How does a work-at-home mom stay focused on work?

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Answered by: Alesia, An Expert in the Working From Home Category
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is: if your job is so boring and tedious that it makes doing the dishes look tempting, you may need to find a new job! The best way to ensure you don’t get distracted is to have work you enjoy doing. Of course, not all of us have the option to seek more uplifting employment. Many of us must take what we can get. So, if you’re work is so mind-numbing that cleaning the cat litter box actually looks like fun by comparison, here’s some tips to help you keep focused on work.

• Keep your workspace neat and clutter-free.

A cluttered, messy workspace is an eyesore, and can make it difficult to keep focused. It’s hard not to feel scattered when your papers, files, shopping lists, mail, kid’s home work (and whatever else) are scattered all over your office/desk/work table/computer cabinet. This space must be SACRED. Keep it neat, organized and off limits to everyone else, if need be.

• Face away from the mess in your house.

This one relates to the first. If you have a separate office, in addition to keeping it tidy, close the door, if you have one. If you don’t (have either of those), make sure you sit with your back to any mess or clutter in the rest of the house. Face a window, if you can. Make sure your view is of something other than the housecleaning you’re not getting to: out of sight, out of mind.

• Take regular breaks.

This is HUGE, especially if you can’t do the first two things, or they are not enough to drown-out the voice of that too-long neglected toilet (“cleeeeeeeeean me!”). TAKE REGULAR, FREQUENT BREAKS. Say, 5 to 15 minutes for every one to two hours of work you complete. Then, take a walk around the block, have a cup of coffee or tea and a light snack, do a little yoga, whatever. Just do something to refresh yourself and relieve the tedium of the daily grind. Yes, this will add extra time to your day (because you still need to be putting in the amount of time required for the job), but you will get a lot more actual WORK done while sitting at your desk.

• Give yourself permission to do chores.

     What?? Give myself permission to do chores? Wasn’t the idea NOT to do chores?

Sure, but sometimes we end up obsessing over the things we forbid ourselves. If you find that all of the above suggestions just result in being unable to think about anything but the chores you are forcing yourself NOT to do, then you’re still not focusing on work. So, remember those regular breaks? Give yourself permission to use that time to complete one short task: something that can be completed in the allotted 5, 10 or 15 minutes. Scrub that demanding toilet. Get one load of laundry into the wash. Un/load the dishwasher. Just keep in mind that it MUST be something you can complete during your short break. If you take on a task that you cannot complete within 15 minutes, you’re likely to take a longer break in order to finish it (who likes to leave a chore half done?), and before you know it, you’ve spent more time on housecleaning than on reconciling those accounts.

Then again, if you ARE some one who is okay starting a task and putting it down unfinished, all YOU need is a timer. Actually, use a timer regardless. Set it for the allotted break time and, as soon as it dings, that’s it: you’re done and back to work. (If the task won’t take more than another 30 seconds-or-so to complete, then, of course, go ahead and finish. We don’t have to be OCD about this stuff!)

• Give yourself permission to do…whatever, as long as it doesn’t take longer than 15 minutes.

Maybe chores aren’t the thing distracting you. Maybe it’s the novel you’re reading (or writing); or the quilt you’ve been passionately sweating over, or the bookshelves you’re building. Whatever it is that you’d rather be doing, the same applies as above. Give yourself permission to work/play on it, in small increments. Set your timer for however long you can give yourself without over-extending your workday, and enjoy those few minutes of respite. It’s a lot easier to get back to the grindstone, if you know you’re going to get another break from it soon, and a lot easier to keep focused on work, if you know there's a little reward waiting just around the corner.

• …and, there’s always lunch.

In addition to regular mini-breaks, take a full lunch break, at least half-an-hour. Prepare your lunch the night before, just before you go to bed, so it’s ready to be eaten, or just popped in the microwave or oven. Eating lunch takes maybe 10 or 15 minutes (once it’s all ready). Use the rest of your lunch break to work on your other project(s), or take another walk, do a little more yoga…etc. But, I do not recommend using this time for housework. You need some genuine break time. Unless you’re someone who is very Zen and spiritually enlightened about it, and housework is a form of mediation for you, let your lunch break be a genuine break from all work.

If you’ve tried all of these ideas, and nothing is working, then you need to do some serious assessing, and maybe make some major changes. Working from home may simply not be a good fit for you. Consider making arrangements to work at a separate, but close-by location. Perhaps even rent an office somewhere. Look for office rentals and office-share opportunities on your local Craig’s List or similar online advertising resource. If money is tight, you might see if any nearby relatives or friends have an extra room they’d be willing to lend, or rent to you at a nominal cost. Perhaps you have one or more friends who also need an office who would go in on a rental with you. There are many solutions to a problem like this. Be open to considering all possibilities, including looking for a new job, working on-location.

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