Since March 2020, the way we work has gone through a drastic change. Though all industries have tweaked their working model in some shape or form, the workforce in IT has gone through a paradigm shift.
If you’re working in the IT sector, until 2020, you had a fixed cycle:
You’d wake up at 7 AM, brush your teeth, have breakfast in a hurry, put on the first available outfit from your wardrobe that is presentable enough(if you’re a guy), pick appropriate matching shoes(if you’re a lady), drive to work, spend the day in office, and come back home to your personal life. You’d attend a call or two late evenings.
But now, your working schedule has changed entirely.
You wake up, brush your teeth, work, have breakfast, work, finish personal errands, work, watch TV, work, work, cook, work, and go to bed. Your work and personal life are intertwined together like two snakes trying to mate.
I’m not bashing the new model because working from home has its benefits. You no longer have to rush through your morning chores or drive through traffic-packed roads to reach your workplace. The flexibility in timing allows you more personal and family time.
But, now your work and personal life overlap and occur within the same walls making you prone to various distractions that you wouldn’t face in the office.
In this article, we’ll talk about the most common distractions people face while working from home and tips to mitigate such problems.
- Common distractions people face while working from home:
- How to overcome distractions while working from home
Common distractions people face while working from home:
1. Erratic schedule:
Earlier, you woke up by 7, reached the office by 9(on most days), and wound up by 6. Today, you wake up 5 minutes before the first meeting for the day and stay awake until you finish your last task, read 11:30 PM.
Because your desk is less than 50 m away from your bed, you tend to take your schedule lightly and plan each day based on your calendar and workload.
2. Increase in meetings:
A 5 min walk to your coworker’s desk or a 4 people huddle in the corner of the office has now turned into a 30-minute meeting.
Earlier, if you wanted to look at an excel sheet with a coworker, you could sit beside each other, open the file and look at it together. Today, one of you has to set up a call and present it.
The worst part is, everyone has one such thing or another. Therefore, the number of meeting invites you receive has notoriously shot up.
3. More chat messages:
2 years ago, the coworker sitting on the desk opposite to you would loudly ask, “Hey Sam, where can I find the excel spreadsheet that’s due today?” If he noticed you’re deep into a task, he’d subconsciously wait until you appeared less occupied.
But today, ding. “You have a new message” pops up on the top right of your screen. Your focus goes out the window and attention residue seeps right in.
4. More phone calls:
Not everyone likes to chat or text. For a sophisticated question or a query that requires back and forth communication, many people prefer to pick up the phone and call. Therefore, instead of a meeting invitation or a chat notification, your phone rings instead.
Though phone conversations help in cutting down the communication time, they consume more time in other ways. For example, a spontaneous work call involves a conversation sandwich.
It begins with an exchange of pleasantries, followed by the topic of discussion, and ends with a random off-topic conversation, which can even span longer the rest of the call depending on how well you know the person.
When done mindlessly, phone calls can waste just as much time as meetings and chats, if not more.
5. Adhoc interruptions:
When you’re working from home, you lose the segregation between work and personal life.
Your roommate is attending a call with the door open, so you have to walk down to close your door to avoid interference. Your kid comes and asks you “When can we go to the zoo?” Your wife asks you, “Would you like a grilled cheese sandwich or fried chicken for lunch.” Your aunt might barge into your room, seek your attention for two minutes and leave. The plumber rings the doorbell to fix the leaking pipe.
I’m not saying you must ignore your loved ones or forsake all your responsibilities besides work. But the work from home environment overlaps professional and personal life. When you look at each interruption as one activity alone, it consumes only a few minutes of your time. But, when they occur time and again, they disrupt your focus, leave behind attention residue and collectively sabotage your productivity.
6. Distractions due to surroundings
Since you’re only a few meters away from the other rooms of your house, you’re prone to distractions. If you walk a few steps, you have the opportunity to lie on the couch and turn on your favorite TV show Friends. A few more steps and you can grab some popcorn and diet soda too. Even if you spend the next two hours binge-watching on Netflix, no one would know.
You might argue saying, “How does it matter if I watch TV during my work hours if I finish the job by the end of the day?” Well, it doesn’t. That’s because irrespective of how much time you waste you will do the necessary tasks. But in exchange, you’ll compromise sleep, and also postpone chasing the goals you really care about.
Work locations create social accountability where people on their desks spend most of their time working. Therefore, sticking to the end-of-the-day schedule becomes a straightforward routine. But during a work from home situation, the interruptions throughout the day can push your end of the day right before the time you go to bed.
How to overcome distractions while working from home
At first glance, the distractions while working from home appear inevitable. Many people brush it off saying, “such distractions are normal and a healthy part of working from home.” I beg to differ. If you’re working at all times just because you’re working from home, you’re displacing the exquisite balance between work and personal life. Even when you’re physically spending time with your spouse and kids at 2 PM, your mind is still deep within the report that you’ve to send to your boss by the end of the day.
Therefore, if you overcome distractions while working from home. not only will you be more productive but you will also experience peace of mind when you wind up.
So, here are a few tips that can help you achieve that.
1. Communicate with those around you
If you’re living with a roommate, or with a spouse and kids, tell them about your timings and your purpose behind trying to reduce distractions. Every person has a different take on professional goals, and often the person living with you doesn’t look always look at productivity or career growth like you do. That’s normal. But, you need to help them understand why a distraction-free work environment is important for you to ensure they don’t take your words personally.
