Keeping Your Cool: Maximizing Productivity in a Chaotic Home Office

Business.com / Work Life / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Distractions are a freelancer's worst enemy. To be productive, control what you can, ignore what you can't, and go selectively deaf.

Freelancing has a lot of challenges, not the least of which is your own home. Focus can be difficult to achieve, and lack of focus often equals lack of income. So what's a parent working from home to do?

Some things, you simply can't control. That giant pile of laundry. Dirty dishes. The chocolate cheesecake calling your name from behind the refrigerator door.

Pets, allergies, what to cook for dinner, your neighbor doing yard work. OINTB (Orange is the New Black) on Netflix. Candy Crush. Distractions are endless.

It's enough to eat your income if you let it. Here's how to overcome the challenges you can control.

Related Article: Helpful Tips for Maximizing Employee Productivity in a World of Distractions

Set Boundaries

It took years for me to get across to my husband and grown children that interrupting me is detrimental. They argued, “but you're playing a game, not working.” This is often true, but while I am mindlessly clicking objects on Mahjongg Dimensions courtesy of AARP (my favorite distraction), I'm also fermenting ideas.

When I hit a wall and the words don't flow, a couple of game rounds help me get started again. It doesn't break my concentration, unlike long conversations about random subjects or requests for me to do something like bake cookies or go to the store. Bake your own cookies. I'm working.

Photo of couple interacting at a home office desk.

Enforcing personal boundaries isn't easy, and if you have kids it's even less so. My advice to parents of school-age children is to foster a discipline I could never manage but have seen in my friends. When the kids are in school, that is work time and nothing else. No housecleaning or phone or errands, all of which can be done when the kids are home.

Establish Routines

In a related subject, treat housework as if you have a real job. If you don't see your work as a real job, no one else will. I work according to my own body clock, which means I work in the morning until no later than 2 p.m., then take a long break in the afternoon and put in a little more time in the evening. Between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., I run errands, do laundry, and cook dinner.

You may be more comfortable doing housework in the morning and working from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Base your schedule on what works best for you, but be consistent.

Deal With Your Cravings

Look, if you can't concentrate because you want that cheesecake, have cheesecake. You're a grownup. You don't have to follow the rules. For me, the desire to nap often ruins my workday.

The answer is simple: you don't have to justify how you spend your time (unless you're on a time clock). If you just can't focus because something else is on your mind, take care of it. If it's money troubles, make a budget. If you want a snack, have a snack. If you need to go for a walk or have a swim, do it. If you must see the next episode of your favorite binge, watch it. Once you're satisfied, you'll be ready to focus and get down to work.

Related Article:Want Your Employees to Be More Productive? It’s Time to Redecorate

Minimize Allergies

Indoor allergies are brutal. Dust, mites, pet dander, mold, cockroaches...yuck. If I am not vigilant, my eyes burn, my sinuses clog, I get headaches, congestion, and general exhaustion. About 40 percent of the population is sensitive to indoor allergens. Here's how I control allergens in my house:

  • Get a good-quality HEPA vacuum. I mask up like an ebola doctor before firing up the vacuum or attempting to dust my blinds. If I don't wear a mask and goggles, stirring up dust brings all of my allergies on like a biblical plague, and no amount of allergy medicine will fix it.
  • Get a HEPA air purifier. It's a life-changing experience. I'm allergic to my dog, and there's no way I'm giving her up. My new air purifier is the best purchase ever. I even sleep better.
  • Open windows. New homes are designed to be energy-efficient, with central air and heat. It's a closed system where allergens can build up to toxic levels, especially in climates with little seasonal change where it's too hot for open windows. Open up for cross-breeze regularly, whenever the temperature drops to tolerable and blow out the toxins.
  • Green up. Plants are perfect natural air cleaners. In 1989, NASA scienced the sh*t out of it.
  • Get your ducts cleaned. A/C units are notoriously dirty. I get my dryer vent cleaned at the same time.
  • Flooring: Tear out that carpeting, it's toxic.Carpet traps all kinds of nastiness you really don't want to breathe in.
Freelancer working on the floor with helper cat.

Reduce Noise

This one is a little tricky. Noise is part of life. I managed to work through a major re-plumbing job by wearing headphones filled with white noise. My noise of choice is rain.

Getting rid of my carpeting had an unexpected benefit. Tile is a popular choice here in Florida, but I love wood floors. Laminate flooring looks like hardwood but doesn't have the same warping issues in humid climates. I replaced both my carpet and tile. It's hardy, easy to clean, and has the added benefit of noise reduction.

After realizing that noise from my family moving around the house was a significant distraction, I made a door-sized framed cork board and attached it to the inside of my office door. Instead of a thin typical cork roll, I used thicker wall covering. It really cuts down on noise from the hall. If I get tired of it, an oddly-shaped quilt with lots of padding stretched on a frame would probably work as well.

Related Article:Does Your Sex Life Influence Your Productivity? Oh YES.

Get Enough Sleep

If you stare at a computer screen all day and then can't sleep at night, there may be a reason. Your body is designed to produce melatonin on a natural schedule. As the sun goes down, the blue spectrum light fades, and your body ramps up melatonin production, which helps you fall asleep. Blue light inhibits melatonin, so you're naturally more awake during the day. Your electronic devices, TV, laptop, tablet, phone, whatever, all emit blue light.

If you're tired all the time, unplug earlier. Arrange your schedule to finish work before the sun goes down, and then resist the urge to check your emails, browse, and play games. Turn the TV off and get your melatonin production back on track. Everybody is different, and there is no hard and fast rule for the exact number of hours you need, but it's safe to assume six to nine hours. Some people function better with less sleep and more short naps during the day it's called polyphasic sleep. Find your perfect rhythm and make the right amount of sleep a habit.

When your home is your office, it can be hard to create the calm and quiet you need in order to be productive. The key is in controlling whatever elements you can and learning to deal with what you can't. 

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