Your cell phone reminder beeps. An important email just arrived in your inbox. The laundry machine buzzed awhile ago announcing the wet clothes need to be transferred to the awaiting dryer. Oh, yeah, and the kids need a snack.
Welcome to a typical day of working from home. When I became pregnant with my first little, I set my sights on creating a job where I could work from home. As an elementary school teacher who worked all day in the classroom, this was quite a shift in career philosophy.
Please note – this was almost ten years ago. Working from home was still a relatively new thing. Especially having a job where you worked from home full time.
But it was the only way I could envision motherhood working for me. I didn’t want to waste my time commuting (especially in Washington, DC traffic) and the thought of 12 hours in daycare just didn’t work. And I had read about so many people at the time who had achieved this mysterious goal of working from home full time.
So, I settled on the idea of running an online business. Seemed simple enough. I could wake up in the morning. Spend some time with my little. Work from the computer all day. No more being told when to take lunch. When I could go to the bathroom (I was a teacher and bathroom breaks weren’t included or guaranteed). Or when I could go home. The way I spent my time would be up to me.
Well, sort of. My original vision of working from home never really happened the way they describe it in storybooks. I welcomed a baby who wanted to be held all of the time. And there were daily distractions that kept me from getting any kind of real productivity started for a few years.
Working from home is still my dream – although I do less of it these days. But it certainly doesn’t look the way I thought it would. It turns out that home is full of distractions just like a traditional workspace.
Your job to be successful working from home is learning how to avoid these distractions. Tuning them out, so you can focus on your productivity instead.
Not that easy. But, when you really work on removing the distractions around you, your work from home experience can become quite productive.
Here are some ideas to avoid distractions when you work from home and be more productive.
Set up an Actual Office
For years – due to space limitations and convenience – my office space has been located in our living room. I truly believe that this was the best location for it.
With little kids who constantly need things, it let me be accessible to them. I could answer questions, resolve problems, fetch snacks and keep an eye on them.
Now that they’re older, I find that space to be extremely unproductive. When the family is home and I’m trying to work, my thoughts get constantly interrupted. Sadly, it causes a huge lack in productivity.
I also find that I work a lot when I don’t want to. I love spending time with my family, but when my office is in our family zone, I tend to wander over and check email. Or start pinning things randomly. Instead of focusing on the thing that’s most important – spending time together.
As much as I love being around my family, it was time to set up a designated office space. With a door to close.
So, I moved into our library recently. I finally feel like I have a home base. A place to call home and to make mine. After almost ten years working from home, it feels blissful. The only thing missing is the view. But that can come with time.
If you are starting to work from home (or have been for awhile and work on the couch), try to find a space in your home that you can call yours. It doesn’t have to be a separate room (not everyone has an extra bedroom), but it should be a place that you can tuck away.
When I worked from home in our small urban condo, I used the corner of our living room. It had a very small alley way to get to the desk. The space was just tucked away enough that no little hands bothered it during the day and I felt in my own space.
As you choose an office space in your home, think about what you like in your workspace. My dream workspace is a window overlooking a mountain or forest. Hasn’t happened yet. But maybe one day.
For now, I will settle for a window overlooking the front yard. For you, windows may be distracting. It might be better to have a wall that you can decorate and make amazing.
If you choose a space that is in a more trafficked area, consider a desk that tucks away. A fold out desk space can be a perfect way to put away the distraction of work when you’re not using it.
Most importantly, have a zone that you can declare yours. You need a permanent home for your computer, printer, files and other business requirements. A space that is kept away from too much noise and sticky fingers.
Put your Cell Phone Away
Ready for an eye opening experience? Try tracking how much time you spend on your cell phone or other mobile device every day.
I recently downloaded the app Moment to start tracking how much time was spent scanning my mobile device. After a week of tracking, on average I spend a little less than 3 hours of my waking life a day on my device. And please note, most of this time was not for business activities. It was for random checks of social media, news sources or email checking.
If your cell phone is a distraction when you’re trying to get work done, it might be time to put it away. At least when you’re trying to work from home. Out of site, out of mind.
One solution to make your phone less distracting is to place it in airplane mode. This prevents any alerts from being received while you’re working.
The benefit of using airplane mode while you work is that your phone no longer is a beacon of distraction. If you like to listen to music or the radio via WiFi, you can always turn that back on manually after you switch your phone into airplane mode.
But what about an important phone call? There are certain people that need to be able to reach me when I’m working. In case of an emergency. I have designated these phone numbers in my Do Not Disturb setting of my phone. This way if they call and the phone is on airplane mode, the phone call will still go through.