That said, you cannot lock the doors or restrict people for the entire 8 hours that you’re working. Get creative with your distraction-free hours. For example, you can tell your spouse not to interrupt you from 9 AM – 12 PM unless urgent. Or you can close the door when you’re working on important tasks with utmost focus, and leave the door open when you’re completing shallow tasks like reading/replying to emails allowing your loved ones to reach out to you if needed.
Since every relationship has different dynamics, use your best judgment to figure out the method to pass the message to those around you. Soon after you communicate, you will notice how your distractions drop off drastically.
2. Follow a start and end time
Working from home offers the privilege to start and end your day whenever you like. On the surface that seems like an advantage. From a comfort perspective, yes, the flexiblity helps, but from an efficiency perspective, it kills your productivity.
When you’re used to a routine of starting and ending the day on time, your mind has lesser friction to get going. If each of your days looks different, your brain has to adapt every day and prep itself to get started. Such activity consumes energy and therefore your body tends to take the easier route of procrastinating.
If you start the day at the same time each day, your brain will operate on autopilot. Besides, it keeps your food intake on schedule too, helping you maintain better health and physique.
Equally important is to end your day at a fixed time. I had the habit of finishing my day whenever all my tasks were done. Sometimes that was 8 PM, sometimes 10 PM, and sometimes 1 AM.
Not only was it detrimental to my sleep schedule, but back in my mind, I worked with the attitude, “I have ample time. If I cannot complete the job, I will stretch myself.” That’s when Parkinson’s Law kicked in and each task took longer than necessary. When I forced myself to end the day at a specific time, my mind realized that it needed to operate more effectively.
When you set a fixed number of work hours for yourself even if your job allows flexibility, you will address your loopholes of mindless prioritization and lousy efficiency.
3. Decline meetings
A common practice I’ve observed when people don’t want to join a meeting is to mark it as “maybe”. That’s a smart way of evading the hassle of declining a meeting.
But, if you want to make the best of your time, you have to get comfortable declining meetings. Only join a meeting if you can offer or gain value from it. Do not join meetings that lack a clear purpose or an agenda. Don’t hesitate to ask the host for more details when you cannot figure out why the meeting was scheduled.
Many people have the habit of accepting every meeting invite they receive. But you need to flip the switch and become more mindful. Approach every meeting invite with the mindset, “Ok, I’m declining this meeting. Let me see if I can find a reason not to.”
The practice of rejecting meetings will feel uncomfortable at first. But over time, even the people around you will become more conscious about inviting you only to the right meetings.
So, put your foot down like an elephant trampling an enemy and decline meetings. The more meetings you accept, the more invites you’ll receive. Only you can stop the juggernaut.
4. Turn notifications off
Be ruthless about the notifications you receive on all your devices.
- Stop emails from throwing a notification on the right top of your screen. Most emails don’t need you to act right away.
- Stop chat messages from making a ding tone which throws you off focus.
- Put your phone on DND so that calls and group messages don’t derail your attention off the task you’re working on.
At first, you’ll find yourself struggling to remain away from the various modes of communication you’re used to. You might wonder, “What if I receive an important email or chat message and I fail to look at it?”
Those situations are possible but far less likely than your mind believes they are. Over time, people around you will realize that when a situation is critical, they have to call you. If your job role doesn’t allow such an approach, set aside 5 min every hour to glance through your email and chat.
For the last 3 years, I have kept my phone, emails, and chats on DND throughout the day except for 8 PM – 11 PM. No serious consequences have ever occurred.
Check your notifications when you want to, not when your devices want you to.
5. Segregate the workplace at home
You need two boundaries between work and personal life when you’re working from home.
- Separation of time(discussed in tip 2)
- Separation of physical location
If your work desk is right in the middle of your hall, you’re inviting distractions. For example, your TV is just two steps away, people walking to the kitchen will stride past you, and you will become the designated person to open the door when the doorbell rings.
For high productivity, you have to separate your workspace from your personal life. Find the most suitable corner which helps you work with focus thereby creating a physical boundary for a work-life balance.
6. Induce friction for easy distractions and reduce barriers to productive habits
James Clear speaks about the ease of adhering to habits based on how easy or difficult it is to stick to them.
For example, if you have toffees on your coffee table, you feel like picking one up, unwrapping it, and popping it into your mouth every time you walk past it. Likewise, if you sign up for a gym that requires you to commute 30 minutes, the discomfort can prevent you from exercising even though you want to work out.
Therefore, as a rule of thumb, make it easy(reduce friction) for yourself to follow good habits and make it harder(increase friction) to reduce bad habits.
Here are a few examples:
- Don’t leave the TV on all the time. The background music can tempt you to sit down on the couch and spend an hour. Or you might choose to watch TV for “some time” as you walk past it.
- Keep the remote far away. Even if you sit down on the couch to watch TV, the moment you realize that you need to walk and pick the remote, you might change your mind.
- Keep a large water bottle on your desk. That’ll encourage you to drink more water compared to taking the trouble of refilling the empty ball with a trip to the kitchen
Identify ways you waste time and use your creativity to introduce friction for such activities. Similarly, recognize the barriers you face to cultivate good habits and think of ways to ease into that behavior. The more you assist your brain in making the change, the sooner your body will follow.
Working from home has offered the comfort of reduced commute time. Several people are quick to mention that they’re more productive at home than at the office. While that statement is true for many, the question you must ask yourself isn’t if you’re more productive at home or office. Rather, in the current circumstances, you must ponder if you’re as productive at home as you could be.
How productive are you at home right now? Do you have distractions that you could reduce?
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.