Procrastination is one of the most common obstacles in life, one that has deeper roots than simply not being able to focus or not wanting to get your work done. For all the faults of the open office, one of its strengths was making certain that everyone focuses on their work because nobody can visibly slack off. At home, however, the only open office is one where your dog or kids can come running in for attention. As a result, many people are finding themselves unable to get much (or even any) work done in a normal day. How can you successfully end distractions and get your tasks done while working from home?
Psychologists have long loved to analyze how a person's desk reflects their mental state. Depending on who you believe, a messy desk is the sign of a genius; or a clean desk is the sign of a CEO; or a desk holding absolutely nothing except a computer is the most efficient setup of all, or … you get the idea.
While you won't magically get better at your job just by throwing away old Pringles cans, you likely will find you can eliminate a lot of distractions if you get ruthless about cleaning up. Start by throwing away all the trash. Then set aside everything that no longer works, then progress to the things that work but you no longer use.
If you’ve got more than your household bins can handle, you might even check out dumpster rental prices. Make certain that nothing on your desk or in the room is something that you want to be distracted by, such as a bobblehead or even a click pen, and you won't go looking for that distraction.
How many emails do you have sitting in your inbox, unread, at the moment? It might be just one; it might be just 100. One great way to make certain that your time is used well is to spend some of it at the beginning of each day (or end of the previous day) to prioritize the work you're doing compared to the work that's coming in. This doesn't just mean pruning your email but also setting up a plan for what's going to get done and making certain that anything else is considered a task for another day.
No human can remain focused on any single task forever. Most people can't even do it for a full 10 seconds straight, so don't feel concerned whenever your mind goes wandering even when you want it to remain sharp — you’re not alone. The worker who never allows themselves to be distracted likely doesn’t exist.
Distractions, while they get a bad rap, also give our brains time to re-organize and re-focus. The trick is preventing them from defining or dominating our work time. So create a plan to manage your daily distractions. Set a timer to help you snap back into work mode. And include breaks in your schedule to get lunch, to deal with unruly kids or pets, or even just take the time to go outside and get a dose of Vitamin D.
Variety is the spice of life in all things, not just our mundane office tasks. A person's job will be most fulfilling whenever they have access to new challenges and responsibilities. Seek out a big project to tackle at work if you’re feeling stunted. Or, if you can't find those opportunities in your work, you can always try to find them in your personal life, so that you don't get caught in a rut.
Whether you find the opportunities in work or home life, learning new things changes the way your brain works, creating neural pathways and connections that didn’t exist before. Tasks that include physical, spatial, and mental elements are most effective. This can mean, to name just a few examples, quite literally shifting gears if you’re learning to drive a stick shift, creating new physical capabilities if you’re learning to skateboard, or shifting neural patterns if you’re learning to play chess.
We all know what's the hardest, most unpleasant part of our jobs.
It might be the infamous TPS reports that must be filled out in triplicate, or it might be delivering feedback to employees who are incapable of accepting criticism. It might just be slogging through yet another meeting where you have nothing to say and are not even expected to say it. Whatever the hardest part of your day is, devote a specific portion of the day to it — perhaps the first hour of work, perhaps the last — so that it gets done with no questions asked, no extra mental calories burned.
In short: Whatever the distasteful task is, you know it’s got to get done, so set your timer, and just do it. Designating a finite “slog time” can prevent you from thinking about it outside these hours, minimizing anxiety and distractions. When the timer goes off (if not before), the hard part of your day will be over.
Some people are natural introverts who gladly would have spent the past month isolated indoors even without the virus pandemic. Others need social contact more than they need oxygen; these people might be feeling like they've been handed a prison sentence to work away from colleagues and mentors. Whatever your case, remember that we're all social creatures to some extent, and that interaction with others can help us to become better at our tasks and our concentration.
Simple steps like creating branded office supplies for personal use or distribution to clients or colleagues; sending out invitations for Zoom happy hour meetups; or delivering staples like masks and toilet paper to employees (at a safe distance) can go a long way toward making you feel connected, motivated, and happier.
We only have so many days and hours on this earth with the people we care about. Since we don't live in a perfect world, we have to devote a lot of this time to our careers, and time wasted while working is time that we can't get back — either for ourselves or for our productivity.
Minimizing distractions is easier said than done, but the effort can pay for itself many times over. Find ways to plan your schedule, include enough breaks, make certain you maintain personal connections, and eliminate everything that can draw your attention away. Then your workday should feel less like a slog and more like an opportunity to get great things done.