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How to manage your biggest distractions when working from home

Working from home can make you happier and more productive, but only if you set some firm limits on how you spend your time.

How to manage your biggest distractions when working from home
[Photo: Dillon Shook/Unsplash]

Offering flexible work arrangements is considered the most effective perk for attracting and retaining talent, according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management.

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The benefit for employers is that people who work from home tend to be more productive and happier, according to a new study by Porch, a website that matches homeowners with home service professionals. However, there are unique distractions to overcome that don’t always happen in the office.

According to Porch, the biggest distraction is the television; 76.1% of remote employees have worked with the TV on. The next is doing personal tasks while on the clock, with 64.6% of remote employees admitting to doing things like paying bills or online shopping. Other distractions include taking a shower, running errands, exercising, and going out for coffee at 27.6%.

“A lot of employees are catching themselves doing most of these things, but they’re also far more productive,” says Chris Lewis, project manager for Porch. “You can feel more inclined to take a break when you’re not in front of others, and once you get into that calmer mindset, you get an extra boost to get through the day.”

But just like in the office, distractions can be harmful. “If you are the type of person who can run a few errands, meet a friend for coffee, and go to the gym, and still put in your full work hours, it’s fine to have flexibility,” says productivity expert Laura Stack, founder of TheProductivity.Pro. “But if you’re the type who is unable to complete work tasks because your personal activities are interfering, you need a bit more structure.”

Here are a few ways to stay productive while working from home.

Set Work Hours

Flexible working arrangements can mean flexible hours, but if you’re not good about getting your work done and your performance is slacking, you’ll need to treat your home office like a regular office and set structured working hours, says Stack.

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Create a contract with yourself, such as “Work begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m., and I will take one hour for lunch,” she says. “Create and maintain the boundaries with yourself that will acknowledge your personality and allow you to be your best.”

Decide which distractions are allowed while you’re on the clock and which are not. “Perhaps you allow yourself to do laundry or watch television only during your official lunch hour,” says Stack. “Perhaps you can create an agreement with yourself that doctor’s appointments during the day are okay, but getting your nails done is not. You must be honest with yourself about how personal tasks are distracting you and resolve to change.”

Manage Distractions

Whether you work from home or in an office, the problem with distractions is that we’re conditioned to seek them out, says productivity expert Maura Thomas, author of Work Without Walls: An Executive’s Guide to Attention Management, Productivity, and the Future of Work. “Our typical environment undermines our attention span,” she says. “Our attention is diverted every 30 to 120 seconds from things like email. We’ve been habituated into distraction. We all suffer from this; it doesn’t matter location.”

The solution is attention management, says Thomas. “It’s about focus, mindfulness, single-tasking, and an ability to be present and engage in flow,” she says. “Attention management is your ability to manage your attention; it’s the antidote to constant distraction.”

The first thing to do is to control your environment and create boundaries, says Thomas. “If other people are home when you’re working, make sure they know when you’re not to be disturbed,” she says. “Create boundaries around your environment. If you honor them, others will.”

“Sit down and make a list of your worst distractions, and then write your own rules on how to counter them,” adds Stack. “What will be your personal agreement with yourself? When you stop doing these things and refuse to bust your own boundaries, you will become more successful and more productive.”

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Having discipline means that you make every effort to be aware of your weaknesses and create rules about what you can and cannot do during the day, says Stack. “If you struggle with turning on the television, put the remote in a drawer and post a sign on the television that says, ‘DO NOT WATCH,'” she suggests. “If you have the urge to take a nap, make your bed in the morning and put a sign on it that says, ‘DO NOT NAP.’ If you have your rules posted, it’s a constant reminder of your agreement with yourself.”

Manage Technology

Also, control your technology. “The more we allow it to interrupt us, the more we come to expect it,” says Thomas. “It keeps eroding and chipping away at our attention span.”

Reclaim your ability to focus by closing out email and working in offline mode, suggests Thomas. “Silence your phone or put it on the do-not-disturb setting,” she says. “Shut down Windows and do only one thing. If you need to, set a timer and commit to only doing this one thing for 20 to 45 minutes. Longer than that and it’s hard to stay focused; you get thirsty, need to stretch or get itchy to check your devices.”

Schedule Breaks

The best way to work is to focus on the task in front of you, then take a break, says Thomas. “The break has to be a different activity,” she says. “If your job is to write, don’t take a break that involves reading. It’s not a big enough break for your brain. Instead, walk the dog, throw in some laundry, or sweep the floor. This sends oxygen to your brain to keep you more alert.”

Everybody has the same amount of time, says Thomas. “Time is not the problem; distractions are the problem. You need attention-management solutions, not time-management solutions.”

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