there’s almost always the option to add hours if I have the time and want to make the extra money. Generally this arrangement has worked out pretty well. He’s a great guy to work for, flexible, respectful, considerate, and he pays a very generous hourly rate.

However, I find it impossible to focus while working from home anymore. Honestly, I was never great at it, but I used to have more time available (I’ve since become mom to several young kids, but I do have child care while I’m working). I feel like a lazy slob who doesn’t have the basic self-discipline to sit down and work and, worse, ungrateful, because so much about my job is ideal, especially as a mom to small kids — the flexibility, in particular. The thing is, I’m not generally lazy. I know how to work hard, have done so in the past, and continue to do so in other areas of my life. But I find it impossible to focus on work during the hours I set aside for it. I try to be very honest in reporting my hours, and if I get distracted and end up browsing the web, I always pause my clock. This means I end up not having enough reportable hours, my boss keeps pressuring me to work more because of my unofficial commitment to set aside a certain number of hours for him, and I’m not earning as much as I need to be — and could be.

I’ve tried to make this work. I shared with my boss that I was finding the work-from-home setup very distracting and difficult. He was sympathetic but his whole team is remote; there is no office to bring me into. He agreed to up my hourly pay so I could find a shared workspace to join, but I haven’t been able to find anything remotely suitable where I live.

Am I being a lazy slacker who should get her adult together, realize how lucky I am to have such a good job, and somehow develop more self-discipline. Or can it be that some people are just not cut out for remote work and I should really be looking for a different job in an office setting, even though it will mean less flexibility and probably a slightly lower hourly rate?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 201 comments… read them below }

  1. Snailing*

    Ooh I feel this too… I able to focus better when I’m on site. I think the energy of others working around me gets me better into gear. I also have ADHD so I struggle with focus in general, so being at home just offers too many distractions sometimes.

    1. Box of Kittens*

      This is me. I really need to have others working around me to be able to sustain my motivation for longer than like, a few days. My ideal work situation would be 1 or 2 days WFH a week but the rest in office, around my team. Which I pretty much have right now, except my WFH days aren’t defined; it’s just understood that my team takes them when we can and come into the office when we can’t.

      1. Cat*

        I could have written this. Two recs:
        1) Pomodoro method – there are apps that will set the timers for you. Took me trying this like 12 times before I actually did a whole Pomo and realized how good it was.
        2) maybe you just don’t have enough work? When I have a lot to do (and a time crunch) I can focus SO much better.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Could be not enough work, not challenging/interesting enough work, or just too much monotony in general. I know for me I have “enough” work to do, but not enough that I’m enthusiastic about.

          1. Annie*

            Right now I don’t have much defined work. I get messages from my manager and she mentions that things need to be done, but there aren’t specific tasks that I can really work on. It’s been slow since the holidays and I haven’t been able to self-motivate.

          2. Selena81*

            having tasks that I’m enthusiastic about makes a big difference: far less impuls to procrastinate.

        2. Katie*

          I’ve started Pomodoros and it’s SO helpful! I use the five-minute breaks for little exercises like abs or squats that help me feel more awake/warm/alive when normally I get so cold and tired just sitting still all day.

        3. Box of Kittens*

          I’ve tried pomodoro! I like it. I don’t need it right now because my work environment is set up well, so I haven’t used it in awhile. And I definitely have enough (and enough interesting) work right now, lol. I run into this more during our slow season but being in the office + occasional pomodoro does help with those times, when I’m transitioning from super deadline-reliant work to more ongoing project work, which is where I tend to get bogged down. For me specifically, it’s partly a matter of using slower times to rest a bit after crazy busy times, so I don’t put as much onus on myself to produce as fast or as much at those points.

        4. Trippedamean*

          Pomodoro exactly doesn’t work for me (ADHD also) because I find that I’m often interrupted right when I feel like I’ve just gotten into a good flow. Instead, I do a modified version where I take breaks as soon as I struggle with focus and/or when I’m switching tasks. For me, that’s usually about 2 hours of work and a half hour break.

    2. Keyboard Cowboy*

      Yep, that’s what I was coming in to say. I have ADHD, and “body doubling” is incredibly helpful – the great thing about being in an office is that you’re surrounded by lots of people who are also working, AKA you have free unwitting body doubles.

      If you’re finding that gentle “peer pressure” helps you to focus, there are “study along with me for 4 hours” videos/streams on Youtube and Twitch, and I’m sure there are also online groups where you can join a voice or video chat with others who are also working. (I, for one, find it incredibly helpful to even join a voice chat with my partner and his bestie while they play videogames – I can tune out the noise and they’re doing something, so I can do something too.)

      You might also look into trying out Pomodoro – it’s sort of a micro-fied version of what Alison suggested. 20 minutes on, 5 minutes off, repeat for the entire workday. You can, of course, adjust the timing – I think I usually go for 30 minutes on and 10 minutes off, but tell myself that if I don’t notice the 30 minute timer, I can keep going until I find a good stopping place. (This is an ADHD thing – once you have hyperfocus, woe betide anything that interrupts you.)

      1. Carlie*

        There are several body doubling apps/websites out there – I don’t want to push one or another, but there are some articles (including on NPR) about the phenomenon that list out a few, and they aren’t too hard to find. Some are free, some paid, some allow video, some just text check-in, if youtube streams don’t work because your brain knows it’s a recording and not an actual person working at the same time as you.

        1. Ariaflame*

          There’s a Steam ‘game’ called virtual cottage that has some lofi type music, some to do list information and you tell it how long you want to work on something before an alert to take a break.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      If anyone else has ADHD, there’s something I’ve seen people talk about called “body doubling” where basically the presence of someone else is enough to motivate you, even if you’re not engaging with them directly.

      For anyone who works from home, there are body doubling groups out there where basically you’re just on a call with someone else who similarly needs a body double, so that you can act as each other’s presence even if you’re not having a proper meeting. I’ve never tried it because I don’t want to body double with strangers, but I’m mentioning it for those who are less squeamish about that sort of thing.

    4. Bee*

      Ugh, same. Unfortunately I now have long covid fatigue and an hour commute each way, so going into the office isn’t actually sustainable more than 2-3 times a week, and I haven’t figured out a long-term solution. Sometimes I’m able to use my at-home days for calls and meetings, and other times I’m able to carve out all or most of the day for work away from the computer, and both of those help. But often I just have to spend the day fighting with my brain over answering emails.

    5. Mo*

      This! Also, you don’t stop the clock at in person work if you stop to chat with a co-worker or stare at the wall while pulling together the motivation to start a task, so OP should be a little less trigger happy on stopping the clock when they step away from there desk.

      Some people are just percolators. I’ve found that the reverse pomodoro method works for me. 20 minute off, 10 minutes on. My work gets done this way, I just do better in shorter bursts. If I do get into a groove, I keep going. But I’ve learned that when I’m focused, I’m very fast, but it won’t necessarily last long. I just need to keep coming back.

    6. Nobby Nobbs*

      Oh, same on the ADHD. I struggled in my last few years of school because I was bright, hardworking, and engaged in class… and gradually lost the ability to do homework. I spent the early pandemic thanking my lucky stars I was an adult; if I’d been a kid I honestly don’t think I’d have graduated.

      1. AVP*

        Oooh same. And like the OP, I also became a mom in this period. All I can say is, after a lifetime of more or less managing my adhd with sleep and exercise (and frankly not managing it well some years), I started taking meds for it, and it’s been life-changing. Sometimes you jut cannot force your brain to cooperate no mater how much you want it to!

    7. Gatomon*

      This definitely made me think of ADHD too. Sometimes we cope okay until something big changes, like having kids, that takes a lot of those spoons during non-work time. Suddenly there’s nothing left to make work happen.

      I actually do better working from home, I think – body doubling is impactful for me, but in a stressful way that makes me more susceptible to the revenge bedtime procrastination and other issues. We’re all different though, even among the ADHD crowd.

    8. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Curious if the OP’s boss gives OP specific deadlines or just asks OP to get stuff to him whenever. It’s a lot easier to procrastinate if your tasks don’t have deadlines. Including this thought in the ADHD thread because I also have ADHD and also because if you have ADHD having a deadline is one of the triggers that pushes tasks to the top of your “must do now” list (which is sometimes the only type of list we ADHDers have).

    9. Jen*

      Same. Except I also have a lot of issues with motivation. When constantly I sit at home, it’s like I’ve lost all ability to think of long-term rewards. Instead I’m aware that right this moment, I don’t actually *have* to work, so I don’t. And then every following moment. I tried a number of things, but I had to switch jobs.

    10. JJ*

      See, I’m the polar opposite. I get SO distracted in the office, and my brain will just wander off on wild tangents. At home I can control the environment, noise level, etc, so I focus way better. One weird thing for me is that I generally NEED background noise to focus, but it has to the be right kind of noise, and I can’t control that the same way in the office! Too quiet, my brain won’t focus, too noisy/the wrong kind of noise, my brain focuses on the wrong thing.

  2. Orv*

    The article is paywalled, but if this were me I’d be tempted to try leasing some inexpensive office space. Just because your employer doesn’t provide an office doesn’t mean you can’t provide your own.

    1. kendall^2*

      Or possibly try working some of the time from a convenient public library? Mine has quiet-only spaces, louder spaces, conference rooms, plus you can buy/eat snacks/beverages.

      1. Jennifer C.*

        I think the public library is an excellent idea. It’s free, it’s quiet, there’s few distractions, and there’s usually some comfy chairs.

        1. EWB*

          I LOVE working at the library – less distracting and expensive than perhaps a coffee shop or coworking space. I’ve also noticed my fellow workers are really dialed in as well, which helps motivate me to stay focused.

      2. sparkle emoji*

        Yes, and at least for my local one you can reserve study rooms ahead of time, so you can have a small room with a door if that’s preferred

    2. Mighty K*

      The letter literally says that the client has offered to pay more to fund a working space but that there isn’t anything suitable in their area.

      1. Cmdrshprd*

        I get that, but I think the suggestion might still be helpful if the OP is stuck in a specific mindset. I know I sometimes get thinking I have problem X, I need solution Y, and can’t find solution Y, but then someone else comes along with fresh/different mind and suggests could solution A or B work?

        “He agreed to up my hourly pay so I could find a shared workspace to join, but I haven’t been able to find anything remotely suitable where I live.”

        I wonder if OP thought/got stuck that paying for “a shared workspace” was/is the only solution aka a we-work/coworking type setup. But OP might be able to find a non shared work space to rent office space in, like a small private suite in an office building, or renting/sub-leasing a single office from/with another tenant.

        I know several solo practitioners that banded together and rented an entire suite with 4/5 office so each had one and they split the cost. It was a “private” co-working space.

