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Working Remotely: Managing Distractions

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This series on “Working Remotely” is inspired by “Remote,” the book by the 37Signals guys, and by my own experience working remotely for many years.
One of the major advantages of working remotely is escaping the hustle and bustle and constant interruptions in the office. But working from home presents its own unique set of distractions and challenges.
The Remote authors laid it out plainly:

People’s homes are full of distractions. Between soap operas, PlayStation, cold beers in the fridge, and all the laundry that needs doing, how can you possible get anything done at home? Simple: because you’ve got a job to do and you’re a responsible adult…Keep in mind, the number one counter to distractions is interesting, fulfilling work.

Amen to that!
But there’s more: two of the primary distractions are family and friends who think you’re suddenly available at all hours of the work day and, of course, web surfing.
The easier of the two to remedy is managing expectations of your family and friends. It doesn’t mean that you say no to hanging out or doing favors; like everything else, you schedule it. It actually helps to say yes or else you’ll end up stuck in your home until the bell rings at the end of the day, because there’s always more work to get done. Saying yes allows you to schedule lunch (and take it!), and short breaks to walk the dog or play catch with your kid. These scheduled breaks result in a healthier and happier you, and a more productive day. What more could a boss ask for?
The other major distraction – endless web and social surfing – is not as easy to remedy, and it’s not a problem unique to work-at-homers. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, news sites, the list is endless. If you’re a political junkie, the weeks around election time are especially challenging. And, if your work involves scouring the channels to engage, promote, and produce content, you’ll need to create strict time limits around your surfing habits. Use Buffer App to schedule social media posts of interesting tidbits discovered when surfing during the time you allotted. This will save you from having to hop online every hour on the hour to keep up with a consistent posting schedule.
Television is a big distraction for some, while others like the background noise. I’m not a fan of television (that’s not to say I don’t watch quality shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime) so I never have it on, but I’d suggest finding another white-noise source or working in a room that doesn’t have a television. Studio apartment dwellers in New York City and elsewhere are out of luck here. Honestly, I don’t have any magic-bullet solution for this one so if you have suggestions, please add them in the comments below. Perhaps DVR your favorite shows to watch later? I’ve never used a DVR since I don’t have cable but my friends swear by it.

Turn off email notifications and only check it at scheduled times. While you’re at it, turn off all notifications on your computer and all audible ones on your phone. Well, except for calendar notifications. You don’t want to start missing meetings and appointments. Emails can become a huge, frustrating time suck. This is magnified when you check it during moments you don’t have time to respond. Clear 30 minutes a couple times a day to read AND RESPOND to (and delete!) emails.
If you still find it difficult to manage distractions in your home, like during a particularly juicy news cycle or visiting relatives, head out to the library for a few hours. If you’re a noise-in-the-background person and the library’s too quiet, try a coffee shop. After the initial distraction of people everywhere and the din of myriad conversations, you’ll be forced to focus on the task at hand. Whenever I have problems focusing on a task, this seemingly counterintuitive practice helps.
There are many other distractions – like the dog I co-parent, whose other parent thought I suddenly had all this time to spend with the little tyke. I turned that around by using his home as my office one day a week. Win-win-win. You’ll discover many other distractions, and if they become too difficult to handle, you may have other problems, as the Remote guys note:

Most people want to work, as long as it’s stimulating and fulfilling. And if you’re stuck in a dead-end job that has no prospects of being either, then you don’t just need a remote position–you need a new job.

Distractions will happen whether it’s the content of your fridge, television programs, or kids home from school. Some may even be productive ones, like doing the laundry or vacuuming. Finding ways to focus and manage those distractions will result in productive work days that don’t seep into your evening and nighttime activities.
POSTS IN THE SERIES:
Working Remotely: The Many Benefits
Traits of an Effective Telecommuter
How to Manage Work-at-Home Employees
A Productive Home Office
Managing Solitude
Communication and collaboration
Managing Distractions
Managing Time, Boundaries, and Balance
Evaluating Employee Performance
Company Culture Beyond the Office Walls
How Lee Rosen Moved His Law Firm to an All-Remote Workforce
Working Remotely: Have Computer, Will Travel