How to Manage Distractions When You Work at Home

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Distractions can be tough! When you work from home it can seem like distractions are everywhere and an inevitable part of doing business.

When I started working from home full time, I knew I would need a plan to help me stay on task and be productive.

My previous experience working from home was less than stellar. I would sit with my laptop at the kitchen table, and every time I looked up from the screen, I would get distracted.

Dishes in the sink? I’ll just wash one or two.

Laundry done in the washer? I’ll pop downstairs to change it out.

Phone notification? I’ll just check that one post. (You know how that goes!)

Hours would go by, and I would suddenly realize that my work-at-home day hadn’t included much work. That experience had been just a day or two here and there for special projects. Working from home full time was going to be just that—working from home every. single. day.

If I was going to be able to make my work-at-home arrangement work for me, I would have to manage my distractions and be able to maintain my focus.

So what did I do handle the distractions?

I put in a lot of hard work developing my distraction resistance skills.

Preventing and managing distractions didn’t happen overnight. It has taken—and still takes—a lot of discipline. Four years in, I’m glad to say that I’ve come a long way when it comes to giving in to distractions.

If you’ve just started working from home, these four simple action steps will definitely help you work towards preventing distractions from derailing your work time.

Step 1 - Create a workspace that’s only for work.

This is the best thing you can do when you start working from home. Your office space could be as large as a separate room in your home, or as small as a desk in the corner of your living room. Optimize that space for you to be most productive by having it fully stocked with the supplies you need to do your work (and keep it clean!).

Train your mind to think this of this space as “work” and the rest of your house as “home.” This is key to having your office help you avoid distractions when working from home.

My “office” started out as a desk in our spare room. From where I sat, I couldn’t see mess or chores. I knew when I sat down at the desk I was at work. I could even close the door if I needed to.

When you step into your workspace, get started by telling yourself “now I’m at work.” Act as though you’re at an off-site office. It will take getting used to, but you can develop focus and concentration at your physical work space by intentionally setting your focus there for work-related tasks.

Step 2 - Set a work schedule.

Decide on regular, dedicated hours to do your work.

Every hour you’re at home could potentially be a time to work. While that might sound amazing—hello flexibility! —it can actually destroy your productivity and leave you prone to distraction.

Your brain needs rest from work. If it’s always thinking about the next time you will sit down to work, your brain is never getting a break.

When I first started setting a reliable work schedule, it felt so constricting. I had been working every available hour around staying home with my daughter, which included many nights and weekends. It was 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If it could have been 24/7, I probably would have done it.

But my brain was stressed out an on overload. Who works well like that? Moreover, who can avoid distractions on a tired brain?

I decided to only work 5 days a week and cut my evening work time in half. It felt like a big sacrifice for what I could be doing.

I have found that what felt like a restrictive schedule gave me even better focus during the work hours because I had to make sure that time counted. I could also be more relaxed and intentional during my down time, because I knew I was intentionally setting aside time for work and for rest.

Step 3 - Plan your work time in advance.

Come to your workspace, at your designated work time, with a plan.

Getting started on a task is half the battle when it comes to avoiding distractions, so don’t start work without an agenda. Come knowing you have a list of tasks to accomplish and make realistic goals of what you can get done with your time. 

At the end of each work session, make your next session’s to-do list to establish your scheduling habit.

You can also get the most out of each work session by:

  • Turning off computer distractions
    Use the Do Not Disturb feature on your computer, phone or tablet to set notifications to silent. You can also use apps like Self Control that allows to turn off distracting websites for a set amount of time.

  • Setting timers
    Break you work up into 30-minute to 2-hour chunks so that you can focus for shorter bursts of time. 

  • Tracking your time
    Keep yourself accountable by tracking in 15- or 30-minute increments. If you have to write each activity down, you’ll be more likely to avoid those distractions.

  • Turning off your TV, Audio Book, or Music
    Learn what tasks you can do while listening to music or tuning into Netflix. Tracking your productivity and time will help you become more aware what media is distracting to you and when. While it’s nice to think we can multi-task, a split-focus is almost never productive.

Step 4 - Get Your Family on Board

 Work with your family to help you work.

 In any work environment, people can be a help or a hindrance to getting work done. At work you have water-cooler conversations, office parties, meetings that run long. At home, you have kids who need “just one thing, Mommy,” or a spouse who is “just checking in.” The distractions can feel amplified with the entire family under one roof during work hours.

So, make it a group effort to get the work done by setting boundaries.

  • Agree on your designated work space and hours.
    Involve your family in your work by asking for their help in setting your schedule. Respect their need for your time and create awareness of what your work needs are.

  • Keep your schedule.
    Keep your agreed upon schedule by going to your work zone and working your designated hours. Leave your work zone when you have said you will. Ask your family to respect the time you all have agreed upon as work time.

  • Be fully present when you’re at home.
    Be fully present when you’re at work but be equally as present when you are at home with your family.

Give it time

It takes time to develop the discipline to stay on task and work efficiently. Don’t be hard on yourself if you find yourself slipping into old habits again and again.

Remind yourself of your goal—preventing and minimizing distractions—and keep working toward it! Over time you will see the results. I know I have!  

 What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to distractions?

What do you struggle with when it comes to working from home?
What techniques have you used to combat distracting environments?
Share your story with us in the comments!