        Also OP might have gotten stuck on the idea of paying for a shared workspace and not thought of free workspaces.

    3. ADHD Empathizer*

      When I was freelancing while working retail I really struggled to work at home. the library was a huge help but their hours weren’t great. My other go-to was a Perkins on my way home, especially late at night– I could order a cup of tea and get free refills just sitting & working for hours. Could order a side of tater tots if I was getting tired or losing focus. A lot of my coworkers now will go to coffee shops. A big thing that helped me when we went remote was getting a desk that was specifically for Work; it also helps that I have a work computer. Anything I could do to physically differentiate work from my home space helped my ADHD brain a lot.

  3. ZSD*

    This isn’t the focus of the question, but doesn’t it sound like this person should be a W-2 employee rather than a 1099?

    1. Ellen*

      This stuck out to me as well! Plus, this note:

      > Or can it be that some people are just not cut out for remote work and I should really be looking for a different job in an office setting, even though it will mean less flexibility and probably a slightly lower hourly rate?

      The “slightly lower hourly rate” might net out to being higher if you’re a full-time employee instead of a freelancer, as Alison has pointed out before: benefits, payroll taxes, etc.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yes this definitely seemed like a weird setup. If you’re a freelancer, you should be able to price out the work you’re doing and charge on a per item/project/whatever basis rather than be available hourly. Not being beholden to regular hours is supposed to be one of the main benefits of freelancing, and it doesn’t sound like LW is getting that freedom at all.

      1. whistle*

        I am freelance and I charge by the hour. I have signed contracts that required my availability at certain hours because that’s what the client needed and I was agreeable to the terms.

      2. ccsquared*

        I’m reading it as she has agreed to work a set quantity of hours daily, likely as a proxy for the amount of tasks she can get done each day, and she is scheduling her own hours based on when she can fit that work into her day. All of this is pretty normal for freelance work.

    3. Orv*

      Almost certainly, but that’s a touchy subject since a lot of jobs would essentially disappear if that were heavily enforced.

    4. Sloanicota*

      Well, it sounds like, as a freelancer, they’re open to taking other clients and may do so more or less at other times (in fact I’d suggest maybe they should aim for that, to mix up what they do). That is at least one distinction.

    5. Sharon*

      At the very least, she’s thinking like an employee rather than as a service provider.
      If she’s a freelancer, she should definitely be thinking “Client, this is what I can do for you and how much I’ll charge, and I’m responsible for my own motivation and workspace.”

    6. Dorothy Zpornak*

      This. If it works for LW, okay, but it sounds really exploitative to me. The employer is saying, I want ownership of your time the way I would if you were my regular employee; while I take away all the flexibility of your freelance status, allow me to keep for myself the flexibility of choosing not to provide you with benefits and to push the tax burden to you.

    7. Kindred Spirit*

      For several years, I managed an online forum for a multinational company. At the corporate level, they adhered to the letter of the law with respect to the work being classified as 1099 vs. W-2. I filled out paperwork and checked the appropriate boxes necessary to classify the work as 1099 under the law (CYA for them, essentially) Since I had not begun to work yet, I was going by what the hiring manager and I had discussed. It was also a new project for the hiring manager, so they may have assumed some things about the nature of the work too.

      Once I started, I discovered that to perform this work I needed to monitor the forum during business hours every weekday using a VPN, which dictated the work hours and restricted the location I could work from, and the client also expected to be able to reach me during business hours. Per IRS guidelines, if the client exercises control over how and when the work is done, it should be classified as W-2.

      I could have pushed back on the requirements of the job that violate 1099 classification. I didn’t because it’s very likely that would have resulted in my contract being terminated. That scenario isn’t unique. Happens all the time.

    8. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I thought that too, but I’m not entirely sure. I took it to mean that they agreed that they would be working between specific times but that theres nothing that says they have to work 9-5. I think its normal if you are freelancing that you become available when they need you. But I do think she has the ability to push back or charge more.

  4. birder in the backyard*

    OP, I did remote consulting for a long time and then, I just couldn’t anymore. I returned to the conventional workplace and it did wonders for me. I got my drive and executive function back almost overnight. What I lost in flexibility, I more than gained in self esteem. Ironically, soon thereafter, the pandemic hit and we were all remote again for a few months–which I hated but knew it was temporary.

    I’m casually job hunting right now and only looking at hybrid (1 day remote a week) or in office positions–pretty much the opposite of a lot of others in my field. It has definitely made me more marketable in the current climate.

    Oh, and you’re not a slob.

    1. AnonymousForThisOne*

      This sounds a lot like where I am now. I’ve been freelancing for quite some time and am almost completely burned out by the flexibility; I’m also tired of being my own boss. I’m still working with a few clients but am actively job searching. I’ve found that I’m far more marketable because I don’t object to on-site positions rather than hybrid/remote.

      I agree with you also that the LW is definitely not a slob.

      1. ampersand*

        Flexibility is great to an extent—at some point, too much flexibility is akin to being in the cereal aisle at a grocery store and being overwhelmed with too many options. Some people do better with more parameters. I definitely do.

  5. Dust Bunny*

    I hate remote work. I appreciate being able to do it for specific occasions but in general I would much rather keep job and home separate. I don’t have a good place to work at home and I don’t want to give up any my limited living space.

    I guess two of the first things I would ask are, is your workspace at home comfortable (ergonomic, free from distractions, quiet enough. etc.), and do you like the work you’re doing?

    1. EWB*

      Good call on the workspace. I have a nice, separate (i.e. lockable) office in my home but I noticed I wasn’t working in there as much as I should have been. I realized my office was slowly being taken over by household things – Amazon returns, the vase I haven’t put away, a kid’s costume that needs mending. A simple clean and sprucing up (got a new wall calendar and a cheap Target lamp) and moving some things around worked wonders!

    2. Media Monkey*

      i was going to say exactly this. i have 2 areas i can work in at home. dining room has a table and a decent chair but is fairly cold. that’s my normal WFH space and my husband works in the living room (he has been remote for years – i went remote then hybrid at Covid). living room is much warmer but just sofas/ coffee table. when i work in the dining room i get considerably more done than when i take advantage of hubs being out and work in the living room!

    3. tangerineRose*

      I have a room that is pretty much just for work. At the end of the work day, I leave it and mostly don’t work. I have a hard time working in silence, so I usually have music playing while I work.

  6. GigglyPuff*

    Also and I know this isn’t possible for some types of work. But I’ve found changing the scenery helps so much. Have ADHD and discovered in college this helped me study so much better (also research to show you associate the things you’ve studied with the location to help you remember better).

    So if you’re able, I’d start trying to find other places to work, even if just for an hour. Like public library, park if you don’t need wifi, coffee shop, etc. This might help you focus better, at least in the short term.

      1. Artemesia*

        A colleague and I did most of the collaborative work on a book at a local coffee shop — we would buy breakfast and work, buy mid-morning coffee, working and then get lunch — so they tolerated our long term presence.

    1. MassMatt*

      Came here to say this. LW says they have child care when they are working (very fortunate!) so I would say try getting out of the house. Go to a library. A change of scene may do wonders for your ability to focus.

      If that’s not possible, try as much as possible to separate “work time” from “home time”. Work from a dedicated room if possible (not an option for many people, I know), or use a work-only laptop.

      I work from home and like it, started years before the pandemic but it is NOT for everyone, I don’t have kids and have a dedicated home office, most are not so lucky. Maybe in the long term you should try to pursue in-office work, if that fits you better, many employers will be happy to have you but it means giving up much of the flexibility you have now.

    2. Pretty as a Princess*

      Our public library even has private office spaces you can reserve on a first come first serve basis!!

    3. Artemesia*

      This. If you cannot work from the office then start thinking of ways to structure the workspace to cue work. Work a few days of the week at the library, or a coffee shop back room if you have those near you, or do you have a friend who would lend you their basement or den part time when they are at work in exchange for some favors you would do them? If getting out is not possible, then what can you do to isolate a work space at home and arrange/decorate it to differentiate it from the rest of the place. And start looking for a job with an office space.

    4. Some Lady*

      Same, although the nature of my work doesn’t always allow for working in other places, so I have instead found ways to make some sort of change in environment. I might set up a folding table that is only out for work, and change my personal orientation (like working facing a wall that I wouldn’t ever be facing when hanging around or doing house-related things). I even will have a change of clothes, or light a specific candle with a specific scent for a specific project. It’s all to mentally create a new space that can then be put away until it’s time comes up again, so I can give myself over to work, specific projects, and then rest/personal life when needed.

    5. Beth*

      Seconding this so hard. I work remote and there are days where I can’t get ANYTHING done in my house. (I don’t have ADHD–I think this is just a “human stuck alone in small box for too long” problem!) A change of scenery–working at a coffee shop, the library, or a friend’s place–does wonders. So does a change in company–having a friend over to cowork, hopping in a slack huddle with some coworkers, etc.

      OP, I also wonder if you’re being really harsh on yourself in terms of what level of focus you expect. Nobody (or almost nobody, at least) is working 8 hour days where they’re fully focused and on point for the entirety of those 8 hours. It’s absolutely normal to have short pauses while on the clock–bathroom breaks, coffee refills, a few minutes of web browsing, a few minutes of what felt like focus until you shake yourself and realize you’ve been staring out the window blankly, whatever. It makes sense to clock out if you’re finding yourself going on half-hour-long wiki deep dives. But don’t let our work-obsessed culture convince you that you’re lazy and unfocused for every five minute pause or zone-out moment.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I love this comment. Sometimes the staring at the wall part is where the brain actually solves a problem, too, so it should all definitely be billable.

      2. irritable vowel*

        Yes, I think that if OP’s main client is paying her for being available (“engaged to wait”), then she should be thinking of her time as salaried rather than hourly. In other words, don’t track your time so closely! (I also agree with another comment thread that it sounds like OP should probably be a regular employee of this person rather than a freelancer.)

      3. allathian*

        Yes, this. Once when I was talking about the resources we needed for a project with a former manager, she said that she expects no more than 5 hours of productive work out of me during a 7 hour 15 minute workday (not counting 30-60 minutes off for lunch). The rest goes to microbreaks, coffee breaks, bathroom breaks, waiting for my computer to finish processing a job, getting interrupted by coworkers (and interrupting others), job-related admin tasks that have to be done but don’t really produce anything, and random online surfing to reset my brain for the next task.

        It was unbelievably refreshing to have a boss who actually acknowledged the realities of office work.

