Monday, March 9, 2015

Dealing With Distractions
There are many advantages to working from home. Flexible hours. Casual attire. The ability to take a break (nap) when you need one.

Unfortunately, there are drawbacks as well. It's far too easy to develop tunnel vision, pulling up a chair and staying in one place, glued to the task at hand, and oblivious to the fact that there's a whole world outside the "office." And on other days, it's just as easy to do nothing at all.

But the biggest challenge is dealing with distractions. When home and work are separated, most of the distractions at work tend to be somewhat work-related. You can't exactly slip out of the office to run home and throw in a load of laundry.

But when the office is at home, each one pollutes the other. Distractions in the form of phone calls, household chores and family members abound, making it increasingly more likely that the "nothing at all" scenario will be the best description of what I accomplished that day.

For me, the temptations toward human contact (e-mails, Facebook, ringing phone) are the hardest ones to ignore. Having worked outside the home for most of my working life, I have a clear line between home and work when it comes to division of tasks. But having worked in a people-intensive profession, I'm sometimes a sucker for human interaction, even when I'm supposed to be working.

There are all sorts of high-tech fixes and productivity apps out there that promise to make it more likely I end my day closer to the "glued to the task at hand" end of the productivity continuum, but the easiest and most helpful fix is a simple piece of advice I read years ago (before e-mail and Facebook and Twitter and cell phones) and a very low-tech solution.

Just because the phone rings, that doesn't mean I have to answer it.

My husband remains befuddled by this guideline, but I swear by it, which brings me to my low-tech solution.

Caller ID.

Yes, I screen. And I do so because the very same article that taught me that I don't have to answer a ringing phone explained that doing so is allowing someone else's priorities to usurp my own.

Now, there are a number of people who've earned the right to usurp my priorities, even when I'm working -- which is why I love caller ID. When the phone rings, and it's one of these people, I answer it. When the phone rings, and it's not one of these people, but rather a telemarketer, an automated appointment reminder (an entire blog post in and of itself) or a wrong number, there is no good reason for me to drop what I'm doing and relinquish my train of thought, which, these days, may derail permanently after only one brief, unscheduled stop. I am supposed to be working after all.

So whether my office du jour is my home office, my living room sofa or my local Starbucks, when the phone rings, I look before answering.

It's the best way I know the make sure the mental trains are running on time.

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