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Working from home can be challenging for many, especially if you aren’t used to it.
Depending on your current life situation, you may find it hard to be productive in a place that your brain usually associates with “after work” rest and relaxation. You may even think that there are too many distractions at home and it’s just not for you.
Sadly, it’s not always up to you to decide. There are various times and circumstances that require you to work from home, like:
- obviously, this whole lockdown situation is a huge reason for working remotely
- commuting takes a big chunk of your day that you’d rather spend doing something useful or interesting
- or maybe you are an individual entrepreneur who doesn’t really need a separate office for oneself
- office spaces are pricey and not worth it at the moment (especially if you are starting a new business!)
- you are on maternity or paternity leave
- or maybe cutting office rent from your expenses lets you save money to buy something cool!
Whichever it may be for you, no matter how big of a procrastinator you are now, you can gradually learn to become amazingly productive at home! The trick is to find all the pitfalls that ruin your day and deal with each of them one by one.
That’s exactly our topic for today: distractions in your home office!
Earlier I talked about how you can specifically minimize smartphone time if you are easily distracted (check it out, there are some useful tips there for a phone-addicted person from the 21st century!). This time we’ll take a look at 3 main sources of interruptions that are super common for someone who works from home.
Home environment can be totally different for everyone, depending on:
- who you live with
- do you have children and pets
- what is it that you do
- if your friends and relatives take your work seriously
- your neighbors and your neighborhood
- your good and bad habits
- whether you have any systems in place or use any helpful tools
- how addicted you are to social media platforms
- whether you have team members or work alone
- …and more
That’s why you need to look critically at your own day and uncover your personal biggest distractions to tame!
As an example of someone’s perspective (which can be either similar or totally different from yours), watch this hilarious realistic video made by a person who struggles to work from home!
Anyway, I was able to hand-pick a few things that are very common interruption factors for most people but can be effectively beaten. For each of them, I’ll give you some practical steps you can implement to make sure they won’t affect your day too much anymore.
So are you ready to become more productive at home? Let’s do this!
Here are the top 3 most common distractions that stop you from being productive at home: let’s see how you can deal with each of them!
Distraction #1. Family members and friends with no boundaries
When working from home becomes necessary, single people who live alone are the lucky ones!
If this is you, you may as well skip this particular point and go straight to the next one. You basically have a personal office already that is even better than a real office full of distracting coworkers! The only thing you need to do is turn on Do Not Disturb mode on your smartphone for your office hours and you are good to go.
However, if that’s not your case and you indeed live with your life partner, a few kids, more relatives or a roommate, that’s a potential well of distractions right there! Especially when you are setting up a new routine and the whole working at home concept is new for all of you, you definitely have some work to do to minimize the “people interruptions”.
What you can do: Set some boundaries
Well, this one is simple to understand but not that easy to implement.
First of all, have “the talk” with every person who is part of your life on a daily basis. Let your close ones know exactly what it is you are doing and why it’s important to you. If you have a schedule for your day, share it with everyone as well. Ask friends not to call you during your working hours and don’t answer the calls if they do anyway.
Explain that even if they don’t understand or approve of your work of choice, their acceptance is what’s important to you at the moment.
Implementing boundaries is usually easier with adults but there are a few things you can do to teach your kids that their mommy or daddy is busy and shouldn’t be disturbed.
- Have a fixed workplace.
When your kids see you sitting in the dining room with a laptop they might not even realize that you are working. As soon as you declare some specific place at home as your office and sit there whenever you need to work, they’ll start to see a pattern and treat it accordingly. The perfect case is, of course, having a separate room for your home office, but that’s not possible for everyone, so work with what you have.
- Look busy.
When you are in the same room, put a pair of noise-canceling headphones on and look serious. Come up with simple hand signals so you can clearly stop someone when they are coming your way. Wearing more or less professional clothes instead of pajamas or your usual homewear also gives everyone a clue that you dress up for work and not just sit there watching a TV show or something.
- Make them take you seriously.
If you already had the talk and your children still come knocking at your door all the time, you need to use more practical approach to teach them the right behavior. What you say means much less for them than what you do, and if you say you are busy but still respond to their every call, they get mixed signals from you and therefore never leave you alone. Explain to them again that you can’t be disturbed when you are in your office, and make an effort not to respond to the knocking until they learn.