        I work hybrid (90% WFH, 10% at the office), and both I, my team, and my manager acknowledge that I get more work done when I’m remote, but going to the office occasionally helps me feel a part of the team and organization, and that has an intrinsic value. When I’m at home, I usually skip my coffee breaks and drink coffee at my desk, but when I’m at the office, my boss doesn’t mind even if I take two 30-minute coffee breaks on the clock (officially we’re allowed two 15-minute coffee breaks per day) as long as I do it responsibly. On the days I have particularly tight deadlines, I actively avoid going to the office (and don’t open AAM). There’s absolutely no need for me to go to the office to get my job done, being 100% remote between March 2020 and October 2021 proved that conclusively. The *only* reason I go there is to socialize with my coworkers. Obviously I get *some* work done even at the office, but I don’t prioritize my productivity very much when I go there. I get distracted very easily when I’m working with other people in my vicinity, I focus much better at home, especially when my husband’s traveling on business or working at the office.

        Some of my coworkers vastly prefer working at the office, and obviously I make sure I let them work in peace.

        I’m very happy to have so much flexibility in my job, and I’m self-directed enough to at least meet my manager’s expectations.

        1. Media Monkey*

          we only allocate 85% of staff working time to actual work (in terms of working out how much workload to give each person). any more than that is not sustainable!

    6. Sloanicota*

      Yep. When I have something I really need to do and am struggling to get down to, I like to make an afternoon trip to a coffee shop or – to be completely honest, a local cantina – and do it there, making it into a “treat” for myself. It works at least most of the time.

    7. Chirpy*

      This, I once had to spend a day writing from a different room, due to new floor installation, and it was amazing how much more I got done despite the noise. The change of scenery made a huge difference.

    8. tab*

      Yes, this worked for me too! I would go to the library after my workout a couple days a week, and to a coffee shop a couple days a week. I don’t understand why, but I found it So Much Easier to focus on work at those places.

    9. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      Yes totally, especially if you can get away with no wifi (and are able to resist the urge to log onto cafe or library wifi). I was just listening to a Hidden Brain episode where a researcher mentioned a physician who, when he had a lot of writing to do, would book a flight from LA to DC and back again, just for the wifi-free, low distraction environment of the flight. I don’t have that kind of cash, but I LOVE working on flights, I’m by far at my most productive!

  7. Nonprofit writer*

    As an at-home freelancer since 2016 (also with kids), I sympathize! Alison makes some great suggestions. I agree that sometimes we just crave downtime—my kids were born when I was still working full time & I definitely had those spacey moments at the office too.

    Do you have a local library where you can go with your laptop? (If your job lends itself to that.) I try to get out of my house most days in the morning—the change of scene makes me more productive. Then I usually go home for lunch & find that I can often focus a bit better at home after that (although sometimes I go back to the library.)

    1. Gal Friday*

      I second the library suggestion. Whenever I feel like I’m in a rut or need focused time. Physically moving to the library for a defined amount of time has been very helpful. Our library even offers you the option to reserve private study rooms.

  8. Caramel & Cheddar*

    One of the tools I’ve found helpful for when I’m on deadline, and could just be helpful in general for you, is an app called Forest. Like you, I struggle with the “checking one thing on the internet led to several dozen things” problem, and putting Forest on both my phone and my browser (Firefox) helps me immensely.

    Basically, the app lets you block whatever sites/apps are your problem sites/apps, and you can do so for whatever time frame you want. If you successfully focus for that time period, you grow a tree. If you don’t, the app gives you a warning that visiting the blocked site / using the blocked app will kill your tree, which is somehow enough (for me) to remember that I was supposed to be working. There’s a lot of muscle memory/habit built into idle internet browsing and I find it helps me get back on track when I didn’t even realise I was browsing elsewhere.

    1. Watry*

      I love Forest, when I can remember to use it. I also really like their other app, WaterDo, which is a to-do list app with the same mild gamification.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      The muscle memory of idle internet browsing is a really good point; I hadn’t seen it expressed that way before. I will type in the name of the site where I go to discuss a certain TV show and then remember that it’s not currently airing and so there is no fast-developing discussion to check.

    3. Miss Kitty*

      An app/method I also find very helpful is the Pomodoro Technique. There are several apps that are built for it. I maily use PowerPom on my Windows computer. The idea is that you have three sprints of work with a tiny break between them, and then after 3 or 4 sprints you earn a long break. It helps me pause what I’m doing and think “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing right now? No, so this rabbit hole will be great to get to on my next break in 5 minutes.”

      I second the others who say that being in-office or in a place with other people will help you feel more conscious about your use of time. I also sometimes find that just cleaning my desk will give me a boost for a day. But really I would also ask…. do you generally find your work engaging? If you’ve tried everything, and nothing is really working…. maybe finding a new client with a different project / area will be more engaging.

    4. AM*

      This is a great suggestion! I just started using a similar app/product called Brick (but I believe it’s for mobile only). You set the apps/websites that you don’t want to use, and then lock them out. To unlock and use those apps/sites again, you need to physically tap your phone to a small magnet that comes with the app. I generally lock all distracting apps before work and keep the magnet on my fridge. It’s not a far walk from my home office to the kitchen, but it’s enough of an effort that instead I opt to ignore my phone. As you said, a lot of it is muscle memory, and after a few weeks, I’m no longer finding myself absentmindedly navigating to an app on my phone! I’m going to have to checkout Forest for my laptop.

  9. Sleepiest Girl Out Here*

    I feel this so much. We are one day a week at home and I still go in on that day just so I can get something done. I also walk to the office which makes this much easier. One of the execs praised me for it recently for “being dedicated” which was lovely but I just wanted to say, “I will watch Love Island and play with my cat if I don’t do this.”

    FWIW I’m a big advocate for WFH, just not for my brain!

  10. Testing*

    I can identify with the OP. I’d recommend trying to get an hour of some kind of exercise every day, rather than setting aside an hour for browsing the internet. It doesn’t matter how intense it is, as long as it’s something you enjoy. This will wake up your body and mind, take your mind away from work and home life, and be a real difference to screen-based work.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Good point. If the LW is just scrolling through things she doesn’t actually care about it is a sign her mind/brain needs a break, but if she can control it better it could be a different kind of break even just read a book or watch tv you care about.

      Like I do have certain sites that I regularly read/check for new content. But if I find myself looking through the archives because I can’t just do anything else and I procrastinating sleep and eating for it, then I’m already burned out and needed a bigger break than an hour or two of chill time.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I find getting the exercise in the middle of my (freelance) workday really helpful–it breaks up the groove and (as I swim or walk without a podcast) I often figure out how to address something I was whacking away at for the morning.

    3. Blue Pen*

      This is a good suggestion. Running outside or on the treadmill has helped me a lot with mental focus, clarity, and energy.

    4. Abundant Shrimp*

      So much this – for personal reasons, some 6-8 weeks ago, I started going to the gym first thing in the morning, before work, instead of after work in the evening like I used to – it made so much difference. I have more energy and can focus better during the day now.

      Also, Huberman’s blog has a few podcasts on focus and productivity and one big thing he stresses is viewing the sunlight within an hour or two of getting up/the sun coming up. Just going outside and being in the daylight. He says looking outside through a window of a room or a car does not have the same effect. Again, this exercise gives me a ton of extra energy on the days when I can do it.

      1. allathian*

        Being fully remote during the Covid lockdowns really helped mitigate my SAD because I was able to take a walk during daylight hours by taking an extended lunch break. (Thankfully they never had to limit going outside in my area during Covid.)

        Before the pandemic I went to the office nearly every day. I’ve had the option to WFH occasionally since 2014, but doing so required my manager’s explicit permission every time and I pretty much only used it when our son (then in elementary school) was convalescing after an illness and was too young to be left alone all day but didn’t need constant supervision. I prioritized ensuring that my workdays were as short as possible by taking the mandatory minimum of 30 minutes for lunch. This meant that I had time to eat but not to go for a walk. I live at 60 N, meaning that for 5 or so months of the year it’s dark when I go to work and dark or dusk when I return home. This meant that I was only able to go outdoors during full daylight on the days I wasn’t working for several months at a time. Now I can go pretty much every day. Even on the days when I go to the office, I tend to take longer lunch breaks to socialize with my coworkers during my lunch hour, which usually includes going to a cafeteria a couple blocks away to get some daylight, fresh air, and light exercise. At nearly 15 my son’s old enough to be at home alone for a couple hours after school, so there’s no need for my husband and me to hurry home. (Our son’s a pronounced introvert and only has one extracurricular per week, he can’t handle being around people any more than that given that he’s surrounded by people and noise at school. At home he likes reading, playing online with his friends, and watching youtube when his chores and homework are done.)

  11. Danielle*

    I’m also fully remote with a couple of little ones. For me, it’s ideal for the exact reasons you’ve mentioned – plus I’m an introvert, so I love not having to worry about someone poking their head into my office (just those pesky zoom calls!).

    When I start to struggle with motivation, the first thing I do is change things up. Maybe rearrange my furniture so my desk is in a new room or new position. The change in scenery really helps. Or switch over to my laptop and work from the couch for a couple weeks. You can also try taking your laptop to a coffee shop that doesn’t mind you hanging out of your work allows.

    That works for me about 95% of the time. When it doesn’t, I give myself permission to “take it easy” for a week. Essentially do the bare minimum for my job for a set, short period of time to give myself a chance to rest and do a small disconnect. I’m regularly a top performer, so most people never notice when I step back as long as it’s just a couple days and no deadlines are missed.

    It’s easier then to get back to normal work.

    That works for me about 95% of the time.

    1. dot*

      I love being a top performer for exactly that reason! Even working in the office, when I need a few days-a week of disconnect, I can do the bare minimum and make myself look busy enough that no one ever questions it, because I’m so on top of things otherwise.

  12. Natalie*

    This is me. Motherhood has just exacerbated my attention issues. I hate going into the office, but have trouble concentrating and focusing while working from home. I wish I had solutions to share. I used to go to the library on my WFH days, to distinguish that I am on work time, but it’s hard to do on days when I have calls. I have a great working situation too, and feel the same guilt and frustration with myself. You’re not alone!

  13. H*

    I don’t have kids but I definitely relate to this problem, OP!!
    Two things I’ve found helpful: one is virtual “body doubling” via a site like FocusMate- having someone working with you on video can somewhat replicate the external accountability of working around other people in an office.
    Another is generally, the work of Laura Vanderam- she has several kids and offers really practical, realistic time management/productivity advice. In particular, the strategies in her “tranquility by Tuesday” book might be relevant as they relate to handling both work and family/kid-related tasks.

