Webinar Report Overcoming Distractions when Working From Home by Carrie Budds

23 minutes and 15 seconds is the length of time it takes to get back to concentration after being distracted was the stark opening fact shared by Carrie Budds from Quokka in the latest lunch time bytes webinar ‘Overcoming Distractions when Working From Home’ from the ICBE Business Excellence Skillnet.

Coupled with the large number of people working from home (63% up from 18% in 2018) and a reported 40% of workers “struggling” with remote working this set the scene for the 20 minute webinar to make attendees become “Indistractable“.

Emphasising the danger of being distracted Carrie began by quoted Winston Churchill “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw rocks at every dog that barks.”

“We are currently exchanging the office for an unsuitable, inefficient & distracting home situation” said Carrie differentiating between true remote working and the experience of most which is ‘working from home’.   Further explaining why people are finding the experience distracting she added “We are reacting to what is happening, and haven’t had time to be proactive yet as many organisations and employees are using technologies and infrastructures that are not yet scaled to cope with the new scenario.  Work is happening within the family unit – not separately to it.”

Carrie proposed four key strategies to keep focused and lessen the distraction that working from home may pose.

1 To Do Lists

Based on the “Eisenhower Matrix” ABC method Carrie recommended separating out and prioritizing all tasks into 4 categories as a start to increasing focus on what needs to be done to achieve your goals.  This should include work and non-work jobs.

A: Important And Urgent

 e.g. Time-critical report / Caring for a sick relative at home / General housework

B: Important And Not Urgent

e.g. Exercise / Weekly planning / Homework with kids

C: Urgent And  Not Important

e.g. Reply to an email / Write a job recommendation for a colleague / Neighbour calls you for help with a task

D: Neither Urgent Nor Important 

e.g. Online shopping / Unloading the dishwasher (delegate)

“Action alleviates anxiety.  This is why it is good to have less important , quick wins on your task list” she added, noting the need to document all tasks but focusing on the ones that are crucial.

2. Curate Digital Interactions

Next up Carrie tackled the sometimes uncontrolled arena of digital communications, that can divert attention, advocating categorising them into three areas:

Have to Have.  This includes work calls, project management tools and communication platforms

Nice to Have. Digital tools such as friends WhatsApp groups

Habit to Have. Services such as email subscriptions and services that might have been important before but not now such as Pinterest alerts for house projects.

Once categorized it becomes easier to see where distractions could be reduced from muting broadcast on WhatsApp to unsubscribing to email lists.

Taking into consideration that it takes 23 minute 15 second to refocus it makes sense to take the time to review the sources of distracting with Carrie also suggesting that people should contemplate taking action to minimise the distraction such as:

  • Using DND (do not disturb) on your phone
  • Switch off email notifications during certain hours of the day
  • Don’t be afraid of causing offence by leaving WhatsApp groups
  • Switch off all Social Media notifications, or delete the apps during the working day – you can always reinstall.
  • Work Offline in favour of Online versions of Excel/Word etc 

3. Prioritise Work Communication

“Efficient communication is key to remote working, even for this non-standard remote working but this does not mean communicate more” noted Carrie while suggesting agreeing a ‘work from home’ communication policy to avoiding overcommunication and to seek clarification of goals with managers.

4. Use a Family Charter

Family life and the distractions they pose is an unavoidable feature of working from home for many people and rather than battle against it Carrie suggested a establishing a ‘family charter’ with those in the household.  This is best done by taking a structured approach which greatly increases its success but also ensures everyone is on the same page.  This simple 5 step process should cover:

Talk.  Kicking off with a family meeting with siblings and other family/household members, this should explore and share what’s important, what you’re struggling with, workload and household tasks.

Agree.  Following the initial exploration how decisions are made, family and individual priorities should be agreed along with an understanding on family and individual time

Plan.  Ground rules alongside with schedules on chores and allocated Key Responsibilities should be recorded.

Write.  Mirroring visual management techniques used in manufacturing environments Carrie proposed having a physical copy, signed by all and displaying it some where visible as a reminder to all.

Follow.  In order for the charter to work all family members need to stick to what was agreed but Carrie urged taking a flexible approach by amending it where needed but also to have a process for when it is not followed.

Conscious of the volume of volume of advice Carrie wrapped up the webinar advising that people choose one of the strategies and commit to implementing it for 1 week rather than feeling overwhelmed.

In response to questions about trying to achieve too much Carrie described homeworking as having an oversized handbag saying “The bigger the hand bag you have the more you try to fill it.  You can only control the controllable.”  She also advised having heathy snack but to make sure they have protein (such as nuts) to keep you powered during the day.

Carrie also shared some her top ‘indistractable’ tools in the graphic below.


You can browse Carrie’s presentation below: