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Tips for Limiting Distractions While You Work from Home

For some, working from home is an ideal situation—no commute, no office banter to distract from work, and a familiar setting to complete tasks. But others find the home office setup to be incredibly distracting, from noisy roommates or children to easily accessible TV and video games to uncompleted household chores.

Set up a "do-not-disturb" zone.

You have probably heard a thousand times that you should have a separate space within your home to work. A home office isn’t always possible, especially for those in cramped city apartments. But finding an area—whether it is an actual office or a corner of a room—where you can set up shop is an important first step for minimizing distractions.

Make sure the area itself is free of clutter and items that may take your mind off work. For example, if you are a bookworm and can’t resist plunging into a good read, don’t keep your latest book at your workstation.

While you shouldn’t overload your work area with clutter, you should stock it with all materials and work tools you’ll need so you don’t need to get up searching for supplies.

Most importantly, create a rule that if you are in your designated work area, nobody should disturb you. It may take your housemates/family time to get used to this rule, but over time, it will pay off when your workspace becomes a distraction-free zone.

Have a timer.

It can be difficult to separate home and work life when you are working remotely. You may need to finish a PowerPoint, but your brain is nagging you to change the laundry, peek in on your child’s Zoom class, or join your roommates on Xbox. Instead of battling against home demands, set a timer and commit to working until time is up. Once the timer signals, give yourself a 15-minute break—and a more extended one at lunchtime—before setting your timer for another chunk of time. Just as you alerted others that your workspace is a do-not-disturb zone, you should also let them know that when the timer is on, you must focus on work.

This timer should also apply to personal internet and phone use. Just as you limit your device-use at the office, you should limit it while working from home. We don’t have to tell you how quickly time disappears when you open Instagram. Save texts and social media for breaks and after hours.

Use headphones.

Opinions differ on whether headphones in the office are professional or not, but when you are working from home, headphones are definitely acceptable. Select background noise or music that won’t distract you from your tasks, and turn on the noise-canceling feature if your headphones have it. You may also consider playing the same music or noise every time you work to signal to yourself that it is time to focus.

Communicate with IT.

Nothing is worse than trying to get your work done and being unable to adequately tackle it because you don’t have the appropriate resources. If faulty tech, spotty internet, or poor equipment is distracting you from getting your work done, reach out to IT to request a solution. Don’t be shy about asking for a temporary solution while they work out whatever issue you are having.

Lose the Guilt.

Sometimes the biggest distractions aren’t the noises around you or the stray hobby in eye’s view—they’re your own feelings. We all have feelings of what we “should” be doing, whether it’s getting chores done, helping with kids, assisting parents, or doing some other task. When you’re working from home, the guilt can be even stronger because the tasks are at your feet, and you may feel lazy if someone else is handling everything while you are sitting at your desk. It’s important to get into a mindset that you are still at work even though you are home. That’s not to say you should never help with any household or family obligations—maximize the time you’d otherwise be commuting, your break times, and after-work hours.