      1. Life hacks for the chronically overwhelmed*

        Seconding body doubling! Even if only as a stop gap measure it could help a lot. I think Alison’s answer re: burnout is worth reflecting on, but generally looking into adult ADHD strategies could yield some helpful strategies like body doubling, the pomodoro technique, etc. ADHD strategies can be helpful no matter why you’re struggling with executive dysfunction and before I was diagnosed I actually used to look for tips by reading things directed at parents of young kids (mostly around how to stay on top of household stuff, but the same strategies apply whether you’re overwhelmed because of undiagnosed ADHD or because of lack of sleep and being responsible for tiny humans)

  14. Definitely anon for this*

    Also, remember that actual on site employees often spend lots of time randomly surfing the web. We, er, they don’t reduce their hours because of it.

    1. Remotely*

      Yep. I’m probably about the same amount of productive at home as at the office, except when I’m under deadline, it’s nicer to be in my house instead of packing the laptop home and re-starting again to things done. And I can work and run laundry at the same time and not run out of clean clothes during a crazy work period.

      However, this is kind of a stupid thing and I can’t believe it works. But when I really need to focus and just kind of can’t, setting that stupid Microsoft Focus Timer thing really helps me get into the groove. (It’s buried in the clock app somewhere). I’ll promise myself just 30 minutes, and what usually happens is that once I’m in the groove, I’m in it. Often for hours. So something like that is totally worth a shot.

    2. Also On Site*

      I am surprised this is so far down. If you wouldn’t expect your in-person boss to micro-manage your time card and take out periods of web-surfing from your paid hours (that would be outrageous!), why are you signing up to do it to yourself? This assumes your productivity is still fine and you’re not falling behind on your required tasks, of course.

      1. Camelid coordinator*

        I was hoping this would come up because I do the same thing. I am in a part time salaried role that only works out to the expected 20 or so hours a week because I don’t count the unproductive time. No one but me sees the count and I still do it! I tried having set hours M-Th that added up to 20 but that didn’t work out well. I just haven’t figured out how much leeway to give myself.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah, I have ADHD and also called myself a “lazy slob” when first trying to work from home because I wasn’t 100pc productive 100pc of the time. As soon as I tried Pomodoro, or just gave myself some slack (which is hard when you have ADHD because you’ve been told “care more” a lot by uninformed people as though that’s a strategy) , I discovered I was actually a lot more productive in terms of output when I had some goofing off time. My brain likes to freewheel for a bit, and then go into hyperfocus for a bit. No one can beat me on productivity if I’m getting regular hyperfocus bursts. Hyperfocus aside, I don’t think neurotypical brains are all that different in needing to move through different stages of focus; I’ve never worked in an office where someone had a nose on the grindstone every second of the day.

        1. JustaTech*

          Oh my goodness, I’m currently reading “How to ADHD” (from the creator of the YouTube channel of the same name) and it’s so nice to hear someone say that “try harder” and “care more” just don’t work with ADHD because I *am* trying harder and I *do* care more.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      That’s what I was going to say! I’m in the office right now, clearly not working (I mean, I’m doing professional development) and I’m not about to put in for an hour of vacation time.

    4. CTT*

      I do think there’s a difference between “spending 10 minutes going down a Wikipedia wormhole as a break here and there” and truly not being able to focus. If we take the letter writer at her word, it sounds like it’s more of the latter.

  15. Saturday*

    The idea of your brain taking time to recharge, whether you’re ready or not, is so interesting to me! I think this explains what I’ve been experiencing lately. I’m going to try scheduling some zone-out time and see what happens.

  16. Spicy Tuna*

    I like physically separating myself from home in order to increase focus at work. If going into the client’s office isn’t feasible, the OP could look into working from the local library (free wifi) or even renting an office from a shared workspace if financially feasible.

    OP made me think of my time in college. I had a very high GPA and had done some interesting work related to an internship. I was invited to join a prestigious “scholars” program my senior year where regular coursework was replaced by independent study culminating in a dissertation type write up at the end. I immediately thought of ALLLLLLLL the things my undisciplined self would do instead of studying independently and had visions of having to explain to my family why I failed to graduate from college. I declined the offer and continued attending all of my classes in order to ensure success.

    My husband DID take up the offer (we went to the same university) and did very well. His independent coursework was included in a PhD student’s published work.

    People work and learn in different ways. Some people thrive with more focus and structure, and some people much prefer to be let off the leash.

    1. Heart&Vine*

      You’re very wise to know your limits and your preferred way of working. I second the recommendation to find a local library or even a café to go to. Maybe it would end up being more distracting but my guess is probably not since you can program a new setting to mean “time to work” in your brain. Maybe even finding a new space at home (or even reorganizing the room OP currently works in) to make it a fresh, new space could turn a little switch in their brain to “this space is for work”. Making sure their workspace is also just that, a workspace, and keeping all familial/recreational/hobby, etc. spaces separate can make all the difference.

    2. Abundant Shrimp*

      Right, I love WFH now but I did not love it nearly as much when my work desk was an old kitchen table in the basement, sandwiched between a built-in desk that my mom loved to sit at and talk to me on her daily visits to my house as I worked, and a treadmill that my two young adult sons would exercise on, also as I worked. My home office now is a room with a door that I can close (so, physical separation from the rest of my life), that has probably the best setup of all rooms in the house, the desk facing a window with a great view. I totally get how rare this is in the grand scheme of things and how lucky I am to be able to have this. I also totally get that no amount of raises and promotions would’ve gotten me a similar workspace in an office – wherever I worked, this was more of a C-suite work setting, something out of reach for me. I like the idea of renting an office in a shared workspace!

    3. allathian*

      That’s very interesting. I was a strong, if not straight A student at school. Getting my bachelor’s degree required more work and study than I was used to, but it was structured enough that I didn’t struggle with procrastination. I did go on to do a master’s degree, but by then my grades had dropped to a strong B at best, and I buried my academic ambitions early because I knew I wouldn’t have the self-discipline to do a Ph.D. I did graduate but not with any distinction. I only got my master’s thesis written when my professor told me that he was switching to another university at the end of the semester and that if I didn’t want to start from scratch I’d have to start writing the thesis. I worked on it pretty much around the clock for two months, but I got it done.

      Thankfully that’s never been an impediment to my chosen career.

      I became a translator, and realized quickly that I want to do short projects, generally not longer than about 10 pages, rather than long ones, like books. I need the dopamine hits from completing tasks, and I’ve never been able to convince my brain to reward me for reaching intermediate stages like translating a chapter, translating the first draft, completing the first proofreading, etc.

      That said, I detest being micromanaged, and I don’t need that sort of external pressure to get my work done to the required standard. I appreciate that my managers and my coworkers trust me to do my job properly and to take appropriate action if I make a mistake (and we all make mistakes sometimes).

  17. JennG*

    I found this transition hard when I was first a mom and working part time from home – in 2006, so pre-most-social-media. For me it really was related to being in the same space as home and generally the overwhelming competing priorities. It helped me a lot to get into an office setting at that time. I work hybrid now and it works for me.

    I would really push a bit on that space – does a friend have an empty home office that you can rent? Is there anywhere you can work parallel to someone?

    Also yes to making sure you are building time into your personal schedule to have downtime. Is there an afternoon or morning on weekends where your partner can do all the childcare and you can go out and renew yourself (coffee and a book, exercise, see art, whatever.)?

  18. Exit-Stage-Left*

    Op – just another vote to add to “one day I just couldn’t work from home anymore”. It had nothing to do with kids or the work (it was similar work that I had been doing for years, and at the time I had no kids or other commitments) – just one summer the ability to separate any kind of work life balance evaporated.

    When I was “working” I was distracted and unfocused, and so in time I should have been recharging and resetting for the next day, I was (half) working to make up on what I didn’t get done during the day. The whole thing was one big grey mess.

    The only solution for me was to find somewhere else to work. There was no workspace options in my area, so I literally canvassed local businesses until I found a local company that had an unused office and would rent it to me. When they sold the business I ended up renting a tiny commercial space.

    This wasn’t even about social interaction or anything (the “offices” I transitioned to for the next few years I was mostly completely by myself, as I had been at home) – but I needed that hard physical distinction of “at work” and “at home” to keep boundaries.

    1. allathian*

      Before the pandemic, a friend who’s a freelancer rented office space from one of her biggest clients for years. From what I heard, her client really loved the arrangement because they had easy access to her in person. Her biggest worry was ensuring that the work she did for other clients remained confidential, but she managed. Her precautions included using her phone rather than the company wifi to go online.

      Just before the pandemic they moved to a house that had a granny apartment with a separate entrance. Their original idea was for her parents to move to that apartment when they got too infirm to live in their house, but because her parents were in no hurry to move yet, she decided to use the apartment as an office instead when the pandemic lockdowns sent everyone home whose work could be done remotely.

  19. Find Accountability Partners*

    Find accountability partner(s). Keep each other in the loop on what you are committing to accomplish that day/week (and the consequences if you do not).

    The office is not for me. When I worked in an office, my stress level always hovered around 30/100 at baseline sitting at my desk. Now at home, it is consistently 10/100. As measured by the same Garmin watch I’ve had for 5+ years.

  20. Essentially Cheesy*

    I’ve always preferred working in the office for many reasons. But it is convenient for me because I live so close to work (15 minute commute max). I know there are a lot of factors for people’s preferences so I know this is a hot issue.

  21. Number22*

    Yep, same here. My workday is the only alone time I have, and it’s so very hard to prioritize Work instead Enjoy-My-Sanity. My company has an office but the commute isn’t great and while there are people there, my team is not (they are spread around the country). Giving myself a to do list helps. If I have a task to focus on, it’s easier for me than saying “Well I’ll get to it later” since I don’t have super strict hours. Someone also recently told me, we don’t have to be rock stars all the time. Be disciplined, do the work, and know that this scenario won’t last forever. Sending you peace and motivation!

  22. SequinPantaloons*

    I’m a mom of young kids with 4 days WFH, 1 day in office, and I figured out that I’m not going to focus on work very well if there are dirty dishes all over my kitchen or my workspace is a mess and has been invaded by kid crap. So I just deal with that first after dropping off my kids and then I can focus. Perhaps LW has something like that caused by her kids? It’s ok to not use every last minute of your childcare for billable work hours.

  23. Laure001*

    I work exclusively from cafés. It has changed everything, I went from being a procrastinator (from home) to a rather focused and efficient person. God know why it had this effect, but it did.

    Now, you have to live in a place with cafés for this to work, obviously.

      1. Courageous cat*

        I am almost 110% sure everyone knows what a cafe is. And I’d say the vast majority of us probably live within travelling distance to one too.

    1. Metadata Janktress*

      I’m also a coffee shop productivity person! It started in college, when I would write papers in them because I thought that’s the type of thing “artsy” people would do. I think it has to do with having enjoyable treats like lattes while working which makes it “special” combined with people around you doing things so you don’t feel isolated, but not in an office drone environment.

