For many people, the modern trend of working at home is a real blessing. It gives you an opportunity to do your job in an environment that’s quiet and free of distractions, and it also allows you to spend more time with your family and avoid tedious daily commutes.
The downside of working at home, though, is that it isn’t always easy to stay on task. It’s hard to pick the right thing to do when you can do anything at all. You start working on something, and before you know it, you open a web browser and start checking the day’s sports scores or scrolling through your social media feeds. Suddenly, an hour has gone by, and you haven’t accomplished much of anything at all.
In this article, we’re going to help you stay on track and avoid the pitfall of distraction when working from home. When you allow yourself to get sidetracked while working, you’re not really enjoying yourself – you’re just wasting time and allowing your mind to wander. The sooner you finish the task at hand, the sooner you can relax and make the most of your downtime.
Try Working in Sprints
When you’re trying to stay on task, one of the biggest problems is that it can be difficult to tell how long you’ve been working – and if you decide to take a break and flip over to a website for a few minutes, it’s easy to lose track of how long you’ve been away from your task. If you’re the one managing your own time, you can get to the point where you’re spending almost as much time taking breaks as you are working.
If frequent long breaks are hurting your productivity, you need a better way to keep track of what you’re doing with your time. You might find the Pomodoro Technique useful. To use this technique, all that you need is a stopwatch. Some people also use mechanical cooking timers, which is how the name of the technique came about.
To use the Pomodoro Technique, set your stopwatch for 25 minutes and start working. While the 25-minute timer is running, you should focus entirely on your work without allowing yourself to be interrupted or distracted by anything. When the timer expires, take a short break of about 5-10 minutes. Read your favorite website or enjoy a vape – it’s up to you.
When your break is over, start the 25-minute timer and return to work. Each 25-minute block of work is one Pomodoro. You’ll take a short break after each Pomodoro. After every fourth Pomodoro, though, you’ll take a longer break of around 25 minutes. If you adhere to this technique, you’ll find that your work time is dramatically more productive.
Use a Task Management System
For some people, avoiding time-wasting distractions is the hardest part of staying on task when working from home. For others, though, the difficulty happens between tasks – when you’ve completed one thing and are trying to figure out what you should do next. If this is your problem, you need to find a more effective way to organize your tasks. Many people swear by the Getting Things Done (GTD) system. It’s a great way of avoiding lengthy downtime between tasks.
There’s an entire book explaining how to get the most out of the GTD system, and it’s worth reading if you find this basic overview useful. In short, though, the GTD system works like this.
- Use a single inbox for collecting all of your incoming tasks. This will often be your email inbox.
- When you receive a new task, determine whether you can complete it in just a couple of minutes. If you can, do it immediately.
- If you can’t complete the task immediately, decide whether the task can be completed in one step or multiple steps. If the task requires multiple steps, write those steps down.
- Put all of the steps that you need to complete – for both the single-step and multiple-step tasks – into a list.
- Sort the steps by importance, so the most important tasks are at the top of the list.
- When you complete a task, do whatever is at the top of the list.
When you use the GTD system, you always have a to-do list that you can refer to after completing a task. The list will help to ensure that you never have to worry about idle time between tasks.
Use Your Work Application’s Full-Screen or Focus Mode
Did you know that many Windows and Mac applications have the ability to run in full-screen mode? Microsoft Word, for instance, has a Focus mode that you can enable by clicking the “Focus” button at the bottom of the window. In this mode, the Word window covers your operating system’s taskbar and prevents other applications from distracting you. Try it if you can’t resist switching between your work application and your web browser.
Lock Yourself Out of Time-Wasting Websites
If you can’t manage to summon the willpower to keep yourself away from your favorite time-wasting websites, it might be time to do something a little more drastic. Your home router most likely has a parental filter that allows you to block certain websites – and in many cases, it’s possible to configure those filters to turn on and off during specific time ranges. Consider creating filters that automatically lock you out of time-wasting websites during working hours. When work is over, you can configure your router to remove the blocks automatically.
Don’t Let Your Phone Distract You
Many people who work from home find that their computers aren’t major sources of distraction. Maybe that’s the case for you – maybe you actually find that you’re more likely to be pulled away from work by the alerts that you constantly receive on your phone. It might be because you can’t resist texting your friends while you’re working, or it could be because you’re using a computer provided by your employer and don’t visit non-work websites on it at all. Either way, if your phone is preventing you from staying on task, it’s got to go. Turn your phone off or keep it in another room while you work.
Lynn Martelli is an editor at Readability. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University and has worked as an editor for over 10 years. Lynn has edited a wide variety of books, including fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, and more. In her free time, Lynn enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family and friends.