You really want to work at home, but every time you sit down to start a job or task there are just so many distractions going on. The kids are calling for you, the phone’s ringing, there are cute cat memes on Facebook, and you surely can’t miss the latest cliffhanger on your soaps or the new episode of Dr. Oz, right?
Sound familiar? You aren’t alone. One of the greatest difficulties of being a work-at-home employee or business is shutting out all those distractions. But rest assured, you can do it. Here are a few tips for you that will help you stay focused on the tasks at hand, although some of them may take a little getting used to.
But There’s Must-See-TV!
The television set is probably one of the biggest offenders in distracting you from work. You may think you’re able to multitask watching “Days of our Lives” and writing up a blog post for a client, but all of those tiny interruptions when you check out the action on TV disrupt the flow of ideas so that the time loss is greater than the sum of the time you spend with your eyes glued to the tube. This might be one of those difficult interventions you have to do, but turn off that TV.
Seriously. Turn it off now.
If you’re having trouble finding the discipline to do that, consider making your TV your computer monitor, so that you can’t “multitask” TV and computer work. That’s pretty much what it took for me to break the TV habit, but my productivity went way up.
Keep Social Hour During Happy Hour
Another huge time killer is the Internet. To be more precise, Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, instant messaging or whatever other social media you engage in on a regular basis. No, you won’t just post one little thing and go back to work. You’ll go off on 10 million tangents because that’s how the Internet is designed and that’s what it’s meant to do. And pretty soon, you’ll find yourself an hour later having accomplished no work, with 15 tabs opened and looking at a browser with “about.”
Yeah, I mean you. Don’t pretend like you don’t do it.
Some may argue that they need to post on social media to promote their business or writing, and that is true. But wait till you’re done with your work and do all your social media promotion at once, so you get it done in one fell swoop. If it makes you feel better, indulge in a cocktail — or two — when the work is done and it’s time to “socialize.”
Can You Hear Me Now?
Unplug your home phone and above all else turned off that cell phone during work hours. You may tell yourself “I’ll just put it on vibrate and I’m not going to answer it,” but you darn well know that every time that thing buzzes you’ll look to see who was calling. And it’s only a matter of time before you text or call back.
Some of you may argue, “But what if an important call comes in?” Remember that there was a time when we got by without cell phones and we managed just fine. How many times does that phone ring when it’s not an emergency?
Let everyone know that during your working hours your phone is off. If you really must have a way for people to contact you — like say, you also happen to be a trauma surgeon on call — get a separate cheap cell phone for that purpose only. Seriously. But I warn you, as you probably already know, what you consider an emergency is not necessarily what the kids consider an emergency.
Keeping Track of Your Time
One of the most effective ways to keep yourself on track is using a timing device. If you freelance on oDesk, you know they have an application that tracks your time and even your activity on the computer taking random screenshots of what you’re doing. While this seems like it’s meant primarily to protect the interests of the client, knowing you’re on a timer (and subject to random screenshots) is a great tool to help keep you focused on the task at hand.
At first, you may find yourself forgetting that you’re on the timer, but in time you will develop a built-in sense that you must stay focused and complete the task you’re working on. If you don’t work for oDesk, there are other services that provide a time tracking tool such as Toggl. While it may not track your activity on the keyboard, putting on that timer helps keep you focused.
And if you’re having problems with time management in general, you can set Toggl up with several different projects, so you can track time on each kind of work you do, and also time you spend not doing work, such as getting an accurate assessment of how much time you spend on social media sites or doing other work that may not be productive.
Can We Talk?
Another great tool for staying focused if you’re creating content with a lot of writing, is using Dragonspeech. There’s something about saying the words instead of typing them that makes it flow, and you tend to take less breaks as you’re creating a document. It can allow you to really crank out a lot of copy in a short time and help keep you focused because you are simply pretending that you’re having a conversation with someone else. Just as you don’t like to be interrupted in speech, it’s a natural inclination to not want to be interrupted when you’re writing via Dragonspeech.
Obviously that only works for certain kinds of work-at-home jobs, mostly related to writing, but it can be an extremely useful tool for many reasons, including helping you stay focused on your writing.
Don’t presume that going from the 9 to 5 office world to work-at-home is going to be an easy transition. You’ll have to learn self-discipline and the ability to keep yourself focused on working. It takes practice, but like anything that’s new, you’ll get better at it in time.
Now turn off the TV, turn off the phone, close Facebook, and get back to work!