      1. Laure001*

        Yes! And the subdued noises of conversation, the atmosphere inside, the view of the street. You are in the midst of life, not isolated from it.

    2. "It was hell," says former child.*

      I came here specifically to suggest working in coffee shops–somehow not being at home makes it easier to focus on the work. Other places that work for me are a local pizzeria, an all-night diner, and, strangely, McDonalds. The diner is so used to me that they give me a special seat in the back room, even when the back room is closed. McDonalds has better wifi than I have at home, plus there’s that light buzz of conversation around you w/o any sense of craziness. At any of these places, you probably need to buy something, but that’s OK… My McDonalds is so used to seeing me there that they actually let me stay past their dining room closing time so I can stay inside till my bus to go home comes at 11:30 p.m. (May not be relevant if you have a car.)

    3. allathian*

      It helps if you enjoy working with a bit of noise around you, but without having to worry about being constantly interrupted by your coworkers walking by your desk.

      It does require a job where you mostly read and write and only take the occasional voice/video call or meeting. Coffee shops in my area have been known to ask people to leave if they’re on the phone most of the day pretty much regardless of how much coffee they buy. It can also become a confidentiality issue in many jobs.

  24. Hills to Die on*

    Thank you for the mention of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination. Describes me to a T. Just being aware of this will help me allocate me time better!

    1. Statler von Waldorf*

      That makes at least two of us. My mind was actually blown by that phrase, and reading more about it gave me some serious food for thought about my sleep routines.

  25. LinesInTheSand*

    If it’s an option, may I suggest that you separate “thinking” from “doing” and start going on walks/bike rides/drives to let your mind spin on work problems? I find it’s really hard to get good thinking done in front of the computer (reddit is *right there*) and if I go on a walk and let my mind unwind, I come back with a better list of what I need to do and then I’m able to focus more.

    You mentioned you’re supposed to be available to your boss. Can you block out some focus time on your calendar where you’re not checking email/slack/phone? I know you mentioned WFH now as being particularly hard on your attention span, but so is having to be on call all the time.

    Good luck, and take it easy on yourself.

  26. trust me I'm a PhD*

    Discovered last year I have attn problems (am a woman in my 30s). Here’s what works for me.
    * I can’t block sites or stop visiting them, at least not for long periods of time, it just makes my brain seek out other distractions. AAM suggests giving yourself an hour once a day, which I assume implies that the hr/day would create greater focus the entire rest of the day, and for me it just would not have that impact of creating greater focus. I suggest working in smaller increments –– 15-20 minutes of billable time where you do nothing else, then a 5 minute break. Pomodoro.
    * Pick a music that your brain can associate with work. I have a few very narrowly selected artists/tracks/albums that I play to get work done, and when they’re on, my brain can focus better. If they’re not on, I don’t feel focused.
    * Try environmental tips, either changing your environment or your relation to it. I second those who suggest another space. I also have noise cancelling headphones to block out distractions. Change up the lights. Change where you sit. Get a chair that spins.

    1. trust me I'm a PhD*

      I second those who say body doubling, BTW. Do you have a friend who also WFH? That can be useful.

    2. CR*

      Putting music on is the #1 key thing for me. It has to be instrumental music, no words. It’s actually amazing the difference between how much work I get done with and without music.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I recommend video game soundtracks. They’re typically instrumental and long, and sort of vaguely urgent-sounding without being actively worrying.

        1. trust me I'm a PhD*

          I read once that video game soundtracks are perfect for focus b/c they’re specifically designed as background noise for thinking through problems.

    3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

      You just reminded me about when I was writing my thesis in college – my routine was to start up the Moulin Rouge soundtrack and write for as many songs as I could, then take a break for a song, then write again. For whatever reason that soundtrack was the right one for me then. I mean, I can’t ever listen to a single song from it now, but back then it worked wonders.

  27. Maleficent*

    this response was so kind and considerate. i love it. it’s so hard when you’re hard on yourself.

    1. joriley*

      I wish it weren’t semi-paywalled! I subscribe to The Cut (80% because of this column, tbh) but this is one of the most helpful and compassionate responses I’ve read to this kind of question, and I want to share it far and wide.

  28. Tau*

    I am another person who should not work from home (and also has ADHD, surprise surprise). In my case, I’ve decided that I’ll take the hit in terms of career opportunities and salary to only look for jobs that have a physical office within a reasonable distance. This is of course much easier as I am not currently *in* a purely remote job, and even during pandemic times I didn’t need to report my hours exactly.

    If I *did* have to go full-time remote, I’d probably consider some combination of:

    * work from coffee shop
    * find a friend who doesn’t mind me showing up now and then to be a coworking buddy
    * renting a coworking space
    * occasionally visiting my parents for a week or two straight to work from their place

    to at least get out of the house SOME of the time. Realistically, I’d still be stressed and unhappy by the setup, but this would probably let me get enough work done to manage.

  29. blood orange*

    OP – do you find the work interesting and challenging enough? I’ve always found if I’ve gotten a little bored with the work, even if it’s something/a job that I do like, I tend to have a hard time being productive. About 6 months ago I would describe my day similarly to yours (I was in an office but having a hard time focusing). Then I got a huge project, lots of people relying on me, the same work technically but a difference in application, and I’ve been really productive ever since.

    If you have opportunities to take on new tasks, or otherwise mix things up, that may help.

  30. Gabby*

    I suggest thinking about the possibility of depression – it can show up like apathy, burnout, or procrastination, not just sadness or anger. It wasn’t until my depression was recognized and treated that things started to get better for me

    1. kbeers0su*

      Also this. Not trying to diagnose, but I would say I see some of my 2020-2021 self in this letter and in this comment. I went on meds for a year and it really helped me through that.

    2. Festively Dressed Earl*

      +1 for getting a physical and mental health checkup in general. A lot of the commenters upstream are sharing things that work for neurospicy individuals because we recognize ourselves in LW: lifelong focus problems that went unnoticed because we’re high functioning, not realizing something was wrong until we got to the point LW is at now, calling ourselves all kinds of unfair names just for being different.

      I’m not trying to armchair diagnose; Alison made some good points about LW’s possible issues and solutions. I’m definitely advocating for getting a professional checkup because the things Gabby’s pointed out are often dismissed as a ‘funk’ or ‘just tired’ instead of symptoms. They’re the mental equivalent of shortness of breath or a strange rash.

  31. kiki*

    I work better from an office! I do appreciate the flexibility of remote work quite a bit, but working in an office just makes me 10X more productive. I have recently-diagnosed ADHD– I thrive with some imposed structure on my day and struggle to create it for myself (and actually stick to it).

    I like work in an office because of the positive peer pressure and the separation from home activities (can’t get distracted by my laundry, dirt on the kitchen floor, etc.).
    The biggest boon to me, though, is having an actual delineation between working hours and non-working hours. Otherwise, some days I’ll say, “Oh, I’ll peruse the internet for an hour now, but make that hour up later tonight– it’s no big deal!” But then I’ve been working off and on for 12 hours without being able to do the things that help me feel like a person, like walk, hang out with friends, etc. I’m less likely to tell myself “Oh, I’ll just do that later tonight” if I’m in an office already and would have to set up my laptop at home later.

  32. Lilo*

    My experience is that podcasts and audio books actually help a lot with this, because it helps diatract that jumpy part of my brain and keeps me from wandering off task.

    1. Not Your Trauma Bucket*

      This is me, but low impact TV. Procedurals, movies I’ve seen a million times, British mysteries…I have a TV next to my desk and keep it on low volume. Sometimes I catch myself paying attention to the TV, and that means I must immediately change shows. (side benefit: I found some really great shows for evening viewing this way.)

      1. Baby Yoda*

        Agree, something dull in the background (shopping channel, news, golf) will keep my mind from wandering.

      2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        I used to just leave on Court TV’s live court coverage in the background while I worked on schoolwork; it was never interesting enough to hook me in but it provided the right kind of background.

  33. KGD*

    I body double over Zoom with a colleague pretty frequently, and it’s great – we both have ADHD, and we both feel more productive with an audience. For me it works best when we start by naming the task we’re working on, and then check in from time to time to discuss our progress/roadblocks. Sometimes we get too chatty, which isn’t great, but overall it’s made a huge improvement to my productivity. We’re in an unusually lucky situation because we work closely together and share a lot of tasks, so we also have a habit of swapping tasks sometimes to wake up our brains a bit – she really hates report writing and I really hate staying on top of fiddly details in CRM, so we often trade. It’s a really awesome system for us.

  34. MLH*

    When I was doing more freelancing I found it helped a lot to simply work somewhere else. I’d go to Panera or whatever coffee shop was conducive to getting work done (don’t worry I made sure to patronize by buying some unhealthy snack every couple hours lol). Or it might be that the work itself simply doesn’t interest you any more…especially if you’re doing any kind of creative work, that kind of burnout is very real over time.

  35. Some Lady*

    I know some folks that would listen to “office ambience” YouTube videos in the background to help them focus! I personally will put on TV shows or movies I’ve watched a bunch of times before because I find it is harder to work in silence, and it’s kind of scratches the same itch as the background chatter you might hear in an office that you ignore, occasionally tune into, etc.

  36. Falling Diphthong*

    Some people are not cut out for work from home.

    However, as an adult sometimes you weight up the costs and benefits and decide that you will do something you are not cut out for for a period of time, because the benefits are significant. A boss who is reasonable and very flexible and pays well is always nice, but those valuations go up when you have littles to complicate things. (Or an elderly parent who needs care, sometimes unpredictably; or any especially attention-heavy things happening outside of work.) It might make sense to keep this set-up for a few more years if the flexibility is worth it.

    On top of the good advice about site-blocking apps and workmate-pair apps, I’d suggest thinking about ways to change up your environment. e.g. a folding screen next to your desk in the dining room can make it feel like you are now inside a space dedicated to work, to a degree all out of proportion to the physical separation. Or if you make a rule that work happens in your ergonomic chair and web-surfing for fun happens on the loveseat.*

    *I think a problem showing up in a lot of ways is that so many things that once happened in slightly different locations now happen on the screen a few inches in front of you. You don’t get the change of scenery of going to the library to look things up; you aren’t waiting until you get home from the office to physically switch on a TV, which is the only way possible to watch shows.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Based on that footnote, I am going to recommend the Hidden Brain podcast episode The Paradox of Pleasure, a two-parter with Anna Lembke about addiction. Specifically to things like internet surfing, where we get a little dopamine hit and so we do it again–one more time and then we’ll stop, oops, we seem to have done it 14 more times but this is the last one. The guest had a great example of how once we had to get dopamine hits by roaming around looking for food: we’d find a ripe fig tree, eat the ripe figs, and then need to walk a few miles to find some more figs. Nowadays you can order a box of perfectly ripe figs delivered to your door, and if you eat one there’s more, and if you eat the box you can get another box. Lots of instant fulfillment is not a thing our ape brains evolved to handle. (Relatedly, up until about 20 years ago happiness scaled with economic development. But recently, the people in the most developed places, who can instantly get whatever they might reasonably want (food, entertainment)–they are not as happy.)

