Limit distractions and interruptions to improve your remote working life

Interruptions and distractions can endanger productivity. Here's how you can limit them while you're working remotely.

Working remotely brings with it a whole new set of benefits—and distractions.

From interrupting family members to a ringing doorbell, navigating these distractions is critical because their impact can be more detrimental than you think.

On average, it takes people around 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on a task after being distracted.

That’s time and productivity wasted. But there are ways you can limit these distractions and interruptions so you can keep focused.

Limiting physical distractions

Physical distractions generally involve working when others are also at home. Limiting these physical interruptions are heavily focused on communication.

1. Let family members know about meetings and focus sessions

Tell everyone in your household the meetings and focus sessions you have planned for the day. Consider marking these times on a shared calendar to ensure they are clearly communicated.

2. Set household expectations

Don’t expect everyone in your house to automatically know how best not to distract you.

Some might assume that your focus sessions just mean they can’t knock on your door to interrupt your work, but it’s okay to vacuum.

If you need people to stay quieter than usual, make sure everyone knows. Setting expectations should create a smoother experience for everyone.

You could even explore some WFH automation like Heather Smith shared in her Xero Mastermind Group.

3. Turn a room into your office

It’s important that you have a dedicated and permanent remote working space.

If you can, try only to use the space for your work, so that when you cross the threshold, you’re entering work mode.

But if you can’t dedicate a specific room, do what you can to be as productive as possible in the space you have:

  • Choose a room with a door: this will help create a barrier between you and your housemates. 

  • Get a desk: even a lap desk will help to further establish your work area.

  • Lighting: make sure there’s plenty of natural light in your space (this helps with your vision, and how well your clients and colleagues can see you during virtual meetings).

  • Comfortable, supportive seating: an office chair will help you feel supported during your 8-hour working days.

  • Filing cabinets or shelves for organizing documents: keep your hard copy documents organized. There’s no benefit in temporary storage solutions.

  • Short on space? Build a 'Cloffice'.

4. Invest in noise-cancelling headphones

Noise pollution isn’t just an issue from within your home—traffic, street noise and construction works can also impact your ability to focus while working remotely.

A good pair of noise-cancelling headphones will help block these disruptions.

Regular headphones might drown out some distracting noises while you're listening to music, but they won’t block the most annoying sounds. Listen to music through noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds for the best results.

Limiting digital distractions

Interruptions from your electronic devices are some of the most dangerous. Luckily, most apps allow you to control these distractions. Plus, some digital tools can help you avoid the temptation of social media and other distracting websites altogether.

Here are some suggestions for overcoming digital distractions:

1. Snooze notifications

Snooze all notifications while you focus on work. Check your settings for:

  • Emails

  • Text messages

  • Slack messages

  • Zoom calls

  • Social media alerts

2. Close apps and windows that distract you

Feeling tempted to check Facebook or ESPN to distract yourself from a challenging task? You don’t have to rely on your willpower alone. Recruit help from website blockers like:

No matter the device, operating system or browser, you can find an app that will help block distractions.

Recommended reading: 3 powerful ways to remove mental blocks while working remotely

3. Let your team know when you’re unavailable

Clearly communicate to your team when you’re unavailable. This way, they can wait to call or Slack you when you’re free to answer questions. Consider encouraging your team to share their weekly focus sessions via Google calendar (or similar) so everyone can visualize each other’s time blocks.

4. Work in time blocks with scheduled breaks

You might feel some anxiety when you sit down to work on a long, difficult project. Some people respond to that anxiety by procrastinating, but few things waste time more than procrastination.

To combat this, try splitting your day into time blocks with scheduled breaks. You can use the Pomodoro Technique to break your day down into 25-minute focus sessions, which are followed by 5-minute breaks.

Some distractions are inevitable, so prepare for them

You can’t eliminate all distractions. At some point, your child will skin a knee, or a neighbor will start a noisy home improvement project, or your mind will refuse to cooperate with your plans. 

Prepare for those distractions by staying as flexible as possible. You might need to readjust your plans for the day, or even the week. Just make sure you have the right tools and techniques to manage these interruptions.