17 Ways to Kill Common Distractions

frustratedWith all the noise from the Internet, our computers and our environment, some folks struggle to work and focus even for 10 minutes straight. In this post, I’m going to offer some ways you can stop the distractions so you can get your tasks done.

  1. Turn off automatic email check: Do you have your email app pop up or ping whenever a new message comes in? Turn it off. Most of us can’t resist checking email.
  2. Close or minimize your email app: Whether you use Gmail (s goog) or Outlook (s msft), close or minimize the app so you stop looking at it. I use Thunderbird and Gmail. As I write this, my browser sits in the task bar so I don’t keep looking at the second monitor to check for new messages. That little step of kicking the email app to the task bar works for me.
  3. Close or minimize your browser: You may not use a web-based email app or keep it open all the time. But having the browser open when you don’t need it can turn it into a distraction. Seeing the browser, your eyes can’t help but look at whatever web site the browser has open for you. Again, send it off to the task bar or close it. A blank page can still act like a temptress.
  4. Download a different browser: If you use Firefox for all your browsing needs, download Opera, Google Chrome or other browser to use as a “research browser”. Using a secondary browser will cut the temptation to visit your favorite sites since you won’t have bookmarks or saved passwords. Avoid using bookmarks and saved passwords in the secondary browser.
  5. Install fun apps on a different computer: Most of us have more than one computer. Since I do game reviews, I install all games on my laptop rather than my desktop. Even though playing games is part of my job, it can take over my other work. With the laptop in another room, I’m not tempted to play even the most addicting ones.
  6. Use a timer: If you can’t work for 10 minutes free of distractions, set the timer for 10 minutes and work on the task until it dings. Up it to 15 next time around and work your way to 25 minutes, the recommended time from the Pomodoro Technique.
  7. Shut out noise: Way back in the day when I worked in a corporate environment, I had a neighbor who used his speaker phone every day. When this happened, I turned off my hearing aid to resort to my inborn silence. Few people can do that. Instead, try noise-canceling headphones, ear plugs or listening to music (Dawn outlines some of the strategies she uses here). If you’re a web worker, then you probably have a laptop. Take it and go somewhere quiet.
  8. Set up a phone system: You may have people (family and specific colleagues, perhaps) that you must be available for at all times. Brainstorm how you can set up your phone to be open for those important calls, while shutting out the run of the mill calls. See the next tip for one idea.
  9. Unleash the cell phone: If you need zero interruptions, then turn off the phone. Don’t just put it on vibrate, as you can hear that. If you must stay leashed to the phone for emergencies, how about modifying your cell phone’s profile? Set it up so that calls from emergency numbers have a specific ring tone, while silencing all other incoming calls.
  10. Turn off the landline ringer: Home office workers may have a landline phone to contend with on top of their cell phones. Turn those off. Let the calls go to voicemail.
  11. Leave the cell phone in another room: I had to stop bringing my phone with me to workouts because I’d keep check it. If something came in, I’d stop exercising and deal with it. Unless I’m expecting something, I leave my phone in a different room. Out of sight, out of mind.
  12. Post instructions on the door: Do you frequently receive packages as part of your work? The doorbell ringing or door knocking can disrupt your work. Leave a note for the delivery services to not ring the bell or knock on the door. Make it a habit to check for packages at set times of the day, if you worry about theft.
  13. Schedule social media time: Many of us struggle to limit the number of times we check on our favorite social media sites. If you have a bunch of tweets or notes you want to post, use an automated service to spread them out and keep you away from the site. Or, create a schedule for check-ins.
  14. Go offline: C’mon, you must have some tasks you can complete without the Internet. Disconnect your computer or laptop from the network to force the issue, if you must.
  15. Create habits: Because I never play games on my desktop in my home office, I never feel the urge to play the addicting ones. It takes 21 days to form a new habit. So pick one habit and stick with it for at least three weeks. Routines do make a difference.
  16. Educate family: The school day doesn’t go on long enough for a full day’s work or a partner works in the home with you. Set up visuals that tell your family when they must not interrupt you. It could be closed doors or a sign on the door. Kids have different definitions of emergencies, so discuss what you consider an emergency.
  17. Schedule household chores: Taking a short break from the computer is a must. This could be a good time to do brief chores such as loading laundry, marinate dinner or vacuuming one room. Save the longer chores for longer breaks, or when the family is around.

Many web workers rely on technology to get our jobs done. These tips help you draw the line so you use the technology for completing tasks without any sidetracking.

What other distractions do you face? How do you handle them?

Photo credit: Rajesh Sundaram