December 15, 2019

Jennifer Hanford

Comeback Corner: The Deal with Distractions—and How to Manage Them


Anyone who works from home will agree that some days are better than others. The good days are those when you’re able to cross everything off your to-do list before midnight. Most days, however, are ripe with distractions. Of course, this will be the case wherever you may work. However, working from home, even as a virtual employee, comes with a unique set of challenges.

When I first started my virtual freelancing business, I chose to set up an “office” at my kitchen table. I like being able to look out a window and see green plants while working, plus my home is very quiet during the day. Although it involves picking up my laptop and moving my comfy rolling chair out of the way before family mealtimes, it’s totally worth it. When I tell people I work from home, many say they couldn’t do it because of the potential distractions. Trust me, the distractions are everywhere, and the interruptions are frequent. I admit that they do affect my productivity (and sometimes, my mood!).

Fortunately, I really enjoy the work and the people I work with, I can really feel the great team spirit which makes all the difference. Especially on the most chaotic days, such as when I have a report that should take an hour, but it ends up requiring four hours to complete. Or those days when everyone’s request is “top priority.” And then, there are those days when Facebook memes, Twitter trending topics, or Black Friday sales suck me in. Sigh, you get the idea.

Multitasking is a Myth

I used to believe I was a multitasking queen. It turns out that I was no such thing—nor is anyone else who claims to be one. According to Dr. Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D. in an article for Psychology Today, we could be losing as much as 40 percent of our productivity by trying to multitask. She goes on to explain that multitasking is a misnomer:

People can't actually do more than one task at a time. Instead we switch tasks. So the term that is used in the research is ‘task switching.'

Yes, that sounds about right. Task switching, when you have dozens of tasks on your plate, means things may or may not get done. If they do get done, your work’s quality may be less than impressive. This brings us back to dealing with the distractions that force us to multitask in the first place.

Dealing with Distractions When You Work From Home

Since I have a household to care for, along with working most of the day, achieving balance is key. This means I fit in tasks like doing laundry and cooking in addition to posting content on social media accounts for clients. I ask my kids about their days while writing content. And I get cleaning done somewhere in between, usually while having online work-related conversations. Distractions still happen, and sometimes they do take me off task, but it’s possible to take control and work through them. Here are a few tips that help me on any given day.

  1. Play music in the background. My cable provider offers all sorts of music channels, and they’re all commercial-free. I mentioned earlier that my home “office” is tranquil during the day. Sometimes it’s too quiet. Listening to a little classic rock playing quietly actually helps me stay focused on my work. Even better, I can sing along, and no one ever has to know!
  2. Create a routine and stick with it. This one’s not always easy, but it really helps me stay on task. Here, I’m referring to a personal routine rather than work. However, since I work from home, they do cross over some. For example, I make myself take an hour-long lunch break every day, regardless of how busy I am. Knowing I have an hour away from the computer to relax in the middle of the day helps me to work harder before and afterward.
  3. Don’t give up; give in! The truth about many distractions is they just won’t go away. I can tune out some interruptions and focus on more urgent tasks, but unrelenting trivial things will sometimes vie for my attention. Rather than constantly fighting against them, I set aside a specific amount of time for scrolling through social media, checking out the deals on Zulily, or taking a short nap. After these short “sanity breaks,” I’m ready to focus once more.

Over to you

Distractions happen. What keeps you motivated and focused when you work from home?

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