In the conversations I often have with people who work remotely, or for themselves, coping with distractions when you work from home is among the main challenges.
We know there are plenty of distractions at the office, but at home they are different, and you need to adapt to these while also adjusting to working in the home environment.
It may not be a colleague interrupting, but it could be a child asking for your attention. It might not be phones ringing, but it could be next door’s lawnmower. And of course, one of the biggest distractions of all is that small pinging rectangle of temptation, the smartphone.
If you’re new to working from home, these distractions can be even more stimulating. Rather than being background noise, they become intrusive, and where there’s a distraction, there’s procrastination.
Everybody is individual, with different challenges in their home environment but these ideas will help you cope with distractions when you work from home.
Start with clarity
Get clear on your goals and priorities so that you are less likely to succumb to any potential distractions. With a firm idea of what you are meant to be doing and what you need to work on, it is easier to maintain focus and stay motivated.
In the long-term, we can gain real clarity on future goals through simply taking action and learning.
In the short-term, it is helpful to prioritise your tasks so you are not left with an overwhelming to-do list. Understand which ones are most important and the steps needed to achieve them so that you have a clear action plan.
To help you stay focused, this five-D process can help you gain clarity and organise your time:
Decide: Know what tasks you need to do.
Define: Breakdown the tasks into the action steps needed.
Deadline: Give yourself a time frame to work to (whether a future date or a short burst of time such as within the hour to keep yourself on track).
Declare: Tell somebody else your intentions or set goals with a mentor or friend which helps you stay accountable.
Delegate: When you know what you need to get done, work out which parts you can delegate so you only work on the important tasks which you are good at and motivated to do.
Time Management for distractions
Scheduling makes things real. When you write something into the diary, you are much more likely to focus on that task.
A method such as time-blocking gives you a structure to follow in your day so you know exactly what you are meant to be working on at what time and for how long. This means you are less likely to become distracted.
Importantly, remember to block breaks and space between tasks so that you feel re-energised each time.
If you find you need a short sharp burst of focus just to get started or do something small, techniques such as the Pomodoro method can help. Giving yourself a time limit helps keep you laser-focused on the task.
Communication to help cope with distractions at home
Children and family members are often a replacement for colleagues when it comes to distractions when working from home.
Setting clear boundaries with your household can include a simple note on the door to let people know you’re in a meeting or not to be disturbed. Also have regular conversations. By discussing your schedule, it helps your family understand when you cannot be interrupted.
You need to be able to communicate your needs while also letting them know you are not rejecting them; you just need time to concentrate. With children, it is really helpful to spend quality time with them first so they feel satisfied. They are then less likely to pester. Discuss something you can do together after you have finished your task as well so there is something to look forward to.
Remember what you are communicating to yourself as well. Positive messages about how you will get things done and how you intend to focus are much more helpful than telling yourself you always get distracted, you’re no good at time keeping, and you’re not sure how you’re going to get anything finished.
The power of fidgeting to focus
Professor Roland Rotz, a specialist in ADHD, spoke with The Homeworker about how to improve concentration, particularly with an ADHD brain.
He notes that some people may find a fidget, a secondary, minor background distraction helpful to keep your brain focused on the main task.
These can include things such as repetitive music, chewing gum, doodling while listening, or using a tactile fidget toy. It is often a sensory, rhythmic input that helps to stimulate the brain and fire up the prefrontal cortex.
You can read the full article in volume 2 of the print edition.
Learn more about music as a productivity tool here.
Switch off to switch on
Your phone can be one of the biggest distractions. From social media and email to all the app notifications, it can be a constant source of temptation. When you need to focus, turn off your notifications and switch alarms and calls to silent.
Out of sight is out of mind so try moving your phone away from your desk or into another room. This gives yourself the best chance to focus without distractions when you work from home.
When working at your computer, close any unnecessary browser tabs on your desktop, including email, as these can also prove distracting.
Avoiding the procrastination trap
Sometimes we tell ourselves we are working and being productive when we are doing peripheral tasks. Filling our day with low-priority jobs that keep us busy is a way of distracting us from the main, important thing we need to do.
If you are avoiding a task, it is easy to come up with a series of excuses and find other activities to occupy your time.
Try to tune in to when you do this and acknowledge that it happens. Try to get that difficult or less pleasant task out of the way first before you start busying yourself with other things and end up procrastinating.
You can find some ways to help overcome procrastination here.
Apps to help you cope with distractions when you work from home
Put the phone away, yes, but also make use of the technology. Certain apps can help you stay focused and importantly, not be tempted to touch the phone.
The Forest App encourages you to stay away from your phone by getting you to plant a tree as you start work. It will become fully grown as you work but will die if you touch your phone to leave the app during that time.
A similar app, called Flora, lets you plant trees and grow a garden when you focus on your tasks and keep up your habits. It’s more than a to-do list, it blocks distracting apps and encourages you to achieve your goals.
Both these apps also have environmental benefits in the real world as they partner with organisations planting real trees.
Freedom is another website and app blocking tool that lets you select certain sites and apps to add to a blocklist. It will not let you access those listed throughout your scheduled session. It also works across all devices.
Remember, not all mind wandering is necessarily bad. There are moments when zoning out can be beneficial for creative thought. If you are really struggling to focus, it might also signal that you’re in need of a break and a reset before starting deeper work.
Get lots of ideas and expert suggestions on working from home with more clarity and confidence with The Homeworker magazine print editions. These stunning quality guides are packed with articles, images, and interviews to help you lead a more healthy, happy productive, work from home life.