At first, it is difficult to work from home. Your attention is all over the place, bouncing like a tennis ball from one thought to another. But ten minutes go by and you start to get into it. You are concentrating, your work begins to flow.
Suddenly someone interrupts you, disregarding the fact that you're in the middle of something. Someone wants to ask you an innocent question to you. You respond quickly and go back to your work. But your focus is no longer there, right? You have to start the concentration process all over again, sometimes from scratch.
How many times do you deal with interruptions while working?
It will surely happen to you more than once. Ok, maybe the first one won't affect your focus, but what about the fifth? and the tenth?
Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a huge challenge for many. With millions of people working remotely for the first time, many are struggling to manage a workday that now includes childcare and housework.
For those of us who have been working at home for years, this has been an apprenticeship that we gradually did, but most of them are experiencing a radical change that requires adapting to new ways of working. The good news is that when you work from home, you avoid interruptions from your colleagues at the office. The bad news is that you will probably have to deal with other types of interruptions and distractions.
Therefore, here I leave you a series of strategies for you to learn to manage interruptions working from home. They have helped me on my way to being more productive, and not dying of interruptions.
Why shouldn't you ignore the hype about smart interrupt management?
Mainly because if you don't do it, nobody is going to protect your time for you. It is your responsibility. So take matters into your own hands and create a system that works for you. Mute your mobile chat, or set it so calls go directly to voicemail. There is no reason why your time should depend on others.
Interruptions come at a cost to you. At the moment, it seems that interruptions don't take long, but they are a danger to your productivity because you lose focus. According to a study conducted at the University of California, after being interrupted from a certain task, it can take more than twenty minutes for your mind to fully refocus on the central task. If you are interrupted, on average, twice an hour or more, you may never increase your total ability to concentrate.
And on the other hand, it is that you prioritize the external. When someone interrupts you with a question or a conversation, they instantly become your immediate priority, whether they deserve it or not. This external prioritization can get in the way of your own goals and priorities, and will almost never align with what is truly most important to you.
Effective strategies for you to learn how to reduce interruptions and be more productive in your day-to-day
Nowadays, experiencing interruptions is becoming so common and repetitive that we are not aware of the impact they have on our productivity.
Unfortunately, it's hard to really control the reduction of interruptions, as many of them are out of your hands, but you can work to learn how to better manage your time, and your responses to interruptions so you can get back to productivity faster.
Below, I share with you the strategies that I use in my day to day and that help me minimize the impact of interruptions. While some tips may not work for everyone, I'm sure you can discover a couple of tips that will help you not lose your focus.
1. Define goals that you want to achieve at the end of your workday
When working from home, we don't have the structure of a work environment where there are timed breaks and clear start and end times. Creating a schedule tailored to the work you want to do can help you create that missing structure.
Therefore, make a plan for your work that has clear and realistic goals that you can expect to achieve within a given period of time. By breaking down your larger tasks into several smaller ones, you'll keep them from piling up, plus those "small wins" will keep you motivated.
For example, if your goal is to write a ten-page report, break that task down into smaller, more manageable steps that are less overwhelming. You can start with some background research, before you write, and then prepare an outline, setting a goal to write a specific number of pages per day.
2. Schedule your work and rest times
When you are working, establish a consistent schedule with the schedules aligned to the operation of the house. In fact, if they work for your family dynamic, keep "office hours." These can be flexible. For example, a couple of hours in the morning with an hour break, then a few more hours of work in the afternoon, with fifteen-minute breaks.
But if this type of schedule doesn't work for you, you may need to split up your day or change your work hours in order to have real focus time, without interruptions. That could mean getting up earlier or working late at night.
3. Plan interruptions at the beginning of the day
Yes, you read it right. Even the best plans you make to set aside time for your work can fall apart when unexpected interruptions appear. Effective planning is the cornerstone of a productive lifestyle. Planning interruptions can seem impossible, so here's a simple visualization to help you get off to a good start.
Begin each session by first thinking about possible interruptions you might encounter, and then rehearsing how you would respond. As interruptions arise you will know how to deal with them. An expected interruption does not have to have power over your day.
4. How to refocus after being interrupted
Learning to regain focus after being interrupted is a skill you must develop and be extremely good at if you want to get any work done.
Generally, the usual tendency is to try to resume work as soon as possible after the interruption has been overcome. But this is not ideal. Take two minutes to refocus, collect your thoughts, and regain your focus before resuming the task you were doing. Having a checklist for homework assignments will also help.
5. Set limits on your work time
While you should be flexible with your schedule, it's important to set clear limits on your work time. It's a well-known hack for longtime remote workers, but employees who find themselves suddenly teleported from the office to home will often end up working longer hours than when they go to the office.
This idealized image of spotless workspaces, impervious to outside distractions and wandering family members goes out the window. Nowadays, everyone is competing for every corner, looking for a way to improvise a home office.
Interruptions are not only annoying, but they also make your work time unproductive. The same University of California study mentioned above looked at what an outage could actually cost. While about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed the same day, the study found that it takes people an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task they were doing before being interrupted.
Start by explaining to your family, or the people you live with, why it is essential that they not bother you. Set the hours you expect not to be interrupted and the conditions under which an exception can be made.
6. Learn to say no assertively to reduce interruptions
Now, earlier I told you that some interruptions are important and unavoidable. Those are the ones you need to plan for. However, some interruptions are unimportant and can be avoided entirely. Those are the ones you should stop. And the best way to do it is to SAY NO. Don't beat around the bush. Don't make an excuse. Be simple and practical. “I am not available at the moment. Can we talk about it later?"
As I always say, learning to say no is much easier than living with the consequences of always saying yes. Practice it. Use it. Yes, it feels awkward at first, but missed deadlines and to-do lists are even more awkward.
7. Extra topicality: be flexible in the learning process
We are living a new reality, living with a global pandemic. Not only people, institutions, offices, and local businesses have to reinvent themselves. People who had to travel to their place of work, who now have to be at home, also have a duty to do so.
With this, I just want to tell you to have an open mind when dealing with interruptions. Do not get frustrated if you do not finish managing and reducing them on the first day, nor on the second. Everything has its process to learn to avoid them correctly.
Remember that everything in life is a beta phase of continuous improvement. Every action you do, always to get something better.
While it can be tempting to point the finger at sources as the root cause of our interruptions, we are often our own worst enemy. For any of us, overcoming interruptions begins with overcoming our own bad habits.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter exactly what you do, as long as you find an approach that works for you. Keep in mind that getting used to it can take a while at first; especially if you had a “full access and open doors” philosophy beforehand.
Also, I recommend that you stop being surprised by interruptions. Yes, it is better that you plan ahead, so you incorporate it into your equation. When you set deadlines, negotiate deadlines, or just plan your day, assume that you'll probably drift off course multiple times. Give yourself a little leeway to allow it.
If it's scheduled so tightly that you have no wiggle room, the slightest interruption will ruin everything for you. By planning ahead, unexpected interruptions could be dealt with without causing you too much trouble getting back to work.
Back to work. That's what you were about to do, right?
If you have found any useful tips in your quest for a solution to interruptions, please share them. The good is always shared.
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