Work at Home Series: Dealing with Distractions
This is the third post in our “Work at Home Series.” If you missed the first two, I’d encourage you to check them out: Work Zones and Managing Communication. And don't forget to download the Work from Anywhere Workbook at the bottom of this post!
Distractions. We’ve all got ‘em. I have to tell you that even after years of working from home, dealing with distractions is still the biggest challenge for me.
I also have to tell you that the solutions are not rocket science. They’re common sense, and mostly come down to that dreaded phrase: will power.
And I admit that after I wrote that last sentence I got lost in my Facebook feed for 15 minutes…
So, if you want to hear from someone about dealing with distractions, I’m your gal! Read on for my hard earned tips and tricks for staying on task and producing at home when there are so. many. other. things. vying for your attention.
Note: If you have kids, you’re likely juggling some level of homeschooling them right now, right? That’s a big distraction when you also need to work. It’s also an extenuating circumstance, and one that we all have to work through right now as best we can. I’ll address some of my thoughts on that process as we move through the steps.
1. Name Your Distractions
Mine might be named something like Thing 1, Thing 2, and Thing 3. Oh, and my phone. Gardening. The notification tones coming from my phone for each message I receive on every single email and social media platform I use. The dog. Netflix. The laundry. The dishes.
Take a hard look and figure out what pulls you away from working the most. Then move onto the next steps with those specific distractions in mind.
2. Design Your Work Zones to Mitigate Distractions
We’ve already gone in depth on the various types of work spaces in our first post of this series, so you can read that here if you’ve missed it. But no matter what work zone you use, you can be mindful of your distractions as you set it up.
If the kids are a distraction, and if they are old enough, be brutally honest with them about not interrupting you during your work hours. Set up a sign on your door or even on the back of your computer, which lets them know when you are off limits. My assistant has the “blood, barf, and broken bones rule” when she is working. Her kids, ages 10-17, know that they interrupt her at their own risk if their interruption does not relate to blood, barf, broken bones, or anything else related to a grave safety matter. This doesn’t stop them all the time, of course, but it does cut down on the interruptions.
If your kids are younger, then it’s definitely harder. You will likely have to set them up with snacks and Netflix and work in short spurts during the day. And if they need help with schoolwork, you may have to shift some of your work hours to the late evening when they are asleep, if possible. Stay strong, Parents! You can do this.
For other distractions, like the dishes and social media, my biggest advice is this: out of sight, out of mind. Clean the kitchen before you start working, and turn off all phone notifications. Work where you physically cannot see the kitchen (or whatever cluttered space drives you crazy and calls you to clean it!). Setting aside time in my day to catch up on my phone, email, and house chores give me peace of mind when I am focusing on the task at hand. Setting timers and sticking to the time blocks I've set for myself helps me go from one task to another without guilt or frustration because I know what to expect and how much time different tasks may take.
Good ol’ will power. It takes more when you’re not in an office with the boss around or other coworkers to keep you motivated. Dig deep. You’ve got this!
3. Find Your Sweet Spot
Nope, I don’t mean work with a candy dish next to you.
One of the biggest lessons my team and I have each learned is that we all have a sweet spot when it comes to productivity throughout the day. Now, if your position requires you to be logged on during set hours, then this won’t work for you, and you’ll have to rely on the other ways to handle distractions. But if you have flexibility about when you work, then finding your sweet spot can take you far!
Maybe you’re a morning person. You work best as soon as you’re out of bed. Or you’re a slow riser but you are most in tune with your workflow starting about 10 a.m. until you break for a late lunch. Or perhaps you are a night owl, and either don’t have kids to drag you out of bed or your kids are old enough to fend for themselves while you sleep in after logging your work hours into the wee hours of the morning.
Whatever your rhythm is, lean into it if you can. Fighting with yourself about when you should be at your desk is not going to help. So find the sweet spot in your day when you are most productive, and prioritize giving that window of time to your work. You will get so much more done in a shorter amount of time!
This also applies to juggling all sorts of routines... even with kids.. Unless your not-a-morning person kid is required to be logged on to their virtual classroom bright and early, let them sleep in and start their day a little later. Pick your battles and all that.
4. Stick to a Routine
Some of us are more suited to routines than others. However, even if it is loose, give your days some kind of structure. That way when all you really want to do is binge watch that new show on Netflix, you have already set up boundaries for yourself to honor. So when you find that your brain has started wandering away from work, take a look at the clock and see where you’re at in your routine.
That doesn’t mean your work day must be rigidly set. Again, work in your sweet spot if you can. Build in time away from your desk, too. If you are lucky enough to be able to work from home, you have been given a gift. Don’t waste it. Use the time you’d normally spend on a commute to take a daily walk, play a game with your child, or meditate. When you’d normally gather at the coffee pot in the office, instead take a few minutes to check in with a friend or neighbor. Schedule in those times, and when you return to your desk you’ll be more focused and less prone to distraction.
5. Know When to Give In
This goes hand in hand with scheduling time for breaks, but it refers more to those unscheduled breaks. Nothing about our lives is normal right now. Some days, we’re just not with it. And some times the best approach to dealing with distractions is to give into them.
Again, your job may require more structure in your day, but if you need a break, take one when and if you can. If your child is struggling with an assignment, or is feeling a wave of sadness at missing their friends at school, give yourself some grace to ignore the routine, step away from work, and deal with life. Much like attempting to be productive outside of your sweet spot, pushing through with work when more important things--and people--truly need your attention (and that includes yourself!) only sets you up for frustration. Take a few moments to address what needs to be addressed. Breathe, and then regroup.
Tomorrow’s a new day.
Remember to check out the Work from Anywhere Workbook available below, and get on your way to becoming a Work at Home (or anywhere) Pro!
Oh, and if you do actually need a funny distraction right now, check out this Workin' at Home parody video (based on Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer). We're all in this crazy thing together!
All the best,