Make sure you choose these phone numbers carefully, though. In order to truly eliminate distractions while working from home, you need to block them altogether. Turning your phone on airplane mode, but still allowing your best friend to reach you doesn’t really work.
Try Block Scheduling
When I was in high school so long ago, they started using block scheduling two days a week. Basically it meant that we had a two and a half hour time block for the class once a week. Just the thought of sitting in a class for longer than a normal 45 minutes made me uncomfortable. I mean how much of an English lecture could I take.
But in the end, it turned out that learning in time chunks really is beneficial. The teachers did a good job varying up activities. It also gave us more time to dive deep into our learning. We did science experiments, watched movies of books we were reading and completed research for history reports.
So, I’ve taken this block scheduling technique and applied it to my current work schedule. Every morning, I have a three hour block dedicated to important work tasks. The mornings are my most productive times, so I try to get all of my have to dos out of the way.
Being able to spend three hours immersed in any task is a treat. Even if you don’t have three hours, you can set aside a time block that works for your current schedule.
Another productivity technique that’s like block scheduling is the Pomodoro technique. For this time management system, you actually work with the time in your workday that you actually have. (I struggled with productivity until I stopped pretending I had more time than I did.)
You then break your workday into 25 minute chunks with 5 minute breaks in the middle. After four or so Pomodoro sessions, you take a longer break of about 20 or 30 minutes.
It turns out that our brains like the feeling of urgency.
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get a task completed when you feel like you’re on a deadline?
Knowing that you only have 25 minutes to make as much progress as possible on the task helps focus our minds on completing the task better.
And the required breaks gives your mind a much needed rest. This helps propel us through the workday and make us much more successful.
You can find out my personal experience trying the Pomodoro technique here. It’s been quite an adventure to retrain my productivity in this way. Overall, though, I do think that I am more productive since implementing it.
Set up your Family for Success
One thing about working from home when you’re a mom is that you can’t expect your family just to follow suit. You need to set up systems to help them be more independent when you’re working. By making the kids (and sometimes your husband) able to succeed on your own, you can eliminate the distraction of being interrupted while you work.
Once you start working from home, spend a week taking notes on what your family needs throughout the day. It might be snacks. Or things to do. And maybe even the paint opened. (Which always makes me wonder why we are painting in the first place?)
After you identify the areas that need your assistance, start to set up systems that help your family be more self sufficient. I have created snack bins in the pantry with the snacks that they are allowed to eat at snack time.
The flow room is full of independent activities that they can work on. We have set guidelines that when I’m working is not the best time to paint. But it’s an awesome time to play with Play Doh or color.
Creating bins with age appropriate independent activities is another great way to avoid using the television as a babysitter. You can find more guidelines for putting together your own DIY busy bins here.
Another way that I avoid distractions with family is by setting clear guidelines on my work schedule. This was difficult at first because the assumption was since Mom was home, she was there to take care of us. All of us – including my spouse.
Once my business was making a profit, I pointed out that they only way it could continue to do so was by establishing clear guidelines of when I could be interrupted.
To get rid of any confusion, there is a posted work schedule in the kitchen that shows when it’s my work time and when it’s family time. By checking the schedule, my family knows when it’s okay to interrupt me.
Some interruptions are okay, though. Discuss with your family what times it’s okay to let you know something is going on. Set guidelines listing the types of interruptions that are okay.
Play Background Music
I did a little experiment back in November. Although I love music, I often forget to play it while I’m working. I tried playing background music – mostly classical – while I worked for a week. Then, I didn’t play it the next week.
It turns out that I was much more productive when I played the music than when I didn’t. Listening to background music definitely helped me focus more and be more productive.
Listening to certain types of music during the work day is a great way to help eliminate distractions and get tasks done. According to Career Addict, it can assist with managing stress better, relaxing during the work day and improve your memory.
But you need to choose the right music. It seems that listening to music while working is best when doing repetitive tasks. I love jamming to my classical when I need to create editable invitations or new product listings. The music can be a bit distracting during design sessions, though. My brain seems to work best creatively in silence.
So, take time to figure out how to use music best to eliminate your distractions. Once you know the right combination, you’ll be well on your way to being more productive.
Post your Goals
Why do you get up every morning and sit at your desk? If you can’t answer that question quickly and succinctly, you might need to remind yourself of your short and long term goals.
Knowing why you work can help keep you focused on the tasks you need to complete. Your goals don’t have to be complicated either. Simply working to pay the bills, make extra payments on your debt or save up for the next family vacation are great goals.
I find looking at my goals each morning a helpful reminder. I keep the current week’s goals posted by my desk and in my planner. Then, I know what I am trying to accomplish.
