In our recent survey on transitioning to working remotely (click here to view results), employees responded the least favorably to the item “I do not typically respond to personal demands/distractions during allocated work time.” Only 35% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed to this statement, meaning 65% of respondents are struggling to some extent with personal demands or distractions while working from home. Although this might not be the time to aim for a perfect workflow, trying to reduce distractions can be beneficial not only for your work efficiency, but also to establish boundaries between work life and home life. Here are some strategies to help manage personal demands and distractions while working from home:
Plan and prepare for necessary and urgent personal demands
There may be some new personal demands you’re experiencing during work hours that you can’t ignore or attend to later. An example of this is feeding your child lunch when you used to rely on school lunch. The best way to manage these demands is to plan and prepare for them. If you scheduled this into your work day, you can make sure you don’t schedule meetings over it and you have enough time to work around it. If possible, try using evenings or weekends to prepare for these demands that you know will occur during your work day. Going off the previous example, you could meal prep to reduce the amount of time you spend during your work day preparing food.
Schedule necessary but non-urgent personal demands outside of work hours
When working in the office, there was a physical boundary between when it was time to work and when it was time to attend to personal demands. It might have felt unnecessary back then to schedule in time to attend to personal demands, but now that these boundaries are blurring together you might find yourself doing laundry when you were supposed to be working on a work project. Laundry is necessary and needs to get done, but you can think ahead to which day you need to do laundry and schedule that in ahead of time. This can give you more peace of mind while working. If your cohabitant is relying on you to complete these necessary demands, having a plan for when they will get done will also give your cohabitant peace of mind and trust. Take note of which necessary personal demands are interrupting your work flow and come up with a plan on when you’ll attend to them throughout the week.
Reduce recurring unnecessary distractions
Even before Covid-19 times, research has shown that telecommuters may experience increased pressure and expectations for family involvement, which can lead to a higher likelihood of home life conflicting with work life (Golden et al., 2006). Having more time to spend with family can be a great benefit of working from home, but if you’re finding it distracting to your work then making your cohabitants more aware of your schedule may help. Try communicating your schedule to your household while emphasizing the hours where it’s essential that you can work without distractions. Meetings are a more obvious block of time where it’s important to not be interrupted, but if you need a block of time to think deeply about a project or meet a deadline you can “set a meeting with yourself” and block it off on your calendar. Some ideas for communicating your schedule are by having a shared family whiteboard to write down meetings or classes for the day, a shared virtual calendar, or a do-not-disturb sign on the door. If possible, also allocate hours where you are accessible to family if needed.
Monitor one-time distractions
If you find yourself distracted by one-time events that don’t seem to be recurring issues, then make a mental note of them and monitor if they happen again. Keep in mind that not every distraction needs to be managed and it’s normal to become distracted every now and then. It’s also helpful to think about whether an event is a distraction or a break. This article explains that there’s a difference between your attention being hijacked by something else when you’re supposed to focus on a task (i.e., distraction) and allowing yourself a healthy mind-wandering break (e.g., a walk). Mind-wandering can be psychologically restorative and foster creativity, so incorporating these types of breaks can help you stay focused when you do sit down to work.
Inevitably, there will be increased or new distractions when working from home with your entire household. Accepting this new reality and not becoming stressed over every distraction is important. It is also important to recognize that you may not be experiencing the same microbreaks that you used to by talking to coworkers or walking around the office, so allow yourself healthy breaks and don’t expect to be able to sit in front of a screen for 8 hours consecutively. But when trying to find some normalcy during these times and concentrate on your work, try implementing some of these strategies to manage distractions and blurred boundaries between home life and work life.