8 Tips for Managing Distractions While Working Remotely

Please do not disturb

By Stephanie Monge-Sherman

Are you working remotely and finding it hard to focus on work tasks? While frustrating, this lack of focus is completely normal. The reason for your wandering attention is because our brains have a limited conscious capacity. Translation: we can only focus on a small number of things at once.
When you work in an office environment, there are of course distractions, but the distractions in an office are usually (mostly) work-related. At home, your two worlds are colliding, and the diversions are multiplied. You may be feeling overwhelmed with task switching between work and home/life demands--and you’re not alone. However, companies now more than ever need their employees to step up and take action. There needs to be a desire for everyone to be committed to limiting distractions and to contribute their effort to go above and beyond, because of the critical nature of this crisis.

The Time-Cost of Switching Tasks

According to a University of California Irvine study, “It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task”. This finding explains how distractions can threaten your output. Think of the amount of time and productivity you could be losing every time you allow a distraction to steal your focus; potentially hours per day. Limiting these “lost time” moments, can make a positive impact on your business.

Like many who are new to working remotely, you may have created a makeshift office, possibly at the kitchen table, living room coffee table or even working from your bed. Depending on where you are in your home, you could find your productivity greatly decreased thanks to the new set-up. You may also have new “collogues” (your family members/pets/roommates) who are disrupting you.

In addition to a new workspace and new colleagues, you are also likely faced with numerous other distractions: your physical and mental health, concern for the economy, finances, food/medication, social media/technology and toilet paper (I wish I was kidding).

Don’t give up and resign yourself to a remote work-life of constant frustration. Here are 8 suggestions for how to manage distractions while working remotely.

How to Manage Distractions While Working Remotely

1) Develop a schedule--and stick to it. Make sure to set work hours, stick to your plan and if possible, post your schedule. Set specific break times where you can switch your focus from work to home life (chores, social media, news, etc.). Allow time for ergonomic breaks and give yourself space now and then to indulge in unapologetic, wanton distraction. It has a place--just not when you should be getting work done.

2) Workspace. If possible, create a specific location to work that is away from the noise of televisions and the high-traffic spaces in your home: ideally, a spot where it is quiet, where you are not straining your body being in an uncomfortable position for extended periods of time, and where you don’t have to constantly move your office things at the end of the workday (computer, monitors, work documents).

3) Set ground rules. If you have other people at home with you, make sure to set boundaries with your new “coworkers” so they respect that you are working. Let them know specific times in the day when they can disrupt you (ideally on breaks, unless there is an emergency).
Tip: Inspired by the Brazilian Steakhouse restaurant, make a sign and put a green circle on one side and a red circle on the other. If the red side is showing, you are NOT open to being interrupted, and if the green side is showing, you ARE open to being interrupted.

4) Avoid social media & turn off notifications. Drawing on the powerful principle of “out of sight out of mind”, if you do not have to have your cell phone visible, move it away from you. If you do, put it on silent and turn off notifications. Avoid checking social media and non-work messenger apps until scheduled break times.
Tip: There are apps available for download as well as settings in most smartphones that can assist with limiting social media use. E.g. iPhone/iPad: Settings->Screen Time->App Limits->Add Limits->Social Networking-> Add.

5) Don’t click the adds. Avoid getting lured into the online shopping world. If possible, use a pop-up blocker, or increase the size of your screen so you can block advertisements from view.

6) Turn off the TV/radio. The television and media are saturated with information that will capture your attention. If others are in your home watching television, make sure you are far enough away that it will not be a distraction for you. If you must share the space, have your back to the TV and be sure to wear headphones playing non-distracting music, like classical or white noise or ocean/forest sounds to drown out distracting sounds.

7) Get ready before work. As tempting as it is to roll out of bed and start working. Taking time before you start your workday to get cleaned up and dressed. You may not dress in work clothes, but even slipping into a pair of jeans and a clean shirt can help switch your mind from lounge mode to work mode. In addition to helping you feel more focussed, getting work-ready before you start your day can limit the desire to stop working and go clean up and dress in the middle of the workday.

8) Set goals & share. Set and share weekly and daily goals for what you have to accomplish, as these objectives will keep you motivated, accountable and more focussed.

When you’re working from home, distractions will happen. This fact is unavoidable, even in a home without children or roommates or pets or spouses, the mere reality of being in your living space means your work life and home life will collide. While this can be exasperating, especially at first, these tips will help you keep the distractions to a minimum and your productivity at prime. Remember that now more than ever, your company needs every team member to be committed to limiting distractions and to contribute their every effort to go above and beyond.

https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/chi08-mark.pdf Accessed March 24, 2020.