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How to Limit Distractions on Your Work Devices as a Freelancer

When you’re working intently on a rush job, it seems like the world suddenly conspires to interrupt your concentration with one thing or another. If your home does not provide a secluded area where you can shut the door, then the spouse, children, cats, and dogs, will find multiple ways to distract you from work.

This could range from children dropping the cup on the floor which shatters into a million pieces, requiring an immediate clean-up, or the cat giving you that warning meow indicating an imminent hairball ready to expel itself onto the freshly cleaned carpet. You might have to consider setting yourself up in the garage for a time, or the car parked in the driveway as an alternative, so long as the internet service reaches that far. But let’s look at a few other options to achieve the workplace ambiance you want so you can be productive.

Sound-Proofing Your Surroundings

First, make a big sign stating you are “At Work. Do Not Disturb!” Set it up by you so everyone in the family can see it. Have a little chat with everyone to let them know they are on their own and must take care of problems themselves for the next few hours.

Grab a set of headphones (preferably noise-canceling) and wear those while working. The spouse and children will still make some noise because people living in a home do that. It is impossible to get total silence. But here is how you can offset that issue.

Play White Noise or Soothing Non-Distracting Music

You may need to experiment first to find the sound that allows you to enter the full-focus ambiance of Deep Work, allowing your brain to creatively generate the ideas you need to write down. Some prefer the sounds of nature to put them in the zone. Rainstorms, gentle rain, gurgling brooks, wind blowing, or even the sound of a running fan are all great for this. After a while, everything becomes part of the background and you can’t hear anything else going on around you, like the dog barking.

Set a Timer to Give Yourself a Short Break

Give yourself a break every hour for five to ten minutes so you can get a glass of ice water or a cup of tea or coffee. We call this the Pomodoro Technique which, at first, you can start with every 30 or 40 minutes, until you can handle longer times at a stretch. You will eventually find the right amount of time for staying focused and knowing when to take a break.

If you are hungry, have a snack but don’t eat too much as you might get start feeling drowsy enough that you need a nap instead. Chop up some fruit beforehand and set the fruit bowl in the fridge so you can quickly grab it and eat a little at a time. Then, get back to work.

Setting Your PC Apps to Non-Active Silence

If you use a laptop (or desktop), go to your settings app, and turn off all notifications. This way, you won’t get any messages coming through that will distract you while working. Some apps may still run in the background, so you will need to turn those off manually. Make a list of them first, so you know what to turn back on when you’re done. Here are a few apps to think about turning off:

  • Any social media apps, including related apps that people send you messages with, such as Messenger and Slack
  • News-related apps, because there is always something disastrous going on
  • App update notifications for the computer, like Windows Update messages. Make sure any updates are not set to occur while you’re working because some of them are set to automatically update behind the scenes. Go ahead and put them on Pause.

There are other ways you can accomplish this distraction-free environment, too. Take some time to try using these apps before using them for work so you can see which is best for you. Here is a short list for your review, but note any pricing that comes with them for upgraded versions. Most of these apps will work on all platforms too, including smartphones.

Cold Turkey Blocker – you can customize this one to include all the apps to turn off, and for how long.

Rescue Time – The Focus Session included in this app allows you to remain distraction-free. What is good about this app is it is also a time tracker. Just set everything up the way you want it and get started with your work.

Forest – if you love trees, this may be the app for you, especially if you upgrade to the paid version. The app is partnered with an organization dedicated to planting trees, including food-producing ones, in many global areas. The app allows you to grow digital trees for the time you remain in focus mode.

Time-Blocking Your Calendar

The most important tool for creating a distraction-free environment is to block out swathes of time on your calendar to get the job done. For a large project, select regular blocks of time on your digital calendar like Google Chrome Calendar app (create one time block and select the Repeat function), Microsoft’s Calendar, especially if you have the 365-subscription version, or you can shade/highlight areas on that print calendar hanging next to you on the wall. All you have to do is glance over to see how much longer you have for your work to be done on any given project on any given day.

Use a timer such as the clock alarm on your smartphone. I use my cooking timer when I have a set time for breaks, as I just swipe across to set the time, then let it roll. Works great. I just reset it after my break is over.

Focusing on Daily Goals

While using your calendar, set up what you will write or work on, for each day, a week at a time. If you are writing a business eBook, you already have an outline in the form of a Table of Contents. Set up how much time to spend on each section, how many words you want for each section, and then go for one section each day. Or use two days of selected time to get one section done, depending on how much work is needed.

If you find the topic is not working well for that day, switch to another section and work on that part. Come back to the undone section whenever you are ready. Being flexible or pivoting when you need to is essential to staying focused on the total job, as well as not becoming frustrated and stuck in one place.

The Almighty Smart Phone – Source of Most Distractions

If you get social media messages often, as well as news notifications on your phone, then one way to deal with this is just to make the phone silent. Your screen will light up when a notification comes in, including phone calls, but you’ll know what it is with a quick glance if you have it sitting on a stand next to you.

If you’re like me though and even that is too much of a distraction, most smartphones now have it so you can custom-create your very own “Do Not Disturb” settings, where you can choose what notifications are allowed to come in, and when. I even have two different “Work Mode” Do Not Disturb options set up on my phone – one for General Work which allows work-related notifications only, such as email, client communications, and billing and work apps (like the virtual calendar and Pomodoro options we were discussing earlier), and one for Deep Work which allows hardly any notifications at all.

If you don’t have those settings or find all of that to be too complicated, a good rule of thumb is to just turn off most notifications manually but leave the ringtone sound on so you can pick up when needed for business calls. It’s all about how you work best and effectively as to how you arrange the phone settings. It’s also always a good idea to avoid all social media and emails except early in the morning before getting started, or later in the evening after finishing work and while relaxing.

Ready to get going on focused work? Set yourself up, let everyone know not to bug you, and get rolling!

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