Our world is full of stimulus—there’s always something to read, something to watch, somewhere to be; and it’s not always easy to determine what is a legitimate use of your time and attention.
If you’re finding it hard to keep work at work, or can’t find enough time in the day, here are some great ideas to clear out distractions and focus on what matters.
1. Make time for play
Especially if you work from home, it’s impossible to completely shut yourself off from distractions—but if you allow for periodic breaks, you can have a kind of “safety valve” to prevent yourself from going off the rails. Keep something fun within arms’ length—a guitar, a book, etc.—and give yourself a few minutes every hour to take a break from work. Carefully managed, these distractions can actually enhance your critical thinking skills, and make your work hours more effective.
Especially with sites like Reddit and Youtube, it’s important to give yourself bounded time to indulge—they can be a good source of entertainment and information, but it’s easy to forget that they are limitless. If you find yourself saying “just one more” at three in the morning, it’s time to give yourself some limits.
Keep separate email accounts for work and personal use; never check your work email from home, and never check your personal email at work. If you can afford it, keep a separate workspace from your personal computer, with no games, social media bookmarks, or other distractions. Remove social media from your habits by taking alerts off of your phone for services like Twitter and Facebook.
3. Inform others of your schedule
Emergencies will happen in both your personal and professional life—websites go down, deadlines get missed, kids get sick—but to the extent possible, make it clear to your colleagues that while you’re at home you need to be focused on your family—and make it clear to your family that you need to focus on work during work hours. When you’re home, make sure to spend productive time with your family, with books, games, discussions, working on home improvements together, or quality entertainment—if you’re not engaged in something worthwhile, it’s easy to settle into a meandering, aimless routine.
4. Reduce your dependence on gadgets
Technology has made our lives simultaneously easier and more complicated. If you find yourself upgrading to the latest and greatest iPhone every year, consider paring down the “features” and functionality that waste your time. Minimalist smartphones like the T-mobile LG Optimus i9 allow you to text, email and make calls, but don’t have much power to play games, and lack the memory to deal with apps like Facebook. Using a regular phone can help you live more in the now, and be with those you’re actually with, without totally forgoing modern technology.
5. Be more thoughtful about your entertainment
It turns out that YouTube gets the most views on Mondays—when you’d assume people are at work. We’ve created a limitless supply of entertainment that requires next to no mental effort, so we can keep doing it indefinitely; but intellectually-stimulating, creative pursuits will be more rewarding, and take far less of your time (because you can’t just “zone out” and keep clicking like you can online). Turn off the phone, TV, computer and tablet during times you don’t need them, and focus on the business at hand. Then, when it’s time to relax and unwind, turn to leisure activities that challenge you—woodworking, writing, or whatever will build you up as a husband, father, and man.
[About the author: Mike Freiberg is a staff writer for HomeDaddys, a resource for stay-at-home dads, work-at-home dads, and everything in between. He’s a handyman, an amateur astronomer, and a tech junkie, who loves being home with his two kids. He lives in Austin. Image: birgerking at Flickr]