Remote work distractions have probably cost the economy billions this year. In fact, a study by Basex put the cost of procrastination to the US economy at $650 billion. That’s a worrying number.
Covid-19 really got the drop on 2020. It’s easy to beat yourself up for losing focus, even in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic, but trust us, you’re not alone. A whopping 42% of the US workforce was working from home, full time, during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Keeping focussed in the office was hard enough for some.
Google searches have exploded for queries like ‘how to focus on work’ and ‘how to avoid distractions when working from home’.
This article is our response. We’ve always been a fully remote team at Boost Commerce. Our staff are spread across several countries and time zones and generally work from cafes, coworking spaces, or their bedrooms.
We feel like we know a thing or two more than the average team when it comes to managing remote work distractions.
How to avoid distractions when working from home
The fact that you’re reading this shows that you’ve at least recognized you have a problem. That’s step one out of the way. Pat yourself on the back. Don’t open Facebook.
Step two consists of things you can do right now to improve your focus. These things also contribute to a long-term strategy of designing an environment and a working style that oozes productivity.
Grab yourself a cup of tea if you haven’t already, and let’s get into it.
You need a good work station if you’re going to be working from home for any amount of time.
Tip #1: Set up a designated workspace
This is the first essential step in removing remote work distractions. You need a dedicated space for working that is separate from your daily life. This helps you focus and also helps you to ‘switch off’ once work is finished.
Thinking too much about work after hours will gradually burn you out and this will, in turn, make you significantly more prone to becoming distracted.
Your desk should be arranged for productivity and preferably in a space with lots of natural light. One or two desk plants will also help your mood when working.
This is something businesses have been aware of for a long time now. In fact, 69% of businesses reported an increase in employee satisfaction when bringing in ‘healthy building’ features like indoor plants and wellness rooms.
It works for them - and it’ll likely work for you, too.
Arrange your digital space for productivity
A lot of people bang on about desks, but the reality is that once you get going on a laptop, you’re barely paying attention to your physical surroundings. It’s much more important to arrange your digital space for productivity.
That’s how your bookmarks should look - minus the Facebook and Youtube tabs!
Remove work from home distractions by getting social media sites out of your bookmarks. We’d recommend having separate internet browsers for work and your spare time so you can arrange your bookmarks for productivity when it’s needed, and be able to switch off easily later on in the evening.
Your surroundings are important to keep you focused, so don’t skimp on this area. Keep them decluttered and orderly.
Tip #2: Use the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is where you work for 25 minutes straight, then take a short break of around five minutes, then get back to work again. You repeat this until you’ve had four working intervals, at which point you take a longer, 20-minute, break.
So, it goes:
- Work for 25 minutes
- 5-minute break
- (repeat 4 times)
- 20-minute break
- Back to step 1
This technique is recommended by several productivity apps, as well as by the team at Google. It’s been proven to improve productivity and remove distractions by putting you in a ‘zone’ with a set endpoint. You know you’ll have a break as a reward, so you’re much more willing to focus during the 25-minute intervals.
The Pomodoro Technique gets its name from the Italian word for tomato.
You can optimize this technique even further in the following ways:
- Put your phone away during working intervals
- Actually set a timer - or use the chronograph or diver’s bezel on your watch if you have one
- Set a goal for the working interval
- Don’t ever overshoot the timer
- Go for a walk outside during the 20-minute break
- Do some personal journaling in breaks
This technique will prevent you from burning out or getting distracted during working sessions. It’s staggeringly effective and has exploded the productivity of our team members here at Boost.
Tip #3: Complete one task at a time
The urge to multitask can be strong when you’ve got a lot to do. Don’t cave in. Spreading your focus across more than one task at a time will reduce efficiency and likely result in your mind getting overwhelmed. This, in turn, leads to you losing focus and burning out.
Set your task and finish it. If someone else buts in and asks you to do something, refuse. Refuse unless it’s absolutely urgent.
You can tie this point to the Pomodoro Technique: pick a task, work on it for 25 minutes, and then repeat until it’s done. Then, and only then, can you begin the next task.
Home chores are work in themselves
Work from home distractions often takes on the form of chores like doing laundry, cooking food, helping out with the family, and cleaning up. Don’t do these in your breaks. These tasks should also be considered work, for the most part.
