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Tips for Avoiding Distractions in the Home Office

by Trish Lomonosov / June 28, 2018

You’ve finally done it. After years of making the case that you could be just as productive – if not more so – from a home office, your boss has finally agreed. A great deal of your argument rested on the fact that there are fewer distractions in a home office. In a traditional office, a steady stream of coworkers stops in to chat every time a random thought pops into their head. Thoughts like, “Did you cry your eyes out during This is Us last night?” or “I hear polyester is coming back!” Your lunch buddies start tossing around the day’s options mid-morning. Salad? Sandwiches? Get crazy and eat sushi on a Tuesday? And then there are THE MEETINGS! Meetings that take place just because that’s what people who work in an office do. Whether it makes sense or not, they meet. Who needs all the distractions!??

Alas, you sit down to work on your first day in your home office, ready to hit the ground running! Ready to be productive, and free from distractions! But what you quickly learn is that teleworking from a home office comes with its own set of distractions. Let’s take a look at the type of distractions you may encounter in your home office and some tips for overcoming them and staying productive.

4 Common Home Office Distractions

1. Household Chores and Maintenance

It’s Monday morning. You got your bathrooms scrubbed and your laundry washed and neatly folded over the weekend, right? That’s OK. Neither did I. In an ideal world, we would be able to get our houses squeaky clean and organized outside of business hours so the need to clean would not weigh on us while we work. But in reality, most of us have other things we would rather be doing in our free time. Not to mention kids and pets who create an unending stream of messes, and things that break that require repair. It is tempting at times to let these household tasks distract us from our work.

2. Other Household Members

Let’s face it – when others are home during the work day, distractions can mount. The president of our company has a home office in his basement. For quite some time, his elderly father (affectionately known to our company as Grandpa) lived in his home so his family could care for him. One day during an interview that was being conducted in the basement office, water began to slowly drip from the ceiling onto the desk. The slow drip quickly turned into a flood that brought the interview to an abrupt halt. The source? Grandpa had overflowed the toilet in the bathroom above. Needless to say, nobody could have properly prepared for that interview!

Others in my company recall the time they were on a videoconference with one of our coworkers whose wife burst into his office in a panic. Her blow dryer had gotten stuck in her hair!

While all distractions may not be QUITE that extreme, it can prove to be challenging to work while children, spouses, roommates, or pets are home competing for our attention. Even children with regular childcare stay home when sick, and most school-aged children arrive home before the end of the standard work day and are home for the summer. Spouses or roommates can also throw things off if they, too, work from home or take a day off to stay home. Regardless of their reason for being home, one thing is almost guaranteed: they will distract you from your work at some point during the day. And then there are pets. At some point during our work hours, even the most patient pets will likely require attention.

3. Screens

Screens – and the time drain and distractions that go with them – are a product of the digital age in which we live. Information and communication are at our fingertips and it can seem impossible at times to block out screens so we can focus on work. Tallying up your Facebook likes, texting, checking the score of last night’s game, looking at your bank account balance, eyeing the stock market, playing silly games involving the crushing of candy...the list goes on. All of these digital temptations compete with our efforts to remain productive.

4. Nice Weather

The D.C. region has experienced an unusually rainy and dreary spring. And seemingly without fail, the small amount of beautiful, sunny weather we have gotten seems to fall during the work week. Who wants to sit inside crunching data or writing a report when we can step out our front doors and enjoy the beautiful day? A nice stroll, a little gardening, or just chilling outside in the yard. The desire to get outside on a pretty day can distract us from our work.

Tips for Overcoming Home Office Distractions

You may think it’s impossible to get a full day’s work done given all the things that compete for your attention while working in a home office. I would argue that by establishing some parameters for dealing with distractions in the home office, it is possible to be a very productive employee. Let’s take a look at some ways we can balance our need to get work done with the other things that compete for our attention in a home office.

1. Plan Ahead

By putting some thought into how our day will unfold in advance, we can control some of the distractions that could potentially upend our work day. Will you have to feed the kids immediately after work so they can get to soccer practice? Think about putting dinner in the crockpot before your work day begins. Is it likely that your kids will be home from school for a snow day? Build a community network so you can line up activities for your kids while you are working. Will your spouse be taking some time off to work on household projects? If your company allows it, pack up your laptop and head to the library or another quiet location where you can focus on work while he or she is hammering away. Did you check the forecast and notice that a day later in the week will be sunny and warm? Work a little extra earlier in the week so you can take advantage of the beautiful weather when it arrives without being distracted by it. By thinking ahead, we can anticipate distractions that will likely come our way and plan for them so they don’t put a crimp in our work day.

2. Set Goals and Rewards

Rather than allowing distractions to control your work day, take control of the distractions and use them as rewards for hard work. I like to establish project goals for myself throughout the work day. If I set the goal of drafting a chapter of a document or checking five items off my to-do list, for example, I allow myself a small reward once I’ve achieved that goal. I may return some texts from friends, take my dog for a walk, or throw some laundry in. Well, laundry isn’t exactly a reward, but I am allowing myself to break away from work to get something done around the house. The point is that if you prioritize your work, you can build in some incentives for yourself that could actually motivate you to become more productive. As silly as it may seem, scheduling your distractions as small rewards may be a way to increase productivity during your work day.

3. Silence Notifications

Is your email set to refresh every few minutes? Do your text notifications ding incessantly? Do you get alerted every time someone you went to elementary school with posts a photo of their dinner to Instagram? Have you ever asked yourself if it is truly necessary to receive that information the moment it becomes available? My advice is this: silence the notifications. Instead of all those pesky notifications distracting you from your work, check them periodically throughout the day when you come to a natural break in your work. In short, control your notifications rather than letting them control you.

4. Distractions Happen – Just Accept It

Just as certain distractions, such as chatty coworkers and Starbucks runs, exist in a traditional office, certain distractions exist in a home office too. Distractions are nothing new to business – they just change as the times change. Office workers of the 1970s may not have been tempted by screens, but instead it may have been cigarette breaks.

Let’s be realistic in the expectations we have for ourselves as employees. Yes, we are expected to be productive and should be prepared to show the fruits of our labor. However, realistically speaking, that does not mean that we will be working every minute that we are on the clock. In fact, I would argue that distractions can actually be healthy little breaks from our work that give us a little time to clear our heads and recharge. While it would be an unwelcome distraction for all of us to have a pipe freeze or a roof leak during our work day, some of the smaller distractions are simply to be expected, and just rolling with them is the best we can do.

Looking Forward

Since working from a home office is something of a newfangled concept for many, learning how to identify and overcome potential distractions is key to becoming a successful home office worker. We’ve taken a look at some of the today’s home office distractions, but who knows what the distractions of tomorrow will be? After all, could we have ever imagined getting sucked into the Internet back in the 80s? The distractions faced by home office workers are likely to change and evolve over time as technology advances. Buckle up and prepare yourself so you can master the art of home office productivity!

Tags: Telework

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Trish Lomonosov

Trish Lomonosov

Trish is a senior analyst/planning consultant for Fentress. She holds an M.S. in criminal justice and is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). Her personal interests include hiking, kayaking, and spending time with her two daughters.