- Develop a reward system.
If nothing else works, you can always promise a child some treat if they don’t interrupt you, say, for two hours in a row. As soon as this starts to work and depending on their age you may gradually extend this timeframe. By treats, I don’t mean unhealthy sweets, at least not all the time. Come up with small perks according to their preferences and make it worth it for them!
Distraction #2. Email notifications
Emails can be a huge distraction and accumulate really fast if you don’t have a system to manage them regularly!
Personally, I struggle with this one a lot when I don’t stick to my system (I’ll list my approach in detail below).
I am a person who is always accountable, responsible, and such. Therefore I used to receive immediate notifications and answer messages and emails the moment someone needed me.
If you happen to be like me, you are in trouble.
Being this accessible can make you look great and arguably professional and benefit other people a lot but it’s not healthy for your own productivity and performance.
Don’t worry, you just need to find a way to organize your email-handling time in the most efficient way. Defining your personal approach comes through trial and error but I’ll share mine so you have something basic to play with!
What you can do: Find a system that works for you and stick to it
In one of my favorite books called 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss shares his way of managing emails. He checks his inbox twice a day at a specific time like 11 am and 4 pm, and he lets his team members know whenever he changes this routine.
Of course, Tim’s approach might not work for everyone!
For me, the most effective way is to check emails in between two or three bigger tasks during the day. So my process is something like this:
- I turn on Do Not Disturb mode in my Gmail extension when I’m working on a big task.
- After I finish a big measurable chunk of my to-do list, I give myself a few minutes to peak at emails and respond to everything that allows a quick response.
- I archive or delete emails I’ve read right away so my Inbox is always clean.
- I also unsubscribe immediately if I see something of no interest to me. This way I avoid wasting time deleting those subscription emails over and over again.
- I don’t open/read long emails or I mark them back as unread whenever something requires more time to interact with. There is no reason to read them twice so I address them at the end of the day when all my main tasks are done.
- In the evening I dedicate 10 minutes to an hour to those emails left than require more attention. I LOVE seeing “No new mail” message in my inbox so I always aim to keep it empty for the next day if possible (of course, I’m not perfect and there are ups and downs but I really hate the cluttered inbox!).
This was my routine that I found works best for me but yours may be totally different!
Try out different approaches until you find the one that works best for you and fits in your schedule! This is the case when any system is better than no system.
Distraction #3. Pets seeking attention
This picture speaks for itself, doesn’t it?
If you are a happy owner of one or several “fur babies” that roam freely around your house, you don’t need me to tell you how utterly disrespectful they can be to your focused state when they need your attention. Here are a few funny real-life examples if you have an extra minute or two!
Puppies on your knees, kittens on your keyboard, dogs under your desk already create too many distractions at home, but things get even worse when it’s time for an important Zoom meeting. While you can use tools like Krisp to cover up noise from dogs barking or playing in the background, there are many other creative ways your fur family members can ruin your productivity.
What you can do:
- Get your pets tired in advance.
Go on a long walk and make sure they get enough exercise to leave you alone for a while. At the same time, make sure not to exhaust yourself as there is a long workday ahead of you and you may need that energy!
- Distract them strategically with good toys.
Give your dog something to pay attention to instead of you! Many pet owners name chew toys to be the most effective for entertaining their puppies during the remote working day, no matter how big the puppy is!
- Take frequent breaks that benefit you both!
Sitting behind your laptop all day long is harmful to your health in many ways. Every doctor will tell you to give yourself a break every once in a while. When you are stretching your back and resting your eyes, why not cuddle with your pets to give them that so much needed attention?
A happy pet means a happy owner! Do everything you can to make them content and busy during your work hours.
Bottom line on how to avoid distractions at home
Here you have it: three main sources of distractions in your home office workspace. Hope you find my solutions useful and they help you become a more productive home worker!
According to different sources, it can take more than 20 minutes to get back into a flow state with your task after a short seemingly harmless interruption. That’s why it is important to make sure you minimize distractions as much as possible and find yourself in a wonderful productive flow every work day!