It’s not always easy to juggle chores at home and work. Sometimes your chores are alive and running around!
That means you need to set making dinner as a task within itself, and not something you do while filing the numbers on last quarter’s revenue increase.
One thing at a time. That’s the rule - and it’s often the hardest to follow.
Tip #4: Keep your appetite in check
Let’s face it, one of the biggest work from home distractions is the fridge. Mighty fridge, how tempting you are. You need to keep your appetite under control to stop you from routinely getting up and snacking.
This doesn’t just distract you - it makes you gain weight, as well. This is especially easy to do when you’re not leaving your house as often as you used to.
You can keep your appetite in check in a number of ways:
- Drink coffee. This is proven to reduce hunger and it makes you more productive - but beware, coffee also makes you less creative (although, only to a very minor degree).
- Eat dark chocolate: This is actually good for you - in moderation, of course. And who doesn’t want to scoff down on some dark chocolate with their coffee?
- Keep hydrated: This is important to do anyway as it gives you more focus. Drinking plenty of water will suppress your appetite for a while.
- Consume plenty of protein: Meals laden with protein are great for keeping you going through the day while avoiding the temptation to stare into your fridge every seven minutes.
You could choose to have a small glass of water or a piece of dark chocolate during your short breaks between 25-minute working sessions. This way, you’re combining breaks with rewards and thus further incentivizing yourself to push harder during work intervals.
Tip #5: Establish work rituals
Work rituals are a cheat code for learning how to focus on work effectively. These can be very personal and there’s no golden rule for what constitutes a work ritual. Some that our team use include:
- Watering the desk plant first thing before sitting down to work.
- Doing five minutes of stretching before work.
- Ticking off tasks from a list as you complete them.
- Repeating a mantra - yes, it’s a little odd, but it can work
- Clocking in and clocking out as you would in an old-school office
A fresh cup of coffee is one of the most common work rituals out there.
Rituals help set you up for a task. They ease your mind into the act of work, even when perhaps you aren’t up to the task.
Find the ones that feel right to you. These are personal triggers that make you aware you’re leaving one space, your personal and daily home life, and entering another, your dedicated working space.
Tip #6: Make sure your housemates know the deal...
It helps to have those you live with on board, whether they’re family, friends, or just housemates. Let them know that you’re working in your dedicated space and that you have set intervals with short breaks between.
You might set this up so one of your housemates sets their breaks at the same time as you, then you could have a quick chat between working intervals. Or perhaps you’d rather be alone during your breaks - that’s fine too.
Either way, getting everyone on board will stop people from randomly banging on your door or announcing themselves to you to explain some minor event in their day. This tends to happen when people can’t leave the house for extended periods of time.
Sometimes housemates can be difficult to negotiate with…
People can be a big distraction, so it’s good to keep them in check.
Tip #7: … But don’t starve yourself of human interaction
If you’ve ever worked in an office, then you know those subtle winks, taps on the shoulder, coffee station conversations, and lunches with colleagues. It’s hard to do this when you work from home.
Make sure you don’t starve yourself of human interaction. Doing so will set you deep into your own mind, where you’ll begin to wander and get distracted.
Having a quick conversation with a friend, colleague, or family member isn’t going to blow your day’s schedule out the window. In fact, it might just give you the quick release you need to stay focused for longer.
Here are some ways you can keep focussed and in the loop:
- Schedule daily, or at least weekly, calls with your team or supervisor
- Have a ‘break buddy’ you can quickly call
- Live with other work-from-homers? Meet in the kitchen for a ten-minute chit-chat!
- Chat with the neighbor over the garden fence
- Call a family member for a quick catch up
2020 will no doubt go down as the year people finally figured out how to do a proper online call.
Little bits of human interaction helps to break up your focus into manageable chunks. This is great for your mental health. Remember that when working from home.
So, let’s summarize. You need a dedicated workstation, plus you need to break your time into 25-minute periods with short breaks. You need personalized rituals and occasional - but not too much - human interaction when working.
Also, get a desk plant. They don’t judge you for your procrastination and they’ll listen to all your problems at work.
The most important thing, beyond staying focussed when working from home, is to look after your physical and mental health. There’s often a degree of isolation when working from home and this can lead to problems. If you think you need help, then do ask someone.
Okay, you can check your Facebook or WFH gadgets now.