  37. WantonSeedStitch*

    I feel you on this. I work almost completely remotely, and am mom to a preschooler. But he’s only in daycare/preschool three days a week, and the other two days he’s here at home (with care other than me). It is so hard to focus on the days when he’s home, and I feel SO fried at the end of those days even if I get very little done.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      I wrote this before I read Alison’s reply, and now having read it, I feel very much understood. Right now, I’m waiting for a meeting to start and my son is LOUDLY fighting naptime in the room next door and saying “MAMA COME INTO YOUR BEDROOM!”

    2. allathian*

      I know it feels rough when you’re in the middle of it, but this. too. shall. pass. It’s so hard when your attention’s being pulled in two or more directions at once, and the brains of parents (and other primary carers) whose kids are young enough to need constant supervision are programmed to focus on their children to the point that it generally takes an almost superhuman effort to focus on anything else when the kids are within hearing distance. Soon he’ll be in kindergarten and school 5 days a week. Vacations will still be an issue as his vacations are so much longer than yours, but small steps…

      I’m so glad I didn’t have to WFH when my son was a preschooler, as much as I love it now. He was very clingy and basically wanted me (or his dad if I wasn’t around) to hang out with him constantly, I know I wouldn’t have been able to work at anywhere near my usual productivity levels with him in the next room. But now he’s grown into an independent teenager who gets himself to and from school on public transit and who’ll let me work when he’s on vacation and I’m not. Granted, my husband and I don’t limit his screen time at all when that happens, although we’re happy that he’s a reader, and can read for hours at a time when he’s immersed in a book.

  38. BellyButton*

    I think Alison is right. When I was reading the letter it didn’t sound like LW can’t work from home, it sounds like she is overwhelmed, burnt out, or maybe even depressed. She said “3 small children”. Being a woman is tough- all the mental load, not to mention the physical recovery birthing 3 children- especially without a proper mat leave like countries outside the US have, the house, being a wife, planning the food, buying the food, cooking the food, buying the clothes, washing the clothes, putting the clothes away– its all exhausting.

    I saw a TikTok recently where a woman said she was tired, and in her next life she wants to come back as a tree for 200 yrs to rest. Then the life after that she wants to come back as the uncle who shows up to family gatherings with a bag of ice and hands out $5 bills to all the kids while he sips his drink. LOL .

    LW- I think a lot of us can relate. I don’t know what you can do– for me I just have to get up and go for a walk with my dog. I have to make deals with myself to work in bursts. The Pomodoro Method helps a lot. There are a lot of free sites that helps you manage the clock/time you work and don’t work. I worked for an hour, and then did some meal prep for dinner, and then came here.

    A couple of my friends who work from home and live close to each other go to one or the other’s house once a week to work together and have lunch. They said it gives them both time to socialize and they both said it helped them be more productive when they are alone AND when they are together.

    I hope some of the ideas from Alison and the commenters help! And maybe just knowing you aren’t alone will help too.

  39. Ho-ho-holey hose*

    Is there a co-working site/office co-op near you? If there is, you could book a space at one of those even just for a few hours/few days a week?

  40. Hiring Mgr*

    Yep, some people just work better in different environments. F.

    Also, as a parent, especially a mom, of three young kids, it’s always going be challenging :)

  41. BellyButton*

    My other post directly related to the LW is pending, so I will post a couple of stories where WFH isn’t for everyone– and it is ok!

    My company is 100% remote, but we did agree to pay for a shared workspace because we had an employee say they couldn’t function at home and we weren’t willing to lose them. Before the pandemic and during the pandemic he was fine being remote. However, after, he said he just didn’t enjoy it, he was likely depressed, and needed the routine of getting out of the house and having the opportunity to socialize. I am so glad he told us what was going on so we could make it work for him. That space can also be used by anyone who lives in that city. They will often coordinate to be there at the same time for socializing.

    I recently lost a great employee, she is a new grad and really needs the benefits of being in a office. Sadly, she lives in a city where we don’t have any employees that she could get together with in a shared office and she didn’t want to move to the other city. I will never go back to working in an office, ever, but for the employee I lost, that is what she needed, especially so early in her career. I hope in a couple of years I can hire her back!

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think your point about how making things work during the pandemic didn’t mean you would be okay doing the same things in all other contexts is really important.

      1. BellyButton*

        He was even remote before– for years. But that severe isolation just did something to him. I have seen it happen to people in different ways too. Some suddenly have social anxiety of being alone for 2 yrs, and for others they can’t be alone.

        And don’t get me started on the changes it had on my BF’s daughter- she was a totally adventurous, outgoing kid, and then had to be so isolated at five- for kindergarten. It changed her :(

  42. Irish Teacher.*

    I don’t think you are a “lazy slacker.” If you were, you wouldn’t be writing in for advice. Lazy people don’t want advice on how not to be lazy; it’s something they have chosen and they are pleased with themselves about it. Lazy people talk about what suckers other people are for working hard and boast about their cool hacks for getting out of work.

    If you were a lazy hacker who was looking for a way to do as little work as possible, you wouldn’t be writing in to ask for advice as to how to get more done. Lazy people want to do as little as possible. If they were to write in for advice, they would be asking for suggestions of how to get away with doing even less than they are currently doing.

    But yeah, I don’t think remote work works for everybody. I also don’t think in-person works for everybody. Just as physical work doesn’t work for everybody and more mental work doesn’t work for everybody. People are different and have different working styles.

    I think a lot of the problem is that we are at the start of the move to work from home, so people haven’t really had much opportunity to see the variations and decide which works best for them: work from home or in person or hybrid and of course, those of us over 30 chose our fields before it became obvious which would be done in which way, so some people are in a field that isn’t working the best way for them. I think the next generation will take into account whether they are a work from home or an in-office person when deciding on their career the way we take into account stuff like “do I want to work with my hands or more mentally?” “do I want to work with the public?” and so on.

    I remember when I was at college one of my friends telling me that I was “more of a college person” while she was “more of a school person” because she needed the structure of school with a teacher waiting for her homework the next day and rules about attendence (half the time I was trying to be the teacher figure for her, telling her “now, we’ve an exam tomorrow, so you have to be on time for class!”) where I do better when I’m free to do things my way.

    I don’t think either is better or worse, but it sounds like you might be one of those who works better with more structure.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Something clicked for me from your post because I am definitely a “school” learner not a “college” learner!

  43. Blue Pen*

    I feel this in a big way. I’m about to take on a new position in a few weeks, too, and so I’m hoping that will shake me out of the doldrums.

    As Alison said, it could definitely be burnout, but—and I might not be reading the letter correctly—it could also be the workflow or structure of your day. Do you have “normal” hours during the day when you’re working? Or are your work hours all over the place? Working remotely can exacerbate the feeling of “lawlessness,” but it might not be the actual physical setting that’s creating this for you—it could be that you need more of an established routine.

  44. Mim*

    OP, I want to give you a virtual hug. I have been there, sometimes still find myself there, and it can be really hard.

    I am not trying to diagnose anything, but the negative self talk is both familiar and the thing that I feel needs to be the driving force of your next steps here. I think (hope) you know that someone who cares so much about their work that they feel guilty about lack of progress, and driven to ask for help here, is not someone who is (in your words): “… a lazy slob who doesn’t have the basic self-discipline to sit down and work and, worse, ungrateful”

    You are a human first, and I think that taking care of your needs as a whole human is what is going to make working (and everything else) easier, whether or not you are in your ideal work environment. Please, if you are able, make an appointment with your doctor and tell them how you’ve been feeling. Life does not need to feel this hard, and negative self talk is not “normal”. Those are things I didn’t learn until way too late, and honestly, still need to remind myself on a regular basis.

    (But, for some practical WFH concentration advice, my go-to is noise cancelling headphones, a work-specific playlist of “ambient” music, and changing the lighting situation while I’m working to block out other distractions and make things “feel” different, since I don’t have room for a second desk dedicated just to work stuff. These things work well for me… when I’m not in a state where everything feels nearly impossible to the point that I’m calling myself lazy and ungrateful.)

    1. joriley*

      Exactly this! I just want to give OP a hug. Reading this raised all of my “negative self-talk” flags. (Thanks, therapy!) Our brains tells us things that aren’t true sometimes, and this is one of those times.

      OP, you are doing so much and trying so hard I hope you can be as gentle with yourself as you almost certainly would be reading this from the outside. It is not a moral failing if sometimes you can’t do it all.

  45. James*

    It might not be possible, but it might be worth looking for a nearby co-working space, where desks can be rented by the hour or the day, in order to reinforce the difference between working and not-working to LW’s brain. A few weeks of putting in a 9-5 with a commute may, I dunno, ‘reset’ things and allow a transition back to WFH. That’s worked for me, anyway. Obviously it’s not a panacea!

  46. JJ*

    LW, I think you’re
    —- bored with the work / with not having new challenges;
    —- feeling overwhelmed by taking care of “several” small children (more than three?) even though you have child care while you’re working — small children are overwhelming, and each additional one is exponentially overwhelming;
    —- possibly unconsciously resentful about having had many children in close succession and within less than five years of graduating (this is an atypical choice for modern women, and I wonder whether you were pressured into having so many kids in your 20s by your husband, your family, his family, atypical cultural/religious norms, etc.); and
    —- possibly depressed (you use some really hateful language toward yourself — lazy slob, lazy slacker, you lack self-discipline — and depression is often anger turned inward).

    I encourage you to get a complete physical, because certain physical ailments (such as thyroid disorders) can result in a low mood, and to find a good therapist who will either rule out depression or start you on the road to addressing it. Avoid pastoral counselors — they don’t know what they’re doing. You want someone who has at least one degree past a BA/BS, who is licensed, and preferably who has some experience working with young people who are burned out / young mothers who are burned out. Good luck.

    1. Jill Swinburne*

      This is a very good point – for ages I was struggling with exhaustion, irritability, very low mood, so I went to the doctor because a few people had suggested depression. Turned out it was a thyroid issue and things really improved after that. A while back I ran out of meds, got busy and forgot to get a repeat, and really noticed the difference.

      It is tough, all of it! Raising kids is extremely hard, working is hard, having a relationship is hard, so go easy on yourself and have a think about what the real problem is here.

