Six Tips for Creating a Distraction-Free Home Office

Posted by Bernard Schoeman on 27 January 2022.



Bernard Schoeman

CA(SA), Post Graduate Diploma Accounting, BCom

The Tax Shop Head Office

More about Bernard Schoeman

Bernard studied BCom majoring in information systems and accounting at the University of Cape Town and qualified as a Chartered Accountant (SA) in 1997 after completing of his articles with Deloitte & Touche. Bernard has extensive international and local experience having worked for nearly three years with financial institutions in the UK (London) and having audited numerous companies listed on the JSE in South Africa. He is a member of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants.
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“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” (Albert Einstein)

To many people the idea of working from home can seem like a dream. Just avoiding the daily commute makes it worthwhile for many, but add in the benefits that arise from being present for your family, and being able to work the hours that suit you, and suddenly it’s an extremely attractive proposition.

While it definitely does depend on the individual, working from home can present a number of new challenges when it comes to getting work done. Laundry is building up, the home needs cleaning from the weekend, and your TV and fridge are also always on hand.

Luckily there are some small changes anyone can make to ensure their home office is at least as good as a corporate office for concentration, and potentially even better for productivity.

1) A dedicated workspace

While not everyone has the ability to turn one room of the house into an office, it is wise to try and create a dedicated workspace for when you are “at the office”. Even just pushing a desk into the corner of your lounge and working from there will put you in the right state-of-mind for getting your business done, and at the end of the day you can log off and go back to your family life. Sitting in bed to work may be fun for one day, but long term blurring of the lines between the spaces for work and those for play can mean you can never really get away from your job.

For the same reason it may be wise to have a “work computer” and one for social media and recreation. Use the work computer the same way you would the one at any corporate office. When you turn it on there will be no non-work apps to distract you, and you should immediately be able to get into a work state of mind.

Ideally your work desk should face out a window, or failing that, towards a wall so you aren’t constantly looking at the distracting build-up of dishes, or the temptation of the television. Put up some work-related art, keep the table organised and you will find that when you sit down you are already thinking of working.

2) Noise is a distraction too

It’s not just visual things that can be distracting. The noises of a home can also take you out of that important work mindset. If you live alone this will be a lot easier, but if you have a family around, their activities can break your train of thought as easily as if they were tugging on your shoulder.

You don’t need to go overboard but finding ways to mute the external noises will help you to concentrate. Consider changing your office door from a hollow one to a solid wood one. Adding weather-stripping or a door sweep along the bottom of the door can also cut down on the amount of sound pollution that seeps in. If you use a corner of a common room for your office, consider investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to ensure your thoughts remain entirely undisturbed. 

3) Get an office chair

By now you will no doubt have spent a day working from a dining room chair, or on a couch and will know that this is not an effective way to do it. There is a reason offices splash out on their chairs. Dining room chairs are intended for short stays whereas an adjustable office chair will enable you to set your ideal height and maintain good posture throughout a full workday. No one’s watching to see whether you’re sitting up or slumping, but your back will let you know if there’s been any cop-out.

Giving yourself a sore back or painful legs is a great way to ensure you get no work done, so apart from getting a good chair, make sure you take scheduled breaks away from your computer. Be sure to look away from the screen every 20 minutes and don’t be afraid to get up and walk around the house from time to time. A study conducted a few years ago by DeskTime indicated that the most productive interval was 52 minutes of work interrupted by 17 minutes of break. Just don’t allow yourself to get caught up in home chores.

4) Keep it tidy

A cluttered desk may make you look busy, but it isn’t doing you any favours when it comes to focus. You might be surprised by just how much paper can build up doing an average job and often this is something you need to keep under control. Getting decent paper storage is therefore an important thing to consider when building a distraction-free office.

If your job is particularly paper-heavy you may want to invest in a filing cabinet, but for most a couple of desk drawers or shelves should be fine. Set aside a designated place for incoming mail or work on the to-do list, another for projects in process, and a third storage area for completed projects or paid bills. Organising your computer files in a similar way, to keep upcoming work and work in progress in a designated accessible area and finished projects stowed away in a cloud database, may help you stay on top of the jobs you need to do.

5) Be Work Ready

When you sit down to work you want to be able to do just that. In order to make sure you will be at your most efficient your workspace needs to be work-ready. You don’t want to have to interrupt your flow with a trip to the shops to get printer paper for example. Invest in your workspace so that it’s the same as you would find in any corporate building.

Make sure you have the stationery and things you need to get the job done, and this includes having a good internet connection. How easy is it to get to your router if you need to reset something? Do you have enough bandwidth for online meetings? What is behind your desk? What will your colleagues and clients see when they get you on camera?

Have everything on hand that you need, and make sure it’s up to date and in working order, because trying to make things work with the wrong equipment, or dealing with problematic old technology, are real distractions. As an added benefit, the investments you make in your home office, and the equipment you use, may be tax deductible (but there are many factors at play here so professional advice is essential before you claim!).

6) Have a plan for your family and pets

Children and pets are probably going to be the biggest distractions to your day, so make a plan to ensure neither interrupt you. Children must understand that while you are working only emergencies are worth interruptions.

Pets may be a little simpler – replace their squeaky play toys with chew sticks, and move their beds close to you so they feel comfortable lying quietly with you even though you aren’t being attentive. Good luck by the way with persuading your cat not to sit on your keyboard – this article may help but all bets are off!

Make sure you plan to take time out to spend with both the children and your pets, so they know that you are not ignoring them, just busy when you are at your desk. Taking your dog on a lunchtime walk, or playing with your children for an hour on a sleepy summer’s afternoon can really invigorate you for the rest of the day, and are the absolute perks of working from home as well. You might as well enjoy it.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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