In the age of social distancing and telecommuting, working from home become the new norm for people around the world. And while the lifestyle certainly has perks, it can be difficult to stay focused when your boss isn't looming over your shoulder. Top it off with an "office" full of kids, unwashed dishes, dirty floors and piles of laundry, and the distractions can feel endless.
If you're ready to kick procrastination to the curb, read on. Below, we explore the most common distractions that arise when working from home, and speak to experts about the best strategies for avoiding them until after closing time.
If it feels impossible to work in a messy house, try to do a big clean before the work week begins. This strategy lets you honor the distraction (in this case, a dirty house) before it shakes up your workflow. By setting aside time on Sunday to clean, you'll simultaneously be protecting your future self from feeling overburdened while also indirectly setting your mindset for a productive week ahead.
Bonus: You can also use this approach to limit other distractions. For example, if you frequently catch yourself scrolling through Facebook, set aside a specific time do it, suggests Tanya J. Peterson, N.C.C., a counselor in Eugene, Oregon. "When you recognize your distractions, you can actively work to minimize them," she says.
2. Other Household Tasks
Have you ever stepped away from your workspace, only to find yourself organizing the pantry…again? Consider taking regular breaks to get random tasks—like making the bed or checking the mail—out of your system. It might sound counterintuitive, but here's how breaks are beneficial: According to Danielle Wayne, L.C.S.W., L.I.S.W., L.I.C.S.W., therapist and founder of Millennial Therapy, taking breaks helps us see the workday as smaller chunks of time (say, 20 to 30 minutes) instead of one long workday. These smaller bits are easier for our brains to manage, making it easier to avoid procrastination while we are actively working, she says.
3. Social Media and Email
When it comes to work from home, turning off social media notifications on your phone and computer is one of the best things you can do for productivity. "When notifications pop up, they create a distraction [that you] may feel obligated to respond to," explains Kimberly M. Martin, H.S.P.P., a clinical psychologist in Indianapolis. On the flipside, when notifications are disabled, you'll be more likely to stay on task. Tempted to mindlessly scroll and swipe? Close your inbox (unless you're actively answering to emails), exit out of apps and place your phone in another room. Out of sight, out of mind.
When your kids are your co-workers, the idea of a smooth workday can feel impossible. In this scenario, take a tip from Martin and make a point to check in with them regularly. This will remind your kid that they matter, she says, which may limit how often they seek attention by way of interruptions. To use this strategy, "set a timer to sound every 20, 45 or 60 minutes," recommends Peterson, noting that your work intervals can be longer if you have older kids. "When the timer rings, give your kids your undivided attention even for just five minutes before returning to work," says Peterson. Consider starting them on an activity they can continue after you returning to your laptop or conference calls, or encourage them to participate in a short walk or stretch with you for the entire break. This way, they'll feel like they're spending time with you instead of around you.
It's common to feel anxious about work-from-home distractions, let alone your workload. In turn, the anxiety can be just as distracting as its source, but developing a routine may help. "A routine can help our brains know when it's time to work," explains Wayne. Routines also support our sense of control and certainty, shares Peterson. Try to work in a morning routine that includes anything from coffee or getting dressed to quiet meditation—just as you would if you had a commute. This small habit can curtail stress and anxiety, and, ultimately, the cracks in mental focus that allow distractions to sneak in.
Establishing a solid flow in your home office, like most things in life, requires practice and patience. It will take time to recognize your distractions, motivators and ideal workday structure. Until then, let yourself experiment. The more open you are to trial and error, the more likely you'll find what works for you.