      1. Zelda*

        A friend recently got diagnosed with a severe vitamin deficiency that was contributing to similar symptoms. So many things it could be… LW, definitely get a doctor or several on Team You. You deserve support through this, no matter what it is!

  47. T'Cael Zaanidor Kilyle*

    Phrasing this carefully and referring only to my own experience in the hopes of not running afoul of the “no armchair diagnosing” rule.

    I totally relate to this LW: I don’t think I’m lazy, I have no problem working hard and for long hours when I have to, but I frequently have trouble staying focused, find myself shifting rapidly from one thing to another, and the proliferation of browser windows and tabs that I can develop over just a few hours is absurd. After 20+ years in the workplace generally getting down on myself and thinking “am I just an undisciplined s—t,” I finally asked my primary care provider for a referral to a psychiatrist, who gave me a probable diagnosis of inattentive-type ADHD, and am hoping to start medication soon to see if it helps.

  48. Siri Headroom*

    Perhaps getting a “work buddy” might help. Maybe a friend who also works from home–you go to them or they come to you. If someone being physically there isn’t possible, YouTube has videos of people working, reading, doing homework. Sometimes having a “virtual buddy” working while you work will keep you in the zone.

    Not for everyone, but might be worth a try.

  49. Hakky Chan*

    One thing that helps me when I need to buckle down and concentrate, and my brain just does not want to, is to play some nature sounds in my headphones. There are a lot of 10 hour loops on YouTube. I usually start with staring at the lovely scenery for about 30 seconds, before switching over to the actual work.

  50. Leslie Santiago*

    I can’t offer anything additional on remote working as others have already said, but I’d like to see OP be kinder to themselves! It’s easy to berate yourself for your perceived failings OP but it sounds like you also do great work given how much your client is willing to help you out to keep you around and get as much out of you as they can. Cut yourself at least a wee bit of slack.

  51. kbeers0su*

    I’ve been WFH since the pandemic, which was not anticipated (I took a job in early 2020 with the expectation I’d report to an office someday, then they decided to get rid of offices). I also have two kids, and also struggle with all the the things you mentioned. I do sometimes feel lazy, but I’ve taken that word out of my personal lexicon. The reality is that when I was in office (for 12+ years) I always had downtime. I shopped online, or read this blog, or wandered down the hall to chat with folks, or went out for coffee that I “desperately needed”.

    Things that have helped me: I realized that being the WFH in my house (spouse is in-office) made me feel more responsible for home/kid stuff because I have a more flexible schedule and I’m home all.the.time. But reality is that spouse should still be responsible for home/kid stuff. They’re not exempt just because they have a commute. So I chatted with spouse and reset expectations there (which, surprise, surprise, were mostly my own expectations not shared by my spouse). I do have certain home/kid tasks that I schedule, like laundry on Fridays (when I rarely have scheduled meetings and can take breaks regularly to switch loads). I also have found that once the kids and spouse are out the door at 8:00am it’s best if I launch right into work. I get the most done in the morning. So I schedule my most difficult/meaty tasks for that time. Once I break for lunch (when I also do home/kid stuff or take the dog for a walk) I use my afternoon to do things that require less brainpower. And, if by chance I take a nap in there, so be it. Looking back, I never got much accomplished in office jobs after 2pm…except maybe in a mad dash around 4:00pm when I knew I needed to wrap up my day. So, the lull isn’t different, it’s just the setting and my own judgment of myself/my work that has changed.

  52. Massive Dynamic*

    I don’t want to armchair diagnose you with ADHD, but I will say that you sound extremely similar to me, and I armchair-diagnosed myself and then a real doctor diagnosed me, quite recently (and I’m middle-aged). Here is one tip:

    Task time – personally, I work quickly and efficiently, moreso than a good chunk of my peers (we see data on this b/c we’re an hourly billing company). I analyze this based on how long things usually take me to do completely and correctly, and add in a little bit of mind-wandering time as well. This should net out to a normal (normal-brained that is) person’s work. I track myself to this standard which gives me time to reset my brain by coming here, checking the weather, checking the news, etc. etc. If I’m having a particularly off day where I can’t focus then I try to shift tasks to easier things if possible so I’m not racking up a ton of time on something I’m usually quick at.

    So my tip to you is pay attention to how and when your brain works well for you and see how you can keep returning to that state. And don’t stress the small breaks – if you were in-office, these would be chit-chat with coworkers, going to the break room, etc. – things that organically come up throughout the day. To be clear, these small time wanders happen DURING your reportable hours as it’s reasonable to expect a human to not be on 100% every minute of the day. That’s what we have AI for.

  53. Sara without an H*

    Letter Writer, please take a deep breath and listen to yourself. In four short paragraphs you call yourself “lazy slob,” lacking in “basic self-discipline,” “ungrateful,” and “a lazy slacker who should get her adult together.”

    Do you always invalidate yourself this way?

    I couldn’t read Alison’s response (blocked by pay wall), but I hope the commenters upstream have convinced you that these issues are solvable and NOT the result of a flawed character on your part. Give some of their suggestions a try and see what works for you.

    But please, by all that’s holy: DO NOT TALK TO YOURSELF THIS WAY!

  54. Janeric*

    I’m in a similar situation to the OP (except with only one small child!) and part of the issue I had was definitely burnout adjacent. I try to take some vacation to be alone in my house and like consciously mess around on the internet or drink a cup of tea on the porch or just sort of rest with no expectation that I will parent/work/maintain a household for a few hours.

    It works great when it do it!

  55. Rebekah*

    My husband really struggles to work from home. Partly it is the distractions (we also have several young kids) but mostly it seems to be because his brain insists that home is a “non work zone, time to relax” and no matter how hard he tries he can’t truly get into “work brain mode” at home. Something about getting fully dressed, walking outside, and going somewhere turns on “work mode” for him. During lockdowns he would even spend a large portion of his workday sitting in his car because he found it easier to focus there than in the house (he still does this regularly although now it’s more of a weird habit then necessity lol). He also finds he works better in the vicinity of other people, even if he isn’t interacting with them. Usually he works out of a local chain coffee shop. Other options that could work are food courts, public libraries, or any other public spots where using a computer for a few hours is socially acceptable. He also tries to break up his day with different kinds of work. In his case he has a senior position with a non-profit so he can usually take some time to call donors or clients, do in-person outreach, connect with colleagues at partner organisations, work on strategic planning, write an article, or various other things that don’t make up the bulk of his particular job but aren’t outside his job description either. If you have some type of different work you can switch to for thirty minutes when you find yourself unable to focus any longer that may help a lot.

  56. MsJayTee*

    I think people have mentioned all of the strategies I was thinking of but I would add lazy slackers do not worry about slacking off, if you care about being a conscientious employee, which you clearly do, then there’s no way you’re a lazy slacker.

  57. cheeks76*

    Oof, I relate to this letter a lot. I started a new remote job a year ago, and I have ADD and a naturally later sleep schedule, so I’ve really struggled with discipline and staying focused (and I don’t even have kids!). It’s taken me a year to find my rhythm, and I finally think I have. Here is my advice:

    Pay attention to the times you feel most productive, and the times when you don’t. Set yourself up for success but accepting that it doesn’t make sense to push yourself when you know you’re really not going to work. Maybe there’s an hour late in the night when your kids are asleep that make it the perfect time for checking emails. Maybe Tuesdays and Wednesdays are much more productive days and Friday is just not it for you. See if there are any good work habits you do have and nurture those.

  58. bamcheeks*

    OP, you need to figure out whether the problem is:

    a) not enough billable hours because you’re diligent about trying to track the precise hours you’re working and always turn the clock off when you’re browsing, even though you always do the expected amount of work because you work fast when you *are* focussed
    b) not actually doing the work
    c) getting the work done, but feeling awful and guilty because this doesn’t match your pattern of what Working SHOULD look like.

    I decided I was number three, and that the solution was — stop feeling guilty. I get decent feedback from my managers, I have good relationships with colleagues, and I’ve steadily moved up into bigger and more exciting roles when I’ve wanted to. I also spend a LOT of time scrolling. I used to spend ages feeling guilty about this and beating myself up, and now I’ve decided that I’m mid-career and in a completely solid and well-respected place, so clearly whatever I’m doing right is making up for whatever I’m doing wrong.

    I’m also not being tracked super closely on exactly *how long* I work for, but on what I produce. (I’m not in the US so it’s not a formal exempt/non-exempt distinction— technically I’m contracted for a specific number of hours a week. But my manager is interested in whether my project meets its deliverables, not whether I’ve done exactly 37 hours a week.

  59. A Person*

    I don’t have any huge tips, but just want to say it’s nice to see so many other people like me. While I can manage a few days a week WFH, I *strongly* prefer the office, even when I’m on lots of remote calls.

    I do think some of it is the video setup – looking at a big screen in a few different meeting rooms feels worlds better than staring into my laptop all day.

    Also +1 to WFH meaning my brain is constantly thinking about all the home-stuff that’s not done, even though I don’t have kids.

  60. Perfectly normal-size space bird*

    No, you’re not a lazy slob or a slacker. Not everyone can slide into remote work as easily as working onsite and it’s absolutely NOTHING you should be ashamed of. Please stop describing yourself this way. Different brains work differently and no one should be ascribing morality to something like this. It’s not like we chose the brain we were born with (if we did, I’d definitely have chosen space doctor).

    My husband loves the idea of working remotely, but absolutely cannot do it because he gets too distracted (ADHD contributes to that). So he goes to his job onsite. But I don’t have an onsite option with my job, so I have to manage my own neuroses working from home. I’m both distractable and my default mode is procrastinating until the last moment. I somehow managed to get four college degrees doing this and try as I might, I have never managed to unlearn it in all that time. Getting distracted is especially easy when at home. There’s pets, neighbors, I’ll-just-google-this-one-thing, strange noises outside, household chores to be done, people who drop in unexpectedly because they think working from home means I can step away whenever I want, etc.

    I have to use multiple tricks to handle these tendencies. I set (non-alarmed) timers and make myself work on something for 15 minutes with the promise of a reward after. Those 15 minutes usually stretches longer because I tend to hyperfocus on that task and go longer than planned, which is one way I fool my brain. My brain thinks it’s going to get to look something up on YouTube after just 15 minutes and then when I come up for air, it’s been an hour. Then my brain has forgotten about YouTube because it’s so pleased at how productive I’d been.

    For the procrastinating, I have learned to embrace it and make it work for me, in a way. I know I’m going to languish on tasks until it’s crunch time, so I sort of schedule being distracted and use that time I know I won’t be working on what I’m “supposed to” by doing other things that may or may not need doing down the road, work related or not. Granted, it helps that my work has more frequent step deadlines over the course of the whole project rather than one final deadline, or else I’d wait until the night before and wind up sobbing until 4am trying to finish every task.

