In our recent VAClassroom University Newsletter, we discussed how we’d run our Virtual Assistant businesses if we were stuck on a desert island. Although this situation is not ideal, there are certain advantages. I imagine there’d be fewer distractions than there are at home.
No family members asking when dinner will be ready… no guests arriving unexpectedly… no laundry to fold… no ice cream in the freezer, beckoning you to come and have a snack…
Now think about a day in the life of your online business. How often are you able to really dig in and complete a task? How often do you feel like you’ve been productive?
A Steelcase article titled “Think Better” shares some interesting statistics about distraction in the workplace. For example, a University of California, Irvine, study found that it takes 23 minutes to return to a task after being interrupted.
Stats like those mean we could lose hours of productivity per day. What we really want to achieve is what the above article describes as “flow”:
“The direct contrast to multitasking is what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., has famously named ‘flow’—being completely immersed in a challenge over time. It’s considered by many to be our most productive state. Flow rarely happens by accident, and it can’t be sustained indefinitely. During flow, however, we’re absorbed and engaged in what we’re trying to accomplish.”
With that in mind, here are some strategies for overcoming five common distractions that can interrupt your flow:
1. Friends and Family
One of the perks of working from home as a freelancer or Virtual Assistant is that we get to have a flexible schedule and be closer to friends and family. And one of the challenges of working from home is that we get to have a flexible schedule and be closer to friends and family.
The key is not to bend to suit everyone in your life. Instead, use your flexibility to design a schedule that lets you be productive during work hours and fully present during family and social times.
Here are some common challenges you might face when it comes to the important people in your life:
• The expectation that because you work from home, you’re available 24/7
• Your own feelings of guilt that you’re taking time away from your family to work
• Some confusion among friends and family about when you work
An article titled “6 Ways to Stay Focused When Working From Home” suggests maximizing your “most productive, distraction-free hours.” If you have kids, you may find that early mornings or late evenings work best. If they go to school and you have the house to yourself, you may find the daytime works well. The benefits of your flexible schedule is that you can be original and handcraft your own workday to suit your needs.
Olivia Krauth shares some great advice from remote workers in her article, “11 ways to eliminate distractions while working from home.” One suggestion is to post a schedule on the door of your home office to help your family know when you’re available and when they shouldn’t distract you. Krauth explains,
“A schedule can also make working from home seem more official, so people might be more inclined to respect your boundaries, and less inclined to ask you to run errands in the middle of the day, Trinity Manning, CEO of OnceLogix, said.”
2. Communications and Notifications
As I’m writing this blog post, my phones and other electronic devices could interrupt me at any time. Our landline just rang with a call for my husband, so I grabbed it and ran into the other room to give it to him. In the last hour, I’ve also received an email, a Facebook notification, and battled my own urge to check Instagram.
In a previous VAClassroom blog post, “Seven Ways to Thrive While Working From Home!” we talk about the importance of batching emails and social media so that you only check and answer messages and comments at certain intervals or certain times of the day.
To keep myself focussed, I often leave my iPad and smartphone on the other side of the room so I won’t be tempted to browse Facebook and Instagram. I also try to silence notifications and hide our landline phone in another room.
In an article titled “How To Keep Productive And Motivated While Working From Home,” Bryan Collins recommends using an app called Freedom to schedule times to block distracting sites on your devices. This app can also block internet access with the click of a button.
Screenshot via https://freedom.to/
3. Food and Entertainment
Since my first freelance job was creating closed captioning transcripts, I’ve always had a TV in my office. But now that I no longer work as a closed captionist, I sometimes turn on the TV just for fun. I also get distracted by naps. And years ago, I got distracted by Candy Crush Saga on Facebook.
Sometimes the fridge can be distracting too! Have you ever sat down to work, and your mind drifted to a favorite snack you had just bought? Or some leftover dessert from a dinner party you hosted last night?
This is another case where the benefits of working from home are also challenges. It’s wonderful to have our creature comforts nearby, but if they distract us from our client work, we need to do something to boost our productivity.
