To keep the workday from consuming your life, learn to become “Indistractable.”
When large swaths of the U.S. population transitioned to work from home in March 2020, they lost that critical physical boundary between their work domain and other life domains. As a result, those facets of life have bled into each other, with work often taking precedence.
A September 2021 study showed Americans’ work week has gotten 10 percent longer; it determined the length of a workday based on when employees sent their first and last messages each day.
What does that mean?
It means we’re spending more time logged on—but it doesn’t necessarily indicate we’re getting more done.
Many of us are so distracted and unproductive at home that our work schedules are inadvertently taking over the entire day.
It’s tragic but not surprising.
At home is a set of distractions that we previously didn’t have access to during the workday—plus, zero external accountability to prevent us from taking part in them.
You might find yourself thinking, Oh, let me just throw in a load of laundry before writing that report, or I can’t focus—maybe watching just one short Netflix show wouldn’t hurt. And there’s no one around to stop you.
The office comes with its own trip-ups, but everyone in an office is there to work (supposedly!). And studies show that we work better when we have an audience.
If we are to confine our work to working hours, then we have to become Indistractable at home.
Timebox your calendar
Use a schedule maker to box out periods of time to work on specific tasks each day. That way, when you find yourself chopping vegetables for dinner when your timeboxed calendar says you should be answering emails, you’ll know you’re distracted.
Find the root of your distraction
If you find your mind wandering repeatedly from your designated task, it’s time to pause and ask yourself why that is. Beyond the temptation of doing household chores, it’s likely an internal trigger is driving you to distraction.
An internal trigger is a bad feeling, such as fear, guilt, and shame. Because of our innate desire to escape pain, we often turn to distraction as a way to escape these internal triggers.
In order to improve focus and pursue traction, we have to disarm internal triggers by having strategies ready for how we will deal with them.
Create a signal to deter family or roommates
You might have had a desk and even a cubicle or office when you were working in person, but at home, a designated workspace is harder to come by.
Not everyone has a home office, and sometimes, even that isn’t enough to prevent those who live with you from knocking at the door.
Your pesky roommates associate you being home with being free to talk, and it’s hard for them to break that habit.
But they just need a signal that indicates you’re busy and they shouldn’t interrupt.
That signal may be a simple Do Not Disturb sign that you set next to yourself as you work—my book Indistractable includes a red light screen sign you can cut out for your desktop computer. Or it may look like a pair of headphones or even a funny hat.
Set up focused virtual work sessions with colleagues
We can tame daily distractions with a precommitment pact, and making effort pacts with other people is one of the best ways to stay committed. Effort pacts make us less likely to abandon the task at hand.
You may not be working in person with your colleagues, but you can still facilitate virtual work sessions to hold each other accountable and help you focus during work hours.
Or, if your schedules don’t align, you can create an effort pact with a stranger through Focusmate.com, a system that pairs you up with a virtual coworker for built-in human accountability.
Break the cycle of responsiveness
In her book Sleeping with Your Smartphone, consultant turned professor Leslie Perlow, discusses what she calls “the cycle of responsiveness.”
It’s when employees adjust to the demands of their work by changing their “schedules, the way they work, and even the way they live their lives and interact with family and friends.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many people had never worked from home before and didn’t have ground rules for what that would look like. Their employers likewise didn’t have plans in place for how remote work would change the responsibilities and availability of their teams.
That uncertainty might have led to a dysfunctional remote work culture that made employees feel like they needed to be plugged in all the time.
To disrupt the cycle of responsiveness, set hard boundaries for work hours. Communicate with your colleagues about your hours of availability. Use your schedule to timebox designated hours for work, discuss with your boss, and adhere to it.
Working from home forces us to either take control of our productivity or lose time for friends, family, and ourselves, distracting us from the reasons we work so hard in the first place.
- Habit Tracker Template — Use My (Printable) Google Sheet
- Schedule Maker — Use My Google Sheet Template
- Timeboxing: The Magical Productivity Hack You’re Not Using
- The New York Times Uses the Very Dark Patterns it Derides
- What is the Opposite of “Distraction?” The Single Word that Will Change Your Life This Year
- Hyperbolic Discounting: Why You Make Terrible Life Choices
- Happiness Hack: This One Ritual Made Me Much Happier