    It also helps that I found out when I’m most productive and better able to focus and set distractions aside. I found that I am the most productive either 4-8am or 10pm-2am. I don’t know if it’s because it’s much quieter during that time or my brain is tricked into thinking I’ve procrastinated and am trying to cram everything in last minute (probably the latter, given that was always the time I was frantically trying to finish writing papers in college). That’s not to say I don’t get work done during the day, but at least I know that I’m going to get far less done during business hours. It might mean shifting my schedule a bit or breaking up my work day, but I’ve been able to get more work done if I pick one of those blocks of time to work than if I only worked business hours.

    But most importantly, I don’t beat myself up if I procrastinate or get distracted. That’s not to say I give myself a pass for never getting any work done, but one thing I have learned in my life is that berating myself doesn’t actually get work done any faster or better. If anything, it just makes me avoid work and procrastinate even more, which makes it harder to get work done, which leads to berating myself, which leads to more avoidance, etc.

  61. No Yelling on the Bus*

    I don’t think it’s fair for the LW to call themselves lazy… that’s a catch-all term for not getting things done according to expectations, and there’s SO MANY reasons that can happen. The focus could be an issue, the expectations could be badly calibrated, there can be a knowledge or skills deficit, they could be burned out!, they could have a medical condition making it hard to focus or have enough energy (e.g. thyroid, depression).

    I just don’t think Lazy is the answer here. Shaming yourself into “adulting better” is not a fruitful path forward for longterm success.

  62. A*

    Wish I had an answer for myself re: the focus (exploring ADHD meds but it’s a complicated journey) but I did help my own guilt by charging per project (or for written or edited projects, by word) rather than per hour.

  63. Typing All The Time*

    I hear you. Sometimes, if I can, I’ll head to a coffee shop or my local library to work for a while. Will you client permit you to do the same thing?

  64. DifferentWorker*

    Remote work can be draining. When my job went remote in 2020, it was amazing. No commute, time to balance life, no extra expenses…Fast forward to present and I’m struggling. What helped me?
    1) Time boxing: take a planner and draw a box of 1 hour with very specific goal/task. Make sure there is a buffer of 30min. Add 30min to 1hr boxes for breaks.
    2) Visual timer from Amazon. I program it at the beginning of each “boxed time” and work much as I can towards the completion. My clock is green so the countdown removes green color.
    3) Go work at a local coffee shop or library. Just a change of scenery once a week helps.
    Keep testing different things and you will figure it out.

    1. Jaydee*

      I think there’s a huge difference between WFH in 2020/2021 and WFH now. In 2020 everyone was just trying to figure things out and get through each day. There were also A LOT fewer “extracurricular” things going on. We weren’t going out to eat, going to the movies, meeting up with friends, traveling. Kids didn’t have all the sports and activities and play dates and sleepovers. Now all of those things have gradually slid back into our schedules. So I think it’s important to do a whole life audit to see where your time and energy are actually going. O

  65. Bob*

    Focusmate 100% saved my job when I went to working from home fulltime. It made such a massive difference for my ADHD brain that I now use it for personal tasks as well. You basically get matched with someone for a specific period of time you choose (25, 50, or 75 mins), set goals to finish during the session, and report back on progress at the end. It added structure and some informal accountability. I still struggle because nothing completely removes challenges, but it has been a literal life changer for me. It might be worth experimenting with to see if it’s helpful in keeping you on track.

  66. Kero*

    Not specific advice, just commenting to point out that my conservative count yielded 7 instances of negative self-talk. You wouldn’t dream of saying those things about someone else, so please remember not to say them about yourself.

    I’ve been trying to remove “lazy” from my vocab, at least in terms of being less productive. I love a good lazy Sunday morning, but otherwise it serves no one. Being overwhelmed, feeling unable to focus, high workload, high demands in your nonwork life.

    My kids are in school now, but I still do that thing where I stay up way too late because the time to myself is just too wonderful. And of course, I end up hurting myself because it’s so hard to wake up, get kids to school, and get myself to work in the morning. There’s a name for this phenomenon, but I can’t remember it.

    A friend with much older kids once shared that when she had time to herself, she’d literally just zone out and stare at the wall.

    You’re doing some really hard things. You have a heavy burden at this point in your life. Nobody can handle that much stuff and give 100% to it all. Please be gentle with yourself.

  67. Dawn*

    Absolutely sure I am not going to be the first person to say this, but OP should also talk to her doctor. Especially having had kids.

    1. Bruce*

      Yes, I think there are multiple comments along this line but I’ll chime in too: LW might be depressed, especially with recent babies. Counseling and/or meds may help. I’m a guy but I’ve seen it up close, it can be really disabling and is not “laziness”… So LW please be kind to yourself. I hope your partner is emotionally supportive too.

  68. Wendy Darling*

    Googling “revenge bedtime procrastination” was a real punch in the face. D: I didn’t realize there was a name for that.

    The book “Laziness Does Not Exist” by Devon Price was a really important read for me. The first time I tried to read it I WAS NOT READY and had to put it away and come back to it, but when I picked it up open to the idea that maybe I was not the exception to laziness not existing, it was a real eye-opener.

    Now I try to remind myself that we are all just like my little dog: Just little guys out here doing our best.

  69. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    I recommend you try to find an office job with flexible working time.
    Just like someone who struggles in an office, or a night owl working in an early bird workplace or vice versa, work is hard enough without strugggling in an environment that doesn’t really suit you.

    You have the additional struggle of having less me time than before kids, probably less time than most people your age have. Are you raising the kids alone, or is there a partner who needs to take on more?

    Whatever, it’s natural to miss your downtime. Personally, I always preferred to plough through the day with just a 30 minute lunchbreak – which included a short walk – and 2 x 5 minute tea breaks, so that I had more time to myself after work.
    It maybe counter-intuitive, but would it help you to concentrate if you could look forward to more time to yourself after work?

  70. Selena81*

    OP might have been taught to think of spending time with their children as ‘a hobby’ that gives you energy after a day at work. But even the most devoted parent is going to need some brain-rest away from their children.

  71. Brain the Brian*

    I am once again coming to the comment section to gently remind armchair-diagnosers that the LW may have already sought treatment for ADHD, depression, and / or other conditions that would impact productivity but had limited or no success. I, for one, likely have some form of ADHD, but my other — more serious — neurological condition means it’s impossible for me to use any ADHD medication. Said condition also makes working from an office unpleasant (I’ve been carted out on a stretcher before), so I work from home as often as I can despite having trouble focusing when I’m not in-office. Anyway, the wealth of productivity tricks here are helpful.

  72. Scandinavian Vacationer*

    Is the child care for the several young children in your home? If so, of course, this is distracting your brain! You are likely hearing them throughout the day, and it is SO HARD to ignore the sounds of one’s children. To make this work, either you or the kids need a different space during work hours.

  73. iglwif*

    Since you do have childcare, and if a co-working space isn’t feasible, could you go to a local library to work? I did this when I first started freelancing (after working in an office for 20+ years) and I found it really helped me to kind of replicate the home/work division while I transitioned from being an office worker to being a WFH person, especially since at that time, with my kid still at home and using her bedroom as her bedroom, I was otherwise working full time at the kitchen table!

  74. JM*

    I found during the lockdowns, when 100% of my job was moved remote, that I struggled with many of the same challenges. Here are some things that got me through it:
    – In the same way that a bedtime routine wires my brain for bed, having rituals to move into work mode. For me this meant moving to a desk that’s just for work, getting a cup of tea and water, turning on wordless, dull music to stimulate my brain without distracting me (like a coffee shop ambience), etc.
    – Once there, I let my brain boot up for work with a non-work activity that didn’t have an endless scroll element. Short journal entry, to-do list, read the new AAM, draw a picture, whatever. This kind of created a softer transition into my brain thinking about work rather than the rest of my life.
    – Then I would start with the least painful, smallest feeling task first, in order to dip my toes in and get my work brain going (checking messages, for example, or anything data-entry).
    -I also would make scrolling distractions less convenient. For me the main risk is Instagram (I can’t even risk downloading Tiktok) so I delete the app and make myself use it through the browser, which doesn’t show up on my home screen, is much less pleasant to use, etc.
    -Take breaks that make me move physically through space, like using the bathroom, refilling water, even unloading a dishwasher. This gives my brain the feeling of a clear reset but also allows my mind to still be chewing on the work stuff while my body takes a break.
    I find that I work best when I really get sucked into work for long stretches of time, so these warm ups allow me to set the conditions for that kind of focus. The final thing that helped was realizing that I don’t work best in the 9-5 window but more of a 7-2 and then maybe an extra evening hour if I need it. Fortunately remote work allowed me to shift to when I was most productive.
    Best of luck! I know you’ll find a solution that works for you!

  75. Michelle Smith*

    I like the coworking streams on Twitch, although sometimes I find the selection of music being played is annoying. But it can be helpful to see other people working to get me to work as well.

    Giving yourself grace is important to. I’m currently struggling with a lack of motivation at work (I wfh for disability reasons) and beating myself up about it has never resulted in increased productivity.

  76. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    “That said, there are other people around in the office, making it harder to fully give into those impulses”
    I thought more that it would be a matter of “That said, there are other people around in the office, meaning you have to work harder at looking like you’re working, and you wouldn’t be deducting goof-off time if you were working in the office.

    This is one subtle way in which life is that much harder for freelancers than for employees. Given that OP is working 99% of her time for this one person, she really ought to be an employee. This is totally frowned upon in France, her client would be in big trouble if the authorities found out that she was working practically full-time for him.

    I agree with Alison that OP is not a slacker, for the simple reason that she is feeling guilty about not working as hard as she should be. I’m wondering whether she might not benefit from a medical check-up: after having several children, she could be running low on some nutrients such as zinc and iron, which can get seriously depleted during pregnancy and breastfeeding. And if the doctor prescribes more rest, she can then get that rest and not feel so guilty about it, and find some way to cut down on expenses instead of working herself too hard.

    Right, it’s now time to stop goofing off here and get back to my fascinating free-lance work!

  77. Marl Muck*

    I have ADHD and used to struggle horribly with working at home and the procrastination/shame spiral. Now, I work from home 100% of the time and love it. What really helped me was finding ways to trigger my body to let it know it’s time to work. I have a tiny desk set up in my bedroom facing the wall and away from the rest of the room. When I’m sitting there, it feels like a different space and like I’m at work. I also set it up so it’s cute, comfortable, and I like being there. The biggest thing is that I have a yellow light right by my desk that I turn on when I’m working and off the rest of the time. The different hue triggers work mode for me. It’s stupidly simple, but makes all the difference.

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