How To Avoid Distraction When Working From Home

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

You know the talking dogs in Up, who will stop whatever is happening, no matter how dramatic, freeze, and yell “Squirrel!” at random moments? That’s kind of how I am when I’m working in my apartment. Except that, instead of “Squirrel!”, my litany of distractions goes something more like “Phone! Refrigerator! Dog! INTERNET! Husband! Laundry! ANYTHING THAT ISN’T WORK!” Avoiding distractions when you’re working in any situation is difficult, but avoiding distractions when you’re working from home is a special brand of impossible. Sure, you don’t have to deal with unnecessary meetings or chattering coworkers, but you also don’t have anyone who can see you (and therefore judge you) if you wander off into your kitchen or start cruising your favorite blogs. It certainly doesn’t help that most of us who work from home are tied continuously to our phones and computers, which somehow manage to be essential to getting work done and endless sources of procrastination at the same time.

Staying focused while working from home takes a healthy dose of self-discipline – something that’s much easier to write about than to actually acquire – but there are simple, concrete things you can do to minimize your distractions. Keep reading to find out how.*

1. Make your boundaries clear

Most of us are our own worse distractions, but the people around us can be major barriers to productivity, too. The difficult thing about working from home is that some times the people with whom you live have a hard time really getting that you are working. After all, when they’re at home, they’re off the clock, so it makes sense that, even if they know you’re working, they might not quite believe you, and they feel free, therefore, to talk to and interrupt you while you’re trying to focus.

Because of this, it’s very important to draw clear “work time”/ “home time” boundaries and emphasize to others that, when you’re on the clock, you are not to be disturbed. If you have a separate office, keep your door closed (and maybe even locked) when you’re working. If you’re partner or roommate is at home as you work, steer clear of the common areas (after all, it’s fair if they want to relax and watch TV or chat while in shared spaces), and find a place where you can be alone. If you don’t have a separate office, try wearing headphones as you work. They’ll help muffle distracting sounds, and they’ll indicate to others that you are not paying attention to them.

2. Shower and get dressed for work

When working from home, it’s easy to stay in your pajamas all day and never shower, but the ritual of showering in the morning and putting yourself together (even if that just means that you’re putting on clothes that are only one step up from pajamas) can do a lot in terms of switching your mindset to “work mode.” You’ll be less likely to be distracted by TV and other things if you feel like you are actually “at work.”

3. Have a schedule—with breaks

The great thing about working from home is that no one is there to tell you when to take lunchtime or breaks. But the bad thing about working from home is that no one is there to tell you when to take lunchtime or breaks. It’s important to give yourself a consistent schedule everyday, which includes not just a start and stop time, but times when you’ll take a break to eat lunch, 15 minutes in the afternoon to stretch and move around, etc. It’s very easy to get restless when you feel like there is no end in sight to your workday. In my own experience, at least, I’m much better able to focus on something if I can tell myself definitively, “OK, I’m going to work for the next hour and then take ten minutes to make a cup of tea.” (Yes, I talk to myself. When you work at home alone, you get a little weird.)

4. Stay in communication with the your office

If you’re working remotely for a business, you can help yourself stay focused by staying in communication with your bosses and colleagues. I’m not suggesting that you pester them, by any means, but by checking in once in a while and asking necessary questions, you can remind yourself that the fact that you’re at home doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out there expecting you to get your work done.

5. Get organized

It’s hard not to feel scattered when all of your stuff is literally scattered all over your house. When you work at home, you might not have any bosses around to check that your office doesn’t look like a house from Hoarders, but it’s still important to be organized. Make sure that all of the stuff you need in order to work is easy to access, and get rid of unnecessary clutter and junk.

6. Move around and change positions

It’s important to have all of your stuff organized in a central place, but it can be a good idea to work in different areas of your home if you’re getting distracted. Start the day at your desk; after a few hours, move to dining table. Also try putting your body in different positions. When I’m flagging, I find it helpful to go stand with my laptop on my kitchen counter and work from there; simply stretching out a bit wakes me up.

7. Go work at a coffee shop once in a while

Distraction is often motivated by boredom: You’re alone in your apartment, you’re bored, and so your brain is looking for things to do that are more fun than working. It can help to do things that stimulate your brain; it may be counterintuitive, but sometimes it’s easier to focus when there’s some white noise to keep you just a little distracted in the background. So, once in a while, head out to a coffee shop (or a library, or somewhere else with Wi-Fi. Probably best to avoid the bars, though!). You’ll feel so happy to be out of the house that work won’t feel quite so onerous.

8. Reward yourself by leaving the house at the end of the workday

When you’re working from home and your plans for the evening are to…continue being at home, it can be hard to feel really motivated to finish whatever you’re doing; it’s easy to keep half-heartedly tapping away at something all night long. If you give yourself something to do in the evening—a yoga class, dinner out, happy hour with friends, even just a really nice walk before sunset—then you’re setting a real end to the workday and giving yourself a good reason to get stuff done.

9. If you simply...cannot...focus, just go with it. And then come back to work.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you are simply not going to be able to focus. You’re tired, you’re bored, you’re scattered...whatever the reason, it’s just not happening. That’s OK. In those cases, the best thing to do is to accept that feeling and take a break. Try to spend a few minutes releasing some physical energy: stretch, do jumping jacks, walk around the block. Turn up the music and dance like no one is watching! (Because no one is watching. This is why working from home is awesome). Then go back to work with a clearer head.

*I realize that this very post presents a quandary: Does reading a post about how to avoid distraction count as a distraction? It might. If I were you, I would tell myself I was doing important efficiency-improving research, but I might not be the best person to listen to because really sometimes... Ooo, look! A squirrel!

Images: Drew Harron /Flickr; Giphy (5)