4 Ways to Avoid Distractions When Working Remotely

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(U.S. Navy)

Whether your job has always required you to work remotely or the COVID-19 pandemic sent you home to do your job away from co-workers, avoiding distractions is a real challenge.

In the military, you had a focus: You completed your tasks and directed your efforts toward a mission. Even when there was "downtime" and you could catch up on work, sleep or exercise, you were alert and paid attention to meeting expectations that were asked of you.

Today, working at home often means competing with the distractions of homeschooling children or managing child care, pets wanting attention, piles of laundry beckoning to you from the other room, the draw of a midday nap and the temptations of social media and online shopping.

I'm sure the list of possible distractions is even longer than that!

How can you possibly stay focused on the job you're employed to do (or on finding a job if you're unemployed) when distractions seem to be everywhere? Here are some tips I use to keep my attention pointed in the right direction:

  1. Create a task list each day. Either the night before or before you turn on the computer in the morning, list out what you need to accomplish that day. Get granular, if need be. Then, prioritize the list by urgency, noting what has to be done by a specific time. Identify which collaborators you'll need to consult and cross off items when the task is completed.  
  2. Schedule out your day. I once had a client who scheduled his workout times, family meals, rest breaks and "thinking time" into his calendar, along with all of his appointments. This ensured he prioritized and made time for all the things that were important to complete that day, not just the work-related items. Consider scheduling your phone calls, email checking/responding and video calls, so they don't interfere with each other. Some people prefer to mix up their day and have a video call, then a voice call, then focused work, while others like to do all their video calls back to back so they can be dressed and polished for them.  
  3. Communicate with your family and roommates. If you have a day filled with phone and video calls, let the people you live with know what to expect and that you'll need quiet during that time. In my household, we have three of us on work calls and virtual meetings during the day, so it's helpful to coordinate our meetings to take advantage of quiet areas in the house. We can coordinate who'll watch the puppies and manage our expectations for socialization, free from distraction. If you are responsible for children and you have a full day of meetings or job interviews, consider enlisting help from a neighbor or family member to assist your children with schoolwork or play time.  
  4. Accept that things will still happen. I remember being ready to deliver a virtual presentation to a very large client team when suddenly I realized my neighbor was having their driveway torn up to be re-poured that same morning! It would have been helpful if they'd told me in advance so I could adjust my setting, but I was able to quickly put pillows in the windows of my office to deaden the sound and adjust the volume on my microphone to avoid the background noise. Things happen. The dog will burst into your meeting with a need to go outside. The internet will suddenly slow down. Your computer may freeze. The air conditioner may start making "that weird sound," and you'll just have to deal with it. Most of us who do virtual meetings frequently have seen everything -- from children coming into the meeting for a snuggle, to technology fails, to job applicants who didn't realize there was a mirror behind them reflecting that they weren't wearing pants on the video call. Employers and recruiters today are being more tolerant of unexpected interruptions, and so can you.

Reducing distractions for your workday will hopefully make you more productive and efficient. These tips might take some work at the outset but, over time, they'll help you focus on what's most important to accomplish each day.

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