On Keeping a Neat Desk

And conquering clutter.

I am — or, hopefully, was — the Queen of Clutter. And I’ve always hated it.

The Clutter

The clutter seems to come into my home with me. Sometimes it arrives by mail or UPS or FedEx in the form of junk mail, bills, account statements, and items ordered. Other times it arrives in my car or Jeep or truck in the form of items bought at a store or given to me by a friend or family member. Other times, I have no idea where it comes from. It just seems to appear.

My procrastinating nature — and yes, I am a confessed procrastinator — causes the clutter to pile up on any horizontal surface readily available. That included my dresser, night table, kitchen table, and desk. I would go through the piles periodically, pull items out — for example, a bill or a letter — to deal with them, and then keep piling. When the piles needed to be hidden to neaten up a room, they’d be shifted to a pile elsewhere, sometimes in an empty box that would be piled with other previously empty boxes. The situation was completely intolerable and embarrassing, to say the least. And I know I’m not the only one who was bothered by it.

My desk and office seemed to be the ending point for most of the shifted clutter. In my Arizona home, I had a huge L-shaped desk where I often had several computers and monitors and printers set up. Back in those days, my primary source of income was writing books about how to use computers and I wrote several a year. The huge desk gave me plenty of space to work and accumulate clutter. The rest of the room, including the floor, was for overflow. It was so awful that after a while, I preferred working with a laptop at the kitchen table than in my own office.

Fast Forward to Today

It’s been more than three years since the last days I worked in my home office.

These days, I’m putting the finishing touches on a new home in a new place. My living space is considerably smaller — half the size, in fact — but I don’t have to share it with another person. And it has a simple floor plan with just two rooms, a bathroom, and a loft. Rather than having an office in its own room, I’ve given myself a small corner of the great room, just under 4 x 7 feet, for my office space.

I had a second desk when I lived in Arizona. I’d bought it on sale at Pottery Barn in Phoenix and set it up in the bedroom of the Phoenix condo I lived in for a short time. When I moved, I brought it and its matching file cabinet to Washington with me. It has since become my primary desk while my big, old L-shaped desk became a workbench in my shop downstairs. It fits remarkably well in the small space and looks rather nice there, too.

I became determined not to let it become the resting place for the same kind of clutter I had in Arizona, and, so far, have done very well.

Lessons from my Sister

My sister was a corporate banker with Citigroup for a bunch of years. I remember visiting her a few times at her office on Wall Street in Manhattan. The one thing that always amazed me was how neat and clean her desk was. There was never anything on it that she wasn’t working on at that moment. And, at the end of the day, it was always completely cleared off.

I was jealous of her ability to do that and, for a long time, thought it was beyond my own capabilities.

I’ve since realized that it isn’t that tough. The trick is to never let anything accumulate on the desktop. And the best way to do that is to make sure that at the end of each day, the desktop is completely cleared off.

Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done
This is the latest edition of Allen’s book. I wonder if this edition takes advantage of more computer-based organization tools.

For Christmas back in 2006 — I know this because I searched my blog posts for the first time I wrote about it and it was nearly eight and a half years ago — I got a copy of David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. This book was written to help people conquer clutter, fight procrastination, and get more done. In other words, it was written for people like me.

I read about halfway through it. It proposed an organizational strategy that used lots of paper and folders and labels to organize the clutter into manageable tasks. I admit that I wasn’t too keen on that part of the book — in my mind, it just created more clutter by adding to the piles of paper. But it also provided a good strategy for dealing with incoming paper — the stuff of future clutter. There was a flow chart and I found it so useful that I made my own version of it in a drawing program, printed it out, and hung it on the wall over my desk in my RV.

Getting Things Done Flowchart
Here’s my version of the GTD flowchart.

Of course, this cannot completely solve my clutter problem. “Incubate” is what causes clutter on my desktop. “Reference material” is another source of clutter — that paper has to be stored somewhere. I have a file cabinet with just two drawers and will likely use one to store stationery items like letterhead and envelopes. And I know from experience that any reference material I think is worth keeping is seldom referred to in the future. In reality, it’s “deferred trash.” I can’t delegate anything, either. I don’t have employees or a partner — which is a good thing, believe me — so I have to handle everything.

So, as you can imagine, this is of limited use to me.

The Joy of Scanning

I’ve discovered that the absolute best way to keep clutter at bay is to scan the documents you think you need and store them on a backed-up computer hard disk as PDF files. And that’s what I do now.

ScanSnap Scanner
My ScanSnap scanner is portable and efficient for the volume of scanning I do.

I’ve got a little ScanSnap portable scanner that can take as many sheets of paper as I need it to. I’ve created a date-based filing system on my computer with consistent naming conventions. It works like a charm — when I take the time to scan. The key, it seems is to scan something as soon as it hits my desk and then destroy the original paper and throw it into the recycle bin. No piles.

I try to avoid having to scan anything. This is easy these days with electronic bank statements and the like. Periodically, I go online and download statements, filing them into my existing system. I have a To Do list that reminds me to download for each account every three months. I tick it off when it’s done and I’m reminded three months later to do it again. The reminder stays active until it’s done; the three-month clock starts when I tick it off.

TurboScan
Some of this week’s receipts in TurboScan in my iPhone before moving them to my computer.

Receipts from traveling were a huge source of clutter in the past. But I’ve recently even resolved this with a $3 app on my iPhone: TurboScan. This app uses my phone’s camera to take photos of my receipts and then stores them. When I get home, I export them as PDFs to iTunes, copy them to my hard disk, and file them away in the appropriate folders. Not a single piece of paper comes home with me. Can’t make clutter if you don’t bring it in the house. Best $3 I’ve spent in a long time.

Back to My Desk

These days, I allow only the following items to live on my desktop:

  • My computer. It’s a 27-inch iMac that’s still going strong as it comes up on its fourth birthday. I have a 24-inch monitor I can use with it and there’s a slight chance I might bring it up — especially if I start writing computer books again. For now, the computer sits alone in the back corner of my desk.
  • My keyboard and mouse. I need these. Although my desk has a drawer that could be used as keyboard drawer, I prefer to use the drawer for small office supplies like clips and a stapler and the three-hole punch that was in the desk when I unwrapped it after the move. (A parting gift from my wasband? I doubt it.)
  • A mouse pad. The desk surface is a nice wood and I don’t want to ruin it by scratching a mouse all over it.
  • Backup hard disk. I use Time Machine to back up my computer automatically.
  • A pencil cup. It’s an oversized mug with pens, pencils, scissors, ruler, and other similar items in it.
  • Coaster. For my coffee cup or other beverages. Again, I don’t want to ruin that nice desk top.
  • Charging cables for my iPad and iPhone. I tend to keep them plugged in at my desk when I’m not using them so they’re handy when I need them.
  • USB Hub. I need the ports.
  • Tissue box. I always keep tissues nearby; I’ve