Here are some strategies that can help:
• A dedicated home office with a door you can close
• Folding room dividers to create an office nook for yourself if you don’t have access to a dedicated room
• Scheduled break times so you can look forward to some food and entertainment to refresh yourself
• A change of scenery, taking your laptop to a library or coffee shop so you’ll be less tempted by your own fridge and entertainment… and less likely to nap, although I have napped in a library before! 🙂
4. Housework and Errands
I can’t say I’ve ever had a passion for household chores, but when I first started working from home, it’s amazing how committed I became to dusting and vacuuming. I’d sit down at my desk, and then all of sudden I’d get distracted by dust and clutter. Housework was a way of procrastinating from client work.
Errands can also be a distraction. You sit down to work, and then all of a sudden you realize there’s dry cleaning to pick up. Or you need a certain ingredient to make dinner. Or your child needs a set of pencil crayons for school tomorrow.
In her article “How to Stay Focused When You’re Working from Home,” Elizabeth Grace Saunders suggests that we pretend we’re not working from home and decide what’s appropriate to do during office hours:
“If you do need to take on non-work-related requests during the day, set expectations for how much time you have, based on what your schedule is like in the office. For example, if your family asks you to run errands, estimate what you can do during a lunch hour, then commit only to that. For example, say, ‘I’m happy to pick up the dry cleaning and some milk at lunch, but I won’t have time for full-scale grocery shopping until after work.’ Or break down errands into smaller pieces, such as, ‘I can drop off the car at the mechanic today, but won’t get to calling about the health insurance question until tomorrow.’”
You can also decide which types of housework should be left for non-office hours and which ones might actually promote productivity. For example, if you put laundry in the washer, the cycle often lasts long enough for you to get some work done. You can do a burst of concentrated tasks before the buzzer sounds and lets you know you need to transfer the clothes to the dryer.
If you need to bake muffins, you can mix the batter during the day, put it in the oven, and work until the oven timer sounds. Even better if you get to eat one of those fresh-baked muffins during your break!
5. Background Noise
Sometimes, no matter how carefully we organize our working hours and environment, we’re at the mercy of ambient noise. You might hear traffic sounds, lawn mowers, doors slamming, children practicing violin… The list goes on.
If you’re finding it hard to concentrate, try these helpful tools:
• Noise-cancelling headphones
• A quiet fan to create white noise
• An app like “A Soft Murmur” to choose your own ambient noise
• A favorite music playlist
When it comes to music, you have to be careful you don’t end up distracting yourself with your selections. In an article titled “What Listening to Music at Work Does to Your Brain (It’s Pretty Amazing),” Tom Popomaronis provides guidelines for when you should or shouldn’t play music.
For example, if your environment is noisy and you’re doing repetitive work, music can block out distractions and help you focus. However, it’s best to play music you’ve already heard before and choose lyric-free music if your work involves linguistic processing. If you’re participating in a learning activity, Popomaronis says it’s best not to play music at all.
Separating Work Life and Home Life
As we establish productive working hours, we need to figure out a way to separate our work life and home life so our work doesn’t distract us from enjoying our home.
Here are some ways we can create boundaries:
• Take your office hours seriously. In urgent situations, you’ll need to bend, but be consistent so people respect your routine.
• Try to set a limit on the amount of time you’ll talk to friends and loved ones about work. Debriefing the day can be healthy, but venting for too long can cause stress and eat into your non-work hours.
• Create a physical barrier between yourself and work at the end of the day. Turn off your computer, close your office door, cover your laptop with a blanket or remove it from sight.
• Avoid checking emails and social media notifications at mealtimes or family times. Let your loved ones know that you’re present, and give them your full attention.
• Don’t take on more client work than you can handle.
Tyra Seldon gives some wise advice about setting boundaries in her article “3 ways to build a work-life balance”:
“Saying ‘no’ may be incredibly difficult, especially when you are first starting and you are trying to build up your clientele and/or establish your brand. The sooner you become comfortable saying no, or at least having criteria for when a request requires a ‘no’ answer, then the better off you will be in the long haul as those requests start to multiply or they become more time-consuming. The good news is that saying ‘no’ to one thing frees you up to say ‘yes’ to something else.”
For the sake of honesty, I confess that I was distracted several times during the process of writing this post. So I’m definitely a work in progress. But once you know your distractions, you can choose effective strategies to boost your productivity as a Virtual Assistant or online business owner.
What distractions do you face when working from home? If you have any tips that have helped you get work done, we’d love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.