• Lindsay Alissa King

Cutting down on work-from-home distractions


One thing I've been asked a lot is how I avoid distractions while working from home. It's true: when working from my kitchen table, the dirty dishes, the unswept floors, the refrigerator are all within eyesight. Plus, no one is around to catch a sight of my screen to see if I'm on Facebook instead of the report I'm supposed to be finishing.

My solution to avoiding distraction is pretty simple: treat working from home like a day at the office.

This advice came out of a conversation I had with an advisor a few years ago. We were talking about some of the mental exhaustion and stall-out that graduate students face as they complete long degrees often with little direction or oversight. The great thing--but also the curse--of graduate school is that if you're not teaching, you could sleep until 11 am very day and work until 4 am or work completely irregular hours everyday. In theory this flexibility sounds blissful, but in practice, working random hours without structure can lead to a lack of focus, rest that isn't restful, and even depression.


This advisor's best suggestion for students To promote daily motivation and restorative non-working hours, this advisor's best suggestion was for students to set office hours, including fairly strict rules about the activities permitted during those hours. Even if your working hours are flexible, you should have some structure in your days, according to this advisor.


This is absolutely critical advice for a remote worker.


Of course, everyone has different constraints on their days. Some people need to have overlapping office hours with co-workers. Some people have completely flexible work hours. Some folks have parenting or caretaking responsibilities during traditional daytime work hours. Other people might find that they are particularly creative at night or early in the morning. All of that is completely ok. The goal is not to force yourself into a 9-to-5 routine if that doesn't work for you. Instead, the goal is to create a schedule and personal rules regarding what tasks you allow yourself to do during those work hours.


To put this advice into practice yourself, you'll need to create two plans for yourself: 1) a work schedule, that outlines your daily "office hours" when you'll be in work mode and 2) a set of fairly inflexible rules and boundaries that outline what activities you are permitted to do during work hours.


Here's a summary of what my personal work from home daily structure and boundaries look like:


DAILY OFFICE HOURS

  1. Each morning, I work an "early shift" before my husband and child wake up. Just before the early shift, I make tea, but after that I get down to work pretty seriously. This usually happens during fixed hours, but if I need to do a few extra tasks or something is taking me longer than expected, I work a bit longer.

  2. After my early shift, I hang out with my son.

  3. Later in the day, I complete a longer work shift.

  4. For three days out of the week, my schedule doesn't deviate from this. (My schedule is different on two days out of the week).

BOUNDARIES

  1. I do not use work time to do any household tasks. I don't do dishes. I don't make the bed. I don't tidy or pay bills. I just work. This is just a rule I have, and the fact that it's a hard rule makes it easier for me to adhere to it.

  2. I don't use work hours to make food. My schedule, luckily, is structured with a break in the middle to make lunch. My husband--three cheers!--makes breakfast in our household while I work my morning shift. If he didn't, I would probably eat something easy like yogurt to avoid cutting into my work time. Like the above, this is just a hard rule. Work time isn't cooking time for me.

  3. I only respond to text messages at certain points during the day. While I do know that some people don't respond to messages at all, I do enjoy hearing from friends and family during the day. Instead of banning sending messages altogether, I simply have a few points during the day that I read and respond.

  4. I avoid personal calls and personal emails during my work hours.

  5. I also don't really read the news during work hours either. If something very important or work-relevant is happening, I'll tune in, but I do basically avoid following the news as a work. I know that may be hard for some people (and reading the news is part of many individuals' job description).

  6. Social media is the tricky thing, right? I do have to sometimes be on social media for work, and I find it pretty hard to never check social media while working. In general though, I try to check very infrequently. When I check, I don't scroll. I don't respond to personal or direct messages unless they are work-related. And I don't post while working.

  7. Finally, I do usually power down from work when I'm not in work hours, which gives me time to refresh my mind, focus on domestic tasks and childcare, and be in closer touch with family and friends.