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Driven To Distraction

By Mark Landsbaum

One reason the home office workday stretches into an exhaustive 12 hours rather than merely a weary 10 is because we’re so easily distracted. There’s the refrigerator, the television, the Internet, computer solitaire, the neighbor, the dog. The bed. Admit it, you’ve occasionally snuck a few midday zzz’s.

Yes, yes. Those are perks of working at home. But as with potato chips, it’s hard to indulge just once. That’s why these effective tips will help you decrease the time spent on distractions and increase your home office productivity.

Discipline Yourself
This is at the top of the list and the root of the problem.

Remember school? You had five minutes to get from biology class to algebra and managed to make it just in time. Had you been given 30 minutes, guess what? You would have made it just in time. Discipline is the foundation that the remainder of these tips will build upon.

Use Schedules
Set specific times for regular distractions like checking e-mail, phoning Mom or walking the dog. You’ll simultaneously reduce the number of times you indulge and limit the time you lose.

Otherwise, you’ll find yourself rising frequently, wandering off and losing track of how many times you’ve been distracted. Like a leaky faucet, you don’t realize the steady drip, drip, drip costs you gallons until you pay the bill.

Defer Gratification
Rewards work, but they cease to be rewards if you get one any time you want. For the same reason out-of-the-home employers reward their people with breaks every couple of hours, you should, too. But don’t take that break if you’ve already snuck a nap when you were supposed to be working.

Remove Temptations
Are computer games constantly tugging at your attention? Uninstall them from the office computer. Are you an e-mail- or instant message-aholic? Close those applications so you don’t get buzzed every time someone with less discipline gets an urge.

Oh yes, and turn off the TV. Duh.

Stifle That Phone
There’s no need to answer every incoming telephone call every time the phone rings. That’s the beauty of answering machines.

If you’re petrified you might miss something critical, simply turn up the volume so you can screen the messages being left. If it’s truly urgent, you can swivel in your chair and pick up the receiver.

Set Hard Limits
Regular schedules will limit the frequency of your distractions, but you’ve gained nothing by cutting back from 10 to two distractions a day if each one drags on for two hours.

If one of your regularly scheduled indulgences is to take a stroll in the fresh air, allow yourself five, 10 or 15 minutes, but no more. Invest in one of those $10 watches that comes with a timer and alarm. Tip: If you want to walk for 10 minutes, set the alarm for five. When the alarm goes off, set it for another five, turn around and head home.  

    Mark Landsbaum is a journalist, author and veteran of more than a dozen years of fighting distractions in his home office, which he finds most difficult when the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team is on TV.

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