By reading them over often during the day, I avoid many distractions. I remember why I am sitting at my desk from the get go. My productivity increases and I end up actually accomplishing – or at least making progress – towards my goals.
Get Out of the House
If you are a work at home mom, I can’t emphasize the importance of getting out the house. A change in work environments improves mental wellness and is a good reminder that there is an entire world happening beyond your at home workspace.
Take the time to get out of the house even if you think you’re wasting time. Some of my best (and fastest written) blog posts have happened while sitting in a café.
I also love getting out of the house so I can listen to others’ conversations. I find human communication fascinating and eavesdropping on what other people are worrying about is a great reminder that life is pretty good.
When I do return to my workspace after some time away, I find the distractions are fewer and it’s easier to concentrate. So try and get out once or twice a week. It will do your brain some good.
Can’t get out of the house easily? I understand. I spent many years feeling guilty at even the thought of working somewhere else during the day. Instead of leaving the house, untether yourself from your desk. Find another place to work. The living room couch, dining room table or chair on the patio all make wonderful escapes during a busy day working from home. And you still return to your office space refreshed.
Find Reliable Childcare
When my first little turned nine months old, I decided to find a babysitter so I could finish up my design coursework. We entered into a shared babysitting experience through a work recommendation. The person we shared the sitter with had two young children and lots of money. So, she paid her almost twice what I could afford.
After awhile the sitter just stopped showing up. It turned out that the other family started stealing my hours and since she was paid more over there, she decided it was more lucrative. I completely understand that this was a financial decision, but it didn’t help me get any more work done.
If you choose to get childcare to assist while you work from home make sure they are reliable. I have found preschool programs and even day care settings the best options since they aren’t relying on one person to come. Select a program that is nearby (driving long distances for only a couple of hours of childcare cuts into your working time) and has the education philosophy that you desire (we are into hands on learning, so preschools that handed out worksheets were not okay).
If you can’t find childcare near your house, choose a place that’s at least located near a coffee shop. A friend of mine found her perfect preschool, but it’s 20 minutes from their home. Instead of running back and forth four times a day, she hunkers down at the nearest coffee shop. Another amenity near her preschool – her gym. This location has also helped her build in workouts in the mornings. Which makes everyone happy.
No matter what, though, don’t feel bad about it. Mom guilt is real and it’s time that we banish it for good.
But if you are following your dreams and building a business to support your family, there is nothing to feel guilty about. It’s good for moms to have their own projects to work on too.
Hang a Do Not Disturb Sign
Although I will announce that I am going to work for the day in my cozy upstairs office, it doesn’t mean that my family won’t troop in behind me. It turns out that just announcing that my work day has begun isn’t enough. I needed a reminder that was a bit more flashy.
Enter the Do Not Disturb sign. I hang this sign on the door when I’m working and really don’t want distractions. If the sign is hanging and you have a question, you need to wait.
I find that this sign has really helped when my husband and I are working from home together. He loves to barge in and share his thoughts. At the right time, this can be great. And I really enjoy our conversations.
But there are times when I truly need thinking space. Using the sign on the door has eliminated distractions and questions about what Mom is doing. Clearly I am working. Just read the sign.
Stick to a Daily Schedule
The one thing that I’ve learned about distractions is they like to sneak up unexpectedly. You could be humming along and end up with an important email that you shouldn’t have checked, but now need to attend to. Or you get caught up on social media because your best friend just returned from their trip and is sharing all the details on Facebook. I get it. Life happens.
That’s why in order to avoid distractions, I have learned to stick to my daily schedule. Every morning I create a daily blueprint of how my day is going to look. I include my work time, what I hope to accomplish, workout times, lunch, pick up times and after school activities. Everything that I have to do for the day.
And then I follow it. That’s the key. It doesn’t help to make a daily schedule unless you actually adhere to the things on it.
So this means that if it isn’t time to check email, I don’t. If I am not supposed to be scanning social media, I turn off my alerts.
By focusing on my daily blueprint, I am able to avoid distractions and be more productive.
If you dream of working from home, let me tell you it is possible. Not always the easiest of career paths, but definitely one that’s achievable.
You can even be a productive mom who works from home. The kind that successfully avoids the distractions around her.
But planning is essential. Distractions are inevitable – like in any work environment. The big difference is those distractions when you work from home are that they are two feet tall or come in the form of household chores.
When you do commit to working from home, make a clear cut plan. Know what you want to accomplish and create an environment that helps you get there. Set yourself up for success and there is no telling what you can accomplish. Or how many distractions you can successfully avoid.