I work from home and I can’t think of a place with more distractions than my messy, laundry-piled, pet-filled, toddler tornado of a home. There is always something else I could be doing, and there is often a chore I’m in the middle of, but somehow I’ve come up with a system that allows me to maintain focus at “work” even though there’s chaos right outside my office door. Here’s how I’ve done it:
1) Set up your work-space—I can’t overestimate the importance of setting up your workspace. If your office is cluttered and disorganized, you’ll spend lots of extra mental energy just attempting to focus on the task at hand while psychologically, all you really want to do is clean, sort, and organize the huge pile in the corner. Our psyches crave order, so when your office is orderly, you know where to find what you need, and it’s clear to you what to put your attention on next (your inbox or your high priority activities list), you’re much more likely to be able to focus on the task at hand.
If organizing your office sounds overwhelming, I recommend asking for help from a co-worker, friend, or family member, and if that doesn’t work, then hire someone to help you get organized. If you need a book for motivation, I love “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.
2) Protect your space from intrusions and common distractions—When I first started working from home my husband would unexpectedly walk into my office and start asking me questions about household stuff. At first I just thought it was annoying, but later I realized that these interruptions greatly reduce my productivity. So I had a little talk with my hubby and I established a “my workspace is sacred” rule. When I’m in my office with the door shut, the only interruptions should be for emergencies or very urgently needed information. Even my 2 ½ year old daughter respects my office space and knows that when I’m working, she’s not to disturb me.
This kind of boundary setting shouldn’t stop at physical interruptions though. You also need to turn off your personal phone, put the answering machine on your office phone (check messages and return calls no more than twice a day), and definitely turn off the “new mail” indicator on your computer. Checking your email every time there’s a new message is a huge waste of time and completely derails your focus.
3) Set the expectations of the people you work with—If you work in an office setting, you might experience intrusions and interruptions from co-workers or your boss. Let the people in your office know that interruptions reduce your productivity and you’d like to minimize them. Set up systems that will work for you and your co-workers.
For instance, you might tell everyone that you’ll check your email and respond to emails at 11am and 3pm every day, rather than responding to each message individually throughout the day. You may even implement a coding system by which people can indicate high importance and time sensitive emails vs. low importance get to it whenever you can emails.
4) Strategize redirection ahead of time—If there’s an interruption you can anticipate, figure out a way to redirect ahead of time. Send a co-worker to someone else who’s working on the project, ask them for a more detailed analysis, or schedule another time to talk. Sometimes even delegating more responsibility to the concerned party can allay their fears and lighten your load.
Reminding people that they too have power and that you can’t attend to every detail boosts their responsibility and trains them not to rely so heavily on you.
5) Take a moment to address the distraction—There are times when my daughter is home and she’s in distress and needs me right away. I understand that, and by taking a moment to connect with her, I’m actually teaching her that I’m available when she really needs me, which ultimately reduces the number of interruptions.
“Oh, you hurt yourself! Do you need a hug? I love you so much. I’m sorry you hurt yourself. Are you having fun playing with Grammy? I’m working right now, so I can’t play with you, but I bet Grammy will read you a story or do a puzzle with you!” Off she toddles happily.
Responding to your co-worker might sounds slightly different, “I know you’re concerned about the report, but I’m working on something else right now, can we schedule a time to talk about this later this afternoon? How about 4:00?” Jot it in your calendar, and get right back to your previous work.
6) Establish a regular reminder for your high priority activities—Working for myself means that I have to prioritize everything for myself, which I find quite challenging. So, in my moments of clarity, when I know what’s most important to my business, I create to do lists and mark the high priority items as such. Then, every time I find myself with unscheduled time, I revisit my “high priority” items and work through them one by one.
I find it easy enough to check my list when I have time, but if you just never seem to get around to it, set a particular time of day or an alarm or send yourself an email reminder to check on those items that make the difference for you between success and failure.
I hope these strategies are helpful for you and I would love to know what you think of them! Please leave me a comment below and have a great and productive day.