Quick read: Avoiding distractions when working from home

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Peter Gardner just tweeted (ironically enough) about a product called Anti-social.

It seems like a pretty simple desktop app:image

I’ve been freelancing for the past ~2 years, and this got me thinking about how I manage my time while working from home?

  • I don’t actually work from home. I work out of an office in my garden which creates a very real line between what is work and what isn’t. It seems like a small difference, but it is very important.
  • Throughout the day I set mini “goals”. Things like “when I finish view X I can watch a video that a friend has Skyped me”.
  • Music! If I play music I find that I get less distracted by other things, especially going to sites like YouTube because that would require me to pause the music.
  • I ignore emails. Usually not on purpose, but just because I forget to open Outlook. It’s 12:19PM now, and I just realized it was closed.
  • I used to unplug my network cable for hours at a time as a way to enforce no internet usage. These days almost all my work is against live API’s so I can’t do that (but maybe Anti-Social is a good idea for this).
  • Probably most importantly, I try only take on work that is actually interesting (but this isn’t always possible).

So I’m interested to hear from other devs – how do you avoid distractions?

I’ve often though about making a simple little app that tracks how much time I spend in each app during an average day. Maybe one day I will – but I’m not sure I will like the results.

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  • cathjenkin

    Hah. Yes.

    1. Music.
    2. Locking yourself in a part of the house or having a dedicated office space is ESSENTIAL.
    3. The mini-goals thing? I do a goal list for the week, and then break it down into days. Every day has a deadline for something, but this way I also find that I can more easily carve out time for other things I need to do (like school events etc).
    4. Turning off social media and/or your Internet connection when you need to focus entirely is SO flipping important.
    5. Start each day properly. Breakfast, shower etc. BEFORE you sit down to work. This is the one thing I still battle to get right.

    • RogueCode

      Thanks Cath. I really struggle with the eating thing. I get to 5PM and have forgotten breakfast and lunch. Which probably isn’t the best idea for concentration.

      • cathjenkin

        Same. Most days, by the time P&C get home I’m like a grumpy starving Loch ness monster. And that’s why. NEED TO REMEMBER TO EAT

  • Louise van der Bijl

    Brilliant blog post, kinda like the bible for home workers.
    My biggest issue is getting lonely and eating. I get bored I snack… A lot, doesn’t help the diet.

    I also use movies instead of music, ones I have seen waaayyy to many times, because then I feel like there are people around, music doesn’t work, cause I end up typing the lyrics, or getting down with instrumental.

    I don’t have a home office, I have a home table, which is kinda nice, except when rob yells at me for taking over the entire table.

    Reward system works like a charm for me. Do the work, get the smoke break 🙂
    It also helps when u get zoned into your task, some times I almost miss gym cause I get so into it.

    *fist bump* again awesome post

  • TheFuntastic

    There already is an app for tracking time spent at your pc: RescueTime! Can’t recommend it enough. It tracks everything you do at your computer and shows just how productive you actually are with excellent graphs and breakdowns. Been using it for about a year now – it’s very illuminating. It also features the same blocking mechanisms as anti-social, but besides the need for a paid subscription I find the minimalist interface in Anti-social more friendly.

    The main problem I have is that whenever I encounter a mildly difficult problem I’m not sure how to tackle this leads to me to experience a very subtle kind of anxiety. Unfortunately your brain is very good at mitigating anxiety – and thus you end up going for a snack, commenting on blog posts (oh the irony, I know) or worse finding refuge in social media.

    I find social media particularly insidious as it’s highly compelling to our brain’s rewards systems – infrequent rewards and continuous novelty. This means it’s incredibly easy to habitualize the act of opening up twitter or checking your facebook feed. In fact since I’ve been using RescueTime/Anti-Social it’s very alarming to notice just how many times I subliminally open a new tab, point it to facebook.com – very often whilst I’m mid stream in some complex programming task.

    Thankfully for your productivity a tool like Anti-social acts as a pattern interrupt and the blank page you see instead of facebook reminds you what you should be focusing on. We all know how destructive the alternative is 😉

    All that being said though tools like anti social and rescuetime are not magic bullets. They go against the grain of what your brain naturally wants to do, and I find to really dial in on the zen of productivity you need to be very aware of yourself and your mental state: Did you sleep well, are you eating right, all the way to profound questions like are you feeling lonely etc etc.

  • Daryl Van Sittert

    damn…. must also remember to avoid reading blogs