As a freelance writer working from home, when I talk to my friends about my work, I find they always eventually ask the same question:
How do you manage to get any work done when there’s so many things to distract you?
The truth, sadly, is that I’m probably the most easily distracted person on the planet.
Whether it’s checking the mail, getting sidetracked by some old gadget I found in a drawer or turning every fleeting, random thought into a Google search that sends me down a rabbit hole of weird and wonderful facts, I can easily lose myself in any one of a million things designed to lure my attention away from the task at hand.
Whilst I’m not one for beating myself up about this -and nor should you be- it can pose a problem, especially when there are deadlines to meet.
So, I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with different tools, techniques and strategies in an attempt to completely eliminate distractions from my working life.
Here’s what I discovered:
Distractions Can Not Be Completely Eliminated, But They Can Be Reduced
Working from home, there are always going to be drawers full of stuff to play with, chores that need doing, and apps to check.
Even if we got rid of all that stuff and just kept the bare essentials that we need to do our work -let’s say a desk, chair, and a computer- there’s still an infinite number of websites to visit, Youtube videos to watch and other assorted Internet-based insanity to distract us from our work.
As such, the goal becomes not so much eliminating distractions but learning to work in a world where distractions exist without getting suckered in by them.
It is possible, trust me.
Here are just five things I’ve proven to be effective in reducing distractions when working from home so that I can actually get on, focus, and be productive.
1: Turn The Phone Off – And Hide It
When I know I have to really knuckle down and get something done, the very first thing I do is to turn my mobile phone off.
This isn’t just about eliminating the potential distractions of phone calls and text messages, it is about stopping that terrible habit of checking Instagram, Snapchat or countless other apps that cause the majority of my procrastination.
Simply turning it off and keeping it on my desk isn’t enough either. After all, it only takes a minute to flick it back on and indulge in all that app-y goodness.
No, once it’s off, it needs to go away, preferably in another room, hidden in a drawer.
Yes, this is extreme, but it’s also effective in getting rid of the biggest cause of distractions at work.
But What About Phone Calls for Work?
Voicemail is a thing.
I’d do anything I could to make sure my clients are happy, but I’m sure that they’re even happier knowing that, when I’m working on their projects, I’m 100% committed to it, and not getting distracted every time the phone rings.
Besides, when I’m focussed, most individual tasks only take me a few hour at the most. I turn my phone on when I’m done and respond immediately to any messages or voicemails.
Not once has this ever caused a problem or upset anybody.
2: Go Old School: Pen and Paper Still Work
A few years ago, I wrote an article for Lifehack.org called Achieve Faster Flow States: Swap your iPad for a Notepad, and I stand by this idea even today.
Technology is a wonderful thing, it helps us to work better, faster, and smarter. It enables us to do all kinds of things we never once thought possible and to live a life beyond many of our wildest dreams.
Yet this very same technology can also be the biggest distraction there is, a high-powered focus-killer that saps any sense of discipline and replaces it with procrastination aplenty.
If it’s not the phone, it’s the web, software, or even those old photo galleries stored on our hard drives.
It’s for this reason that I quite often just turn the computer off altogether and write my first drafts the old fashioned way; with pen and paper.
I find that my ideas flow better, that I’m more creative and more productive when it’s just me and a blank page.
When it comes to typing everything up, I’m so focused on copying everything correctly that getting distracted simply isn’t an issue.
3: Block Out Background Noise With Music
Of course, sometimes it’s the simplest things which prove to be the most effective. I’ve talked before about what a powerful tool music can be for drowning out background distractions and delivering us right to the deep heart of the creative zone.
A couple of posts you should read are:
4: Set a Timer and Work in Short, Sharp Bursts
Again, this is a very simple technique, but one that I’ve found to be highly effective.
I set a timer, typically for around 20 minutes, and make a deal with myself:
I will work solidly on the task at hand until that timer runs down, then I can indulge myself in as many distractions as I like.
Just knowing that I only have to focus for a short period of time is usually enough to bring me back on track when I find my thoughts drifting towards procrastination.
Meanwhile, the chance to go nuts after that time period runs out means I usually get everything out of my system so that I can focus even more during the next block of 20 minutes.
As I mentioned in my recent post, How to Survive and Thrive as a Freelancer, if 20 minutes is too long, there’s no harm in dropping it down to ten minutes, or even five.
5: Take Care of Yourself
When all else fails, it’s time to face facts:
It’s not the distractions that are the problem.
It might be that fatigue, hunger, or some other issue is at play, so it pays to tend to those basic needs first.
No matter busy we might get, no matter how urgent those deadlines, taking care of ourselves is essential.
After all, if we’re so tired that you can barely focus for even a couple of minutes, there’s no point in sitting stubbornly at the computer until we get the job done.
All that will happen in this situation is that the job will take you a lot longer to complete and be of much poorer quality than if we took a break, took a walk, maybe even took a nap.
Giving ourselves the chance to recharge makes us more alert. It also makes us much more capable of working productively in a world where distractions are inevitable and unavoidable.
The same applies for everything else too.
Hungry? Stop and eat.
So stressed about some non-work related issue that you simply can’t make progress?
Stop and deal with it.
You might not be able to eliminate distractions altogether, but you can choose to take actions that will help you to limit their impact, leaving you free to enjoy a happier, more productive day working from home.