We all need to avoid distractions at work. And some of us are better at it than others. However, telecommuters get unfairly saddled with a reputation for getting sidetracked when, in fact, offices are filled with people and things to pull your attention from the task at hand.
A lot depends on the individual's ability to avoid distractions, not necessarily the work setting. That being the case, it is even more important to avoid distractions when working at home as a telecommuter, if you want your work-at-home arrangement to continue.
And for those who are independent contractors working at home, distractions can lower your productivity and cut into your bottom line. And with only yourself to answer to, it may be easier to give in to temptation.
So how to deal with distractions? It really depends on what is distracting you, but here are a few tips on how to avoid these typical distractions.
It may seem unkind to say, but I bet you can guess what (or who) the first distraction to avoid is.
Friends and Family
It doesn't seem nice to call friends and family distractions, but if they don't understand that when you are "working from home" that means you are working, then they are a distraction. And it's not just children, spouses, friends, and neighbors can all make demands on your time that they wouldn't if you worked in an office. It is important to put the proper amount of childcare in place and set work-at-home ground rules.
This particular one is unique to telecommuters. In an office setting, you are not likely to try to run a load of laundry between meetings, though many office workers can make personal phone calls, surf the Internet for information or run a few errands on company time. And so likewise, it may be OK in your work arrangement to get a little housework done during working hours, but you can't let it take over. Depending on your job, it may be fine if that schedule means you wash up the breakfast dishes during your morning coffee break, but you have to stop there.
And the best way to keep it under control is to have a plan. Setting (and sticking to) a housework schedule for the whole family, including chores for the kids, means that the housework does not become the task delegated to the person working from home.
Email and Instant Messaging
Not all distractions are personal in nature. Sometimes distractions can actually be part of the essential functions of our jobs. For example, though these kinds of communications are essential to the telecommuter, they can eat up a lot of time. After all, it usually takes longer to write an email than to explain something in person.
Learning to write effective email can help because if you are clear in your emails, you may avoid a lot of back-and-forth questions. However, sometimes we just have to put these tools away in order to focus on the task at hand. Close your email or instant messaging program when you need a break. Or, perhaps, only open them on a schedule, checking email in the morning, after lunch and before quitting for the day.
Phone and Texts
Like email, the phone is essential to the telecommuter. However, it is an even more immediate interruption to what you are working on when it rings. Both personal and work-related phone calls can take you off task. Make good use of caller ID and let calls go into voice mail when you are busy. Limit personal calls during work hours.
Social Media and Web Surfing
Of course, these things distract our co-workers back at the office, but this is one place where the lack of oversight can make it worse for a telecommuter or independent contractor. If these are problems for you, you may have to go cold turkey and completely shut them down during work hours. If they are only minor temptations, simply limiting them to certain times may be effective. Either way, though, you probably don't want to have them running constantly on your computer.