Dealing with Distractions

18.10.2020 |

Episode #8 of the course How to work from home: From surviving to thriving by Jordan Thibodeau and Joe Ternasky


“There are always distractions, if you allow them.”—Tony La Russa

Welcome back!

This lesson will discuss how we can minimize the distractions involved in working from home.

You are just as likely to be distracted when working from home as you are when working in an open floor plan at the office. The only difference is the kind of distractions you will encounter. You need to take these distractions in stride, try to minimize their impact, and reduce the effect on your co-workers (when they are included in the distraction).


The Distractions of a Home Environment

The number of possible distractions that one may encounter when working from home is practically infinite. Family, however, is the really hard one. You can’t just shut them off like a TV set. Some at-home workers recommend creating an imaginary scapegoat (blame all problems on that darned pup Stanley!); some say to use a safety word that warns others if your buttons are being pushed. Establishing a routine is consistently a top pointer in “how-to” guides when it comes to working from home – so no matter your family situation, do this first!

That being said, here are extra tips on dealing with all of your sweethearts:

Your partner. In dealing with the one you love, be clear about what’s happening. Don’t assume your partner knows your goals or expectations. After a time, your schedule will become routine, but this is a big change for everyone so it’s better to say too much than to say too little about your “new normal.”

Know who is doing what. Chores, child care, cooking, appointments: figure these out ahead of time to avoid surprises. Try a shared or synched family calendar, so you and your partner always have the same information.

Avoid the bedroom. If you must work in the bedroom space, make your workspace distinctly “apart.” Do not work in bed: that’s family and/or couple-space, and doing so teaches your brain to stay active in a place meant for sleeping.

Take shifts with kids. If you’re both working from home, take control of parenting for several hours at a time while your partner works, then switch.

Specify do-not-disturb places or times. This is like the “Don’t bother me during The Walking Dead!” rule. It’s the designated work zone. Remember the stop sign rule from Lesson 1? If you’re serious about this boundary, you’ll save headaches in the long run.

Don’t treat your partner like a co-worker. They may be your everything, but they can’t be your everything. Respect that boundary; don’t draw them into your workspace or make them a part of the work team.

Kids who need supervision. Throughout this sublist, you’re going to see a theme: schedule, schedule, schedule. The little rascals thrive on a schedule, and you need one. You can make this work. Here are some pointers on keeping them busy.

Let them “work,” too. Kids love to do what you do. Consider setting up a little desk and chair alongside yours. Load it up with art supplies, books, etc. Have designated work time and then take breaks together.

Give tablet time. If your little one enjoys tablet time, this can be a great educational tool as well as a source for fun games.

Rotate their toys. To keep toys from losing their “newness” factor so quickly, divide them into boxes. Every few days, switch to a different box and put the old box away.

Invest in construction-style toys. Toys like blocks, puzzles, and building sets are beneficial, long-lasting entertainment.

Try water playtime. If you’ve got a vantage point where you can keep an eye on their safety, kids will play for hours in the bathtub or the wading pool—out of view of the Zoom camera, mind you!

Work while they sleep. You might have to adjust your work schedule to their sleep times. Don’t fret. This is temporary, and you might even discover untapped energy within yourself!

Pets. Pets are perhaps the most difficult temptation. They don’t speak human, don’t understand why you work, and they’re just as cute as can be. Pets are great at learning schedules, though. Have some patience and throw in some special words for when they are welcome back into your attention. “Break time!” “All done!” You’ll be surprised how fast they catch on if you’re consistent. To keep them occupied while you’re busy, try these tips:

Exercise! Make sure your furbaby has enough activity. This will keep them from losing their mind while you’re just sitting there.

The clicker. Cats especially absolutely love “helping” with work. Try a clicker (e.g. a noisemaker that startles pets away) to let kitty know that when you are in this chair, you do not require assistance.

Be strong. You’ll need your willpower here. Pets are so cute, and all they want are some scratches! Don’t give in. Next break time, some cuddles will be a great way to recharge your brain.

Bathroom breaks. Coordinate the dog’s walks with yours. It’s a huge benefit to both of you to get outside.

Make toys available. Quiet toys, preferably… You probably don’t want to give Fido a squeaky ball, but a chew toy can be a fun distraction for him.


Other Distractions

Television/electronics. Sorry, but you probably need to turn it all off. If you like background noise, then try a white noise generator. If you can, set your phone to Do-Not-Disturb. Keep the open tabs on your computer limited to work. No shopping, no news feeds, no problems.

Your “other stuff.” You go to the gym, go out for coffee, have a bunch of friends who message you all day, and you’re a sucker for that afternoon binge-watch. Some heroic beings can juggle all that and still work a full day, but the rest of us have to employ some discipline. If you find yourself slipping into bad habits, make a list of what’s messing you up, and figure out how you can overcome it. If you had a 9-to-5 job in an office, you’d have to do the same thing.


To Do

Task #1: Write down your most troublesome distractions.

Task #2: Review the section on Distractions of a home environment and see what strategies you can use to mitigate these distractions.

Task #3: Make an action plan to resolve these distractions. The plan should include:

1. A specific distraction you are planning to mitigate (For example, your partner is making too much noise, your kids are invading your work area, your cellphone is constantly buzzing, etc.)

2. How you plan to mitigate this distraction (For example, “I will wear noise-canceling headphones,” “I will provide the kids with activities to keep their attention focused elsewhere,” etc.)

3. The desired result (For example, “I can now work peacefully,” “I have an hour in the morning of uninterrupted work time,” etc.)

4. A check-in period to review how well your plan is working (For example, “in one week I will review how effective this plan is and adjust accordingly,” etc.)

That’s a wrap for this lesson. We look forward to having you join us for our next lesson.

Jordan and Joe

Work From Home Teachers


Recommended book

Remote: Office Not Required by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried


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