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This chapter is from the book

You Are Too Easily Distracted

work_at_home.jpg Working Out of Office is a great, almost endless, source of distractions. Working from home means that you are subject to all the domestic distractions that home life brings. After all, you are home all day, so would it really hurt you to do the laundry, walk the dog, get the groceries, run a few errands, pick up the kids from school? The list, like the distractions, is endless.

Then of course there is TV, the Internet, books, magazines, hobbies, and a dozen other things that can be done instead of work—all of this just in your own home. Why not use the gym when no one else is there, perhaps in the middle of the day? That way, you’ll get a great workout in and not have to wait on the machines.

Surprisingly, although we think of technology as the great distractor, there are several technological solutions that enable you to shut out distractions created by technology. Of course, the simplest and easiest to use is the on/off button. Turn your phone off and it can’t distract you! Also, software is available that will put certain websites on a timer. For example, if you are working on a presentation and you really don’t need the distraction that Facebook provides, you can set the software to block Facebook for a given period of time. For some, music is a distraction, but for many others it can aid concentration. Certainly some studies seem to support that view, and listening to music through earphones is a great way to block out the noise from a coffee shop or public transport. There are mental exercises you can undertake to help you increase your ability to focus on tasks. Although we all love to think of ourselves as amazing multitaskers, the reality is we aren’t. If you are finding yourself becoming easily distracted, one solution, if you have the time, is to give into it. Being distracted could well be a sign that you need to take a break from the current task, so do it, but in a controlled way that doesn’t mean you miss a deadline.

For the easily distracted, working Out of Office can be like letting a child loose in a candy store—there are so many things to catch the eye, so many new things to be tried, so many other things than work to capture the mind. Although there’s actually no reason why work has to be organized around a traditional schedule of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, there does have to be some organization, especially when the person working Out of Office is actually part of a larger team, some of whom are working in a traditional setting.

Escaping the home and working from an alternate location might be a solution for some, but sometimes this just increases the distractions. Coffee shops, airports, train stations, bookstores, and so on are all great places to work. Many provide power, Wi-Fi, even food and drink to keep you going, but they are also great places for people watching—and what greater distraction can there be for a human being than to sit and watch other humans going about their lives? We are all voyeurs, and social technologies have only increased this habit in many people. How many people’s Facebook walls did you “browse” today?

A coffee shop can be like a Facebook wall in real life. People get lost in their own worlds; you get to listen in on phone calls, see what people are reading, what websites they are surfing, and of course what their favorite beverage is.

Airports are just as rich an environment. I have seen some amazing outfits being worn in airports and had to scratch my head in wonder as to why someone would wear something like that on a plane (never mind wear something like that in public). There are the stories of reunions, of meetings and goodbyes, all to be witnessed. In fact, if you are in an airport long enough, you will see all of the human emotions expressed. You’ll witness anger, love, laughter, tears, hellos and goodbyes, and the wonder on children’s faces as they press them against the big glass windows and watch planes come and go.

Hotel lobbies are rich environments, too, with people checking in, checking out, and passing through. Who are all these people? What are their stories? Are they on vacation, business, meeting an illicit lover?

How can you not be distracted by all that humanity?

Of course, you are also part of that social tapestry that others are watching, not some removed observer; your actions can invite interaction from those around you. Another distraction! There is always someone who wants to start up a conversation. I’m a very antisocial traveler on planes, I put my earphones in before we have taken off—hopefully a clear sign to fellow travelers that I have no intention of joining in a conversation. But some people just love to chat on planes, and all those good intentions you had of getting a couple of hours work done on the flight just went out of the window as you get sucked into a long conversation about whatever topic is most pressing to that person at the moment.

I’m not suggesting that you have to become insular and reject the humanity around you, but knowing that those around you can be a constant source of distraction and recognizing how susceptible you are to it is an important factor in understanding how well you are going to cope with the Out of Office work environment.

Can you tune out those distractions, or are you like the dog in the movie Up, constantly pulled one way and another by squirrels? If squirrels (and by that I mean distractions) are your thing and you have an issue tuning them out, then working in a place filled with them is probably not the best move for you if you want to stay productive. Of course, those places can provide great respite from work and are always great entertainment.

My cell phone is one of my great distractions. I try and remember to put it in silent mode or at least vibrate when I am working, but sometimes I forget. Then the little “ding” noise notifying me I have a new message, email, or Facebook update just lures me away from the keyboard. Even though I know I’m not waiting on anything life changing, I am still a victim to this distraction—you know, just in case there is in fact a life-changing post to Facebook that I would be the last to see!

I work from many different places—primarily my home, but also from coffee shops and all the other places I have mentioned here. So I know just how distracting they can be. I always set out with the best of intentions of getting work done on the road, but inevitably end up either not getting any done or only getting a fraction of what I had imagined completing done. Of course, distractions are really just excuses to avoid doing something we don’t want to do, and the cure for that is discipline.

I’ll be returning to this theme later in the book and sharing thoughts from a professional therapist about self-discipline, avoidance techniques, and other ways those of us who are easily distracted manage to fool ourselves that it’s not really our fault that we are distracted—we are just being social, being helpful, or whatever reason we give ourselves.

From partners to pets, children to errands, the social web to passing strangers, we are all susceptible, to varying degrees, to the distractions that life presents us. How we handle those distractions and how much we let them intrude on our work life is what identifies us as either being suited to the Out of Office work lifestyle or not. Again, this isn’t a measure of a person’s talent, abilities, or usefulness as an employee.

The ability to tune out distractions is definitely an important facet of a person who is going to work in a nontraditional setting. It can, I believe, be learned, although I think it is one of the more difficult “soft skills” to learn as a worker, especially when working with those who are in a more traditional environment and less open to the same types of distractions.

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