11 Tips for Handling Distractions When Working Remotely


Shifting to working away from the office opens you up to a world of new distractions. What’s the best way to manage these distractions and keep a clear focus?

How to Handle Distractions

Let’s make one thing clear, distractions are not necessarily bad. Distractions are usually just a part of our day. In many cases, they’re things that would need to get done anyway. The problem isn’t the distraction itself, but in how we manage it.

Messages, emails, TV, and our family and friends all require attention. While some distractions are urgent, most tend to be small and less immediately important.

As an increasing part of the workforce is advocating for more remote work, remote workers need to stay vigilant of these potential issues. The increases in freedom coupled with the conveniences and luxuries of working in the comfort of our homes bring on additional responsibilities to make sure these positive aspects do not become negative ones.

Remote work generally requires a greater level of accountability on behalf of the worker. Therefore, new and seasoned remote workers alike can benefit from assessing their own distractions from time to time. By keeping aware of vulnerabilities, they can focus on polishing their strengths.

Below we have compiled a list of tips for remote and non-remote workers:

1. Self-Assess

As with most processes, the first stage is planning. Take a moment to analyze yourself and your habits. Consider possible distractions and their root causes or enabling environments.

Which distractions take up my attention?

Some distractions are small: an incoming message, an email notification, or a quick house chore might just take a minute. Nevertheless, small breaks add up. Soon, it’s the end of the workday and you still have tasks pending!

The same occurs with larger distractions. A visit to the bank, going out for lunch, or taking care of your children. Many of which are simply a necessary part of your day. That isn’t to say you can’t plan effective ways to work around them, but planning ahead informs you as to how much time you actually have.

Why do they take up my attention?

If distractions occur on a repeated basis, we can call it a habitual distraction; these are crucial to figure out. Once you’ve established which of these are taking your attention the most, analyze why they take up that time.

For example, are you checking your phone frequently and losing focus? Are you distracted because you’re bored? Are you not setting clear boundaries with your loved ones? Are you losing a lot of time due to poor time management? Do you bounce back and forth between work and house chores?

Regardless of the distraction itself, try to analyze why it continues to happen. If you can identify the problem at its root, you can prepare for it in advance. Likewise, if you cannot identify the problem, hoping for a solution won’t get you anywhere.

2. Set Clear Boundaries with Friends and Family

One of the greatest benefits to working remotely is spending more time at home with the family. Working from home allows for less time spent commuting. This opens up more time for social and family activities.

While this may be an advantage, if not managed correctly, it can also drain a large portion of your working hours. For example, preparing the kids’ lunch, getting them ready for school, attending school events, etc., can all take time. So much time that it may often feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day!

Rather than letting these pile up, find a healthy balance to handle them. For example, you could create blocks of time throughout the day. Dedicate an hour in the morning to preparing the kids for school. At that time, you could make their breakfast and lunch and get them ready for the day.

Then, once they’re off to school, you know you can focus solely on work. Once the kids arrive home after school, you should’ve already finished the most important tasks. This way, you could potentially spend the afternoon helping the kids with their homework. Finally, in the evening after dinner, you could dedicate some time to planning tomorrow’s priorities.

The exact method of balancing work and your social and family life will depend on you. However, by knowing which times are for work, you can focus during those times and ensure the rest of the day is open for handling personal matters. By setting these boundaries clearly with those around you, they can help you by respecting those constraints.

3. Organize Your Tasks

An often underrated aspect of planning is organizing your tasks. Not all tasks are created equal. Some of the items on your to-do list will require more immediate attention than others. Clearly define priorities and note which items fall under which category. Taking the kids to school and delivering your important assignment on time is a must, while the dishes and Youtube can wait until the priority items are complete.

It’s important not to let tasks pile on. It’s equally important to dedicate some time to writing out the tasks you need to accomplish and ranking them in order of importance. In doing so, you’ll simultaneously create a schedule for them.

Stephen Covey recommends using the Eisenhower Time-Management Matrix. With it, you basically categorize things based on urgency and importance. The most important and urgent matters should be your immediate priority. The rest you can do once the critical items have been crossed off your list.

Taking this organizational step helps you prevent the usual “floating tasks.” Floating tasks are tasks you’ve written down in an arbitrary list but haven’t assigned importance to. As you’ve blended essential and non-essential items on the list, they can easily take up the bulk of your time.

These floating tasks can leave you with more concerns because the important tasks are still pending and now you have less time! By assigning importance and urgency to your tasks, you can put off non-urgent matters. As a result, your focus is shifted to the important tasks on your list. Organization helps manage your time better and boosts your productivity.

The enjoyment of your free time rests on not having a bunch of urgent, looming, and stress-inducing tasks on your plate.

4. Make a Schedule

It’s important to set deadlines for yourself. While you’re organizing your tasks in order of importance, you’ll need deadlines to measure their urgency. Create a schedule that allows you to have a clearer vision of what needs to get done by what time.

Having a schedule gives you a “bird’s-eye view” of upcoming tasks. Therefore, you can plan accordingly to make sure you finish before the due date. Additionally, you can prepare so far in advance that you’re working on things that won’t be due for weeks or months.

However, don’t fall into the trap of planning arbitrarily where much of your time is spent on planning instead of doing. The details of planning should be emphasized on the nearest block of time, perhaps the tasks of next week. We’ve all been guilty of planning a bit excessively for the things we want to do, even if weeks and months away, while neglecting those right under our nose.

Creating a system that allows you to work on things ahead of time opens up your schedule to spontaneity. You’ll have the freedom to take an impromptu picnic with your family or meet your friends for a drink.

It is also significantly less stressful when deadlines and tasks aren’t piling on but rather serving as checklists of what you’ve done and how you can prepare in advance for what’s coming.

5. Create a Dedicated Working Space

On a more personal level, it’s important to designate an area for work. Most people surveyed prefer to work from home, in part, thanks to the stable wifi and temperature control. Therefore, this can be seen as an addendum to “Section 2”, but the clear boundaries are for yourself.

Separating your work and personal life can be as literal as having a space that is just for work. Too often, people assume they can separate the two by sheer will. Though this is possible, it’s easier to set aside a desk or area where you can keep your work tools and focus.

For families with more space, having a separate office can be very helpful. By having a dedicated room, doors can be closed. Whether for answering a business call or simply to have an hour of quiet and focus. Keeping a clear line helps everyone stay conscious of the situation.

In contrast, by not keeping a dedicated area for work, you’re potentially opening yourself up to more distractions. If you work at the dining table, for example, you might be stressed come lunchtime when you’re trying to finish up and the family’s waiting to eat!

6. Stay on Task (Time Block)

If you are the kind of person that likes to multi-task and do several things at once, you might benefit from time-blocking. Like with the Pomodoro Technique, time-blocking simply means taking set blocks of time to focus on a single task.

Rather than tell yourself, “Ok, this is what I need to do so I’ll do it now and finish when I finish.” You can set aside a block of time to work on it. Ergo, instead of working on something indefinitely, tell yourself you’ll work on it for 60 minutes and then take a break or dedicate time to another task.

This also helps when re-assessing your abilities. You will have a better understanding of exactly how much work can, in principle, be accomplished in a particular block of time.

How you choose to employ this method depends on your personal needs. However, time-blocking is a very powerful tool for productivity. It can help keep you focused on a single task and feel an impending deadline coming as your timer comes close to its end. This would help you to be more efficient with your time.

Ultimately, you can break your day up into time blocks of productivity while still leaving plenty of time to handle personal matters.

7. Schedule Time for “Doing Nothing”

In contrast to the previous section “Organize Your Tasks,” where tasks are organized based on importance and urgency, you should also schedule in your off time. Take a block of time each day where you do something leisurely.

It’s easy to want to dedicate your entire day towards productivity but you also don’t want to risk burning out. To prevent overworking yourself, create one or more time slots where you have to do nothing at all. Just ensure you schedule these once your priorities have been crossed off the to-do list.

Watching a new episode of your favorite series, reading a fascinating new novel, playing games on a console, computer, or board, etc. These are all great ways to unwind after a long day’s work.

Scheduling time at the end of the day for some R&R is the perfect way to keep a clear boundary of when the workday ends. It’s also a great positive reinforcement for productivity, rewarding yourself for staying focused throughout the day.

Just try and remember that when emergencies or other sudden urgent matters arise, these are also the first to be shortened or eliminated.

8. Avoid the “Email and Texting Trap”

Are you addicted to your phone? Though it may seem silly at first, plenty of people feel insecure or “naked” without their phones. What’s more is that receiving a new message or notification releases dopamine in our brains. Dopamine makes us feel excited. Therefore, we tend to want to jump for our phones whenever we hear that familiar “ping!”

This small issue can be resolved by employing the aforementioned time-blocking. Start by recognizing that you have a tendency to want to check each new message and email. Then, create a slot of time for doing this.

For example, 30 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes in the evening might be all the time you need to catch up. Unless your job is exclusively to answer incoming messages, you can likely find a better way to manage the time you spend on it.

Many operating systems like Windows, and Android have built-in “do not disturb” functions which allow you to easily program that timebox yourself. If your device does not have this already installed, there are free applications available for download that can easily get you started on this within minutes.

9. Don’t Blend Work and House Chores

As mentioned previously, it’s important to keep clear boundaries. Letting friends and family know which times you’re available can leave the rest of the time for you to focus. However, what happens when your focus time is overrun by the voice in the back of your head?

“We’ve already done quite a bit of work, let’s take a break and hang the laundry.” Don’t let that voice of procrastination win the battle for productivity! Use your newly acquired time-blocking, prioritizing, and scheduling techniques to find the best time for chores.

In most cases, it’s advisable for remote workers to get the bulk of their important work assignments out of the way and then unwind with some housework. This could mean blocking out the morning and a bit of the afternoon for office work. Leaving the late afternoon and evening wide open for laundry, dishes, and general mopping.

10. Implement a Morning Routine

Many people advocate for the benefits of keeping a healthy morning routine. If you’re reading this and feel “this is not for me,” perhaps you’d like to reconsider. A morning routine can help get you in the correct mindset to start working.

Morning routines vary greatly from person to person. However, they all focus on setting up the start of your day for what’s to come. It could be as simple as a 10-minute stretching routine; or a set morning ritual that involves showering, getting dressed, and having breakfast.

Regardless of the routine or ritual, what’s arguably the most important is its predictability. Stephen King explained in his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” that by starting to write at the same time each day, it was easier for him to find his muse. In the same way, by following a set routine each morning, it’s easier for you to get into the right mindset and kick-start your day.

Definitely don’t dismiss the idea of a morning routine without trying it first. You might be surprised to find yourself getting more productive each day!

11. Be Self-Aware

All in all, it’s crucial that you remain self-aware throughout the entire process. From the moment you assess yourself and define what distracts you, to the moment you start making lists and jotting deadlines, you’ve been learning more and more about yourself.

Constantly assessing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, is a necessary part of any individual’s growth. Like a researcher, analyze your habits, their causes, and test out ways to eliminate or, at least, reduce them. It’s like trying to see yourself from a third-party perspective. Completely unbiased, analyze yourself like a new specimen you’ve found in the jungle.

The more self-aware you are, the more you can work on your pitfalls. Consequently, the more you can reduce your common pitfalls, the more time you’ll have to work on the things that matter most to you. Keep this process of self checking and improvement and you may soon find distractions were easier to handle than you ever imagined!

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