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How to minimize distractions while working from home

Oct 02, 2020 - 8 min read
Vincent Russo

This article was written by Vincent Russo, the author of Educative’s beloved course Data Structures and Algorithms in Python. Vincent has a BS, MS, and Ph.D. in computer science and is a full-time security software developer and runs LucidProgramming, a YouTube channel to help individuals improve their software skills and value as developers.

COVID-19 has had a substantial impact on the way we live and the way we work. The sudden and unexpected shift of working in a social setting with colleagues to one that is more insular can be jarring depending on your personality and preferences.

This post is for developers who, prior to COVID-19, were working in an office setting and due to the present circumstances, find themselves working remotely.

Much of this post is written from personal experience, and I know this experience is far from unique for many other software developers. I’ve compiled a small list of things that I’ve found useful in making the switch from non-remote to remote work. I hope you can find some value and utility in what follows.

Here are my tips for minimizing distractions:

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Prepare your space

The sudden shift of being displaced from an office with a amenities such as a standing desk, multiple monitors, a coffee machine, and an ergonomic office chair, to a small room with your laptop and a bar stool is not going to do any favors for your posture or your productivity.

While you might not be able to fully recreate all of the perks of the office setting, it will serve you well to invest in the gear that yields the most benefit to your productivity and health.

If you find your working from home environment to be a bit lacking, it’s possible that your work has set aside funding for items you may need like an ergonomic keyboard, chair, desk, etc. If such a policy has not been publicly mentioned, it may be worth reaching out to human resources or your superiors to see if such a budget exists.

To see another post on Educative about some essential devices to have on hand to boost your productivity when working from home, you can check out the post: Work from home devices for developers

Get quality headphones

Investing in a pair of good quality headphones has many benefits for remote work. If you live with other individuals or near an environment that happens to be noisy for some reason, having a pair of headphones that isolates noise is essential to block out the surrounding environment so you can focus and work effectively.

Furthermore, as everyone else is adapting to the remote lifestyle, conducting and participating in meetings via video chat services will most likely be a non-negligible part of your day. Having a pair of headphones that sits comfortably and provides high audio quality will make wearing the headphones for a prolonged period of time much more enjoyable.

If you find it useful to listen to music while coding as well, the experience of listening to music through a pair of good headphones versus say, a default set of laptop speakers, is much more enjoyable.

I personally use and suggest the Sennheiser HD 280 headphones. They work well at excluding any outside noise, have great audio quality, and they are very positively reviewed by many.

Separate spaces for separate activities

In ones house or apartment, there are rooms that are very clearly designated for very specific activities. The bedroom is primarily for sleeping, the bathroom is primarily for grooming, etc.

If you use your bed as your office and code there, it becomes difficult to know when you should start or stop working. Not to mention that it’s also not ideal for prolonged programming sessions for posture, etc.

Depending on your living situation, you may not have the luxury of having a separate room that you can convert into your own office. There are still other creative things you can do to work within your surroundings.

For instance, even putting something like a bookshelf or separating wall between a bed and desk can give the necessary psychological triggers to switch from “home” mode into “work” mode.

There can be a lot of variance here in terms of specific situations. For instance, you could be living by yourself, be living with housemates, be living at home with family, etc.

In whatever case, especially if you are living with others, it’s important to do your best to establish boundaries and to treat different areas in your space discretely.

Remote water cooler

While many programmers tend to prefer the introverted lifestyle (myself included here), we are social creatures and from time to time do desire some form of social interaction.

While the impromptu discussions at the water cooler may have once seemed intrusive and perhaps irritating, the lack of such interaction now may be weighing on some.

For those that miss the social interaction, it may be ideal to be proactive in designating a time each day or each week to simulate this type of conversation through some video calling service with other employees.

That way, those who wish to partake in such discussions can freely do so, and those who perhaps wish to abstain from them can freely do so without impeding their ability to grab coffee.

Schedule your leisure time

One of the most difficult aspects of working from home for me was knowing when to “switch off”. While having different spaces designated for work can help to solidify the separation, it’s still difficult to make that separation concrete.

As I tend to use my calendar for scheduling my meetings and various tasks throughout the day, I deliberately place in times when I would be partaking in leisure activities.

For me, those activities are things like going for a walk, playing the guitar, or catching up with friends and family.

Ideally, the activity should not involve using your computer or phone as that makes it very tempting to check work messages and flow back into an odd limbo area for work and non-work.

Even if your leisure activity does involve the computer like playing a video game, it should be stressed that you should pursue this leisure activity with the same focus, concentration, and attention that you would give a non leisure task.

This process can seem a bit odd to get into the habit of at first. Typically, if I break this commitment of leisure with myself, I find that while I might continue working into the scheduled “leisure time” that the amount and quality of work does not significantly improve or benefit from my prolonged exposure to it.

Knowing when to step away from a task is a bit of an art, and there isn’t one definitive answer. The value of taking time for yourself makes you feel more rejuvenated and refreshed.

For more tips on work from home productivity, check out Arc’s article Remote Work Productivity Hacks: 31 Best Tips From Experts

Wrapping up

I do hope that in going through this post you were able to extract some useful tips. This situation is challenging for us all, but hopefully we can all find a silver lining in the struggle!

A culture that is more accepting of remote work limits the need for large and extravagant tech offices to exist. It limits the need for hours upon hours spent commuting to and from work and gives the employee more control about how they spend their time.

There will always be challenging times, but humans are adaptable. Here’s hoping we adapt to our environment for the better!

If you want to put this extra time at home to use, consider checking out Educative’s courses to grow your skillset. Explore their courses and take on a new technology to maximize your time. There’s a lot to learn, and you have more time than ever to master it!

Happy learning!

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WRITTEN BYVincent Russo

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