Blog Post

Dealing With Distractions

Photo by Patrick Fitzgerald
Photo by Patrick Fitzgerald

As I sit here working on blog posts, I can hear my next door neighbor, aka @crazyneighbor, carry on loudly through the wall of my home office. He seems to be alternating between mowing the lawn, making very loud whooping noises, and fixing his car. Needless to say, it can be pretty distracting.

When I worked in an off-site office, I had plenty of distractions, too. Usually in the form of one of these interesting characters: Mr. “I talk loudly on my phone in the cubicle next door,” Ms. “I love my speakerphone all of the time,” Mr. “Drop in and chat even when people are busy” or Ms. “I make very smelly food in the microwave.”

Becoming a web worker has a completely different set of distractions. Kids are an additional distraction for many of my friends, and while I’ve avoided that particular one, I have plenty of my own. Loud neighbors, a significant other who is also a web worker, household chores, Twitter and many other things pull me out of the zone and into a distracted state.

I have, however, a few ways of dealing with distractions and the reduced productivity that come with them.

Music can help drown out many noises. While I am a fan of really bad 80’s pop music, it can also be a distraction if I’m trying to do strategic consulting or writing, so I frequently turn to music in foreign languages. Since I can’t understand the lyrics, I find them less distracting. My favorites are Latin Jazz (Pancho Sanchez and Tito Puente are good choices) or Rammstein.

Embracing the chaos can also help. If I’m not going to be able to concentrate, it can be a great excuse to work on invoicing, entering expenses and other tedious tasks that have to be completed, but don’t require much concentration. It might also be a great time to get out of the house and grab a quick workout and hope that the distractions will be reduced when I return.

Relocating to another room on the other side often works, too — assuming you have multiple rooms where you can work. A local coffee shop, library, coworking space or other location might also be a good way to get away from the distractions.

What are your biggest distractions and how do you deal with them?

20 Responses to “Dealing With Distractions”

  1. One that probably just slipped your mind. Talk to your neighbor in a subtle way to know that he is audible through your wall. If that doesn’t work, it is perfectly acceptable to request that they be a little more quiet.

    All else fails, but low dB soft ear plugs and put them gentle in your ear. Drowns out enough noise you can’t hear your neighbor’s speakerphone but not enough that you can’t hear your own phone ring.


  2. Steve

    I use the foreign language music method too. To add to it, throw in a pair of noise canceling ear canal headphones and a nature sounds soundtrack (waves, forest, rain, etc…) and you’ve got your own personal quiet zone.

    Noise is not my problem – having all the world’s information at my disposal via the internet is too tempting as I can read the newspapers and blogs all day, literally.

  3. I just turn off my hearing aid if there are noises bugging the heck out of me. But I don’t like to have it off all the time because I do like the real quiet and be listening for doorbells. When my kids get too loud after school (meaning I am still working), I’d turn them off — but fear someone will start screaming in pain (that’s what happens when the younger two are boys).

    Sometimes I play music — but not too often. When I know the words to a song by heart — I feel compelled to follow the song, I can’t type and follow the song at the same time. Listening is harder for me than for most.

  4. Scott, I love the fan / white noise idea.

    Julie, yeah, I can’t think of anything that would make that kind of distraction better – aside from evacuation and avoidance, but I guess you would have to come home to it at some point :)

  5. Music is a good one especially if the distractions are in your head :)
    I really enjoy using they have all music and no commericals and you make “your own station”
    Plus I have a toddler who likes to dance.

  6. Fans…electric ones that whirr and make an even, clean white noise. Love ’em. I used one under my desk when I worked in an office, mainly because the colleague across the hallway blasted his voice mail over his speakerphone (I still don’t understand that practice). Now I use one in my home office to mask barking dogs, garbage trucks, and random yelling from the alley outside. I sleep with a fan on, too.

  7. joe btsfplk

    “researching” things I’m not going to act on–e.g., the stock market, product reviews of things I don’t need to buy–are my worst breakdowns. Closing the lid and taking a 5-minute break is the way to move away from those thought streams. I live by “embrace the chaos.”

  8. martha in mobile

    pandora radio helps when I am at home; also, rebooting the laundry–I think (and do not check email) while folding. Going to the coffee house with only the folders required to finish a specific, finite job lets me know when I am “done.” Then I do a few life-related tasks before diving back in.

  9. All of the above work for me as long as they’re “normal” distractions. The day both toilets did a credible impression of Old Faithful followed by a stench that is best not described did me in. Thankfully, the problems were caused by work the city was performing, so there were no plumbing bills. That would have just been insult on top of injury.

  10. rice1077

    My biggest distractions are of my own doing: tasty leftovers in the fridge, cats, and other shiny things. I also use music to drown out the loud neighbors, honking horns,etc. But as you mentioned, sometimes its just not happening so I get out of the house for awhile and when I get back, my focus is there.

  11. Well, I was getting some work done until this article popped up in my RSS reader and distracted me! Nice read. Now please excuse me. I have to get back to work.