Do you experience certain times in your (home) office where you just don’t seem to be able to get things done? You get distracted by co-workers, interrupted by telephone calls or sidetracked by browsing the internet and responding to incoming e-mails. All of this is keeping you from writing that proposal or making some real progress on that important project!

I certainly have had (and will have) this experience of getting distracted by a million little things. However, in my attempts to minimize these inproductive situations, I discovered 5 simple rules for working better without distraction.

5 Simple Rules For Working Better Without Distraction

1. Always work on a clean desk
This is an important rule. Unclutter your desk and only keep that one thing on your desk that you are currently working on. Stacks of paper, heaps of “stuff”, or worse, piles of things you really need to do today continually in front of your eyes is distracting and demotivating. Keep a clear mind and a clean desk to remove all distractions and work better.

2. Be careful with background music
Some people prefer absolute silence when working. Some people, like me, prefer a little background music. The wrong type of music can be very distracting however. Try writing a good letter while listening to the lyrics of your favorite song! In my experience it is better to listen to music without lyrics to avoid distraction. Depending on your taste, this might be classical music (works well for getting into a relaxed and productive state of mind) or modern music with minimal lyrics (dance, trance, etc). I usually listen to internet radio with the latter type of music.

3. Disable IM/mail alerts and switch off your phone
A big source of distraction is the never-ending stream of digital communication. An e-mail drops into your inbox and your computer promptly alerts you. Clients, co-workers and customers always know exactly when to call you for maximum distraction. If you really want to get some things done and work with maximum focus and minimum distraction, I recommend to turn off that phone or route it to your voicemail. Disable those IM and e-mail alerts on your computer (including the sounds!). Make a deliberate choice (as a reward!) to check your e-mail, voicemail or favorite website after you finish your current task.

4. Make your body shut up!
Your body is an often overlooked but insistent source of distraction. If you feel hungry, thirsty, tired or you haven’t been to the toilet for a while, you can be sure that your body will keep reminding you of this continually and sometimes subconsciously. The solution is simple but very effective. Make sure you attend to your body’s needs before thinking about getting some real work done!

5. Work fullscreen on your computer
This is one of the best and most effective tips I have ever come across. After removing all other distractions by following the four rules above, there’s one final thing you should do. Some programs, like FireFox, allow you to work fullscreen (press F11). This effectively eliminates all (visual) distractions you may have on your computer screen. A lot of my work – and probably yours as well – consists of reading and writing electronic documents. I highly recommend doing this fullscreen by using a program like DarkRoom (Windows) or WriteRoom (Mac OS X). They create perfect, distraction-free environments for reading (plain text) or writing (draft versions). In fact, I’m using DarkRoom right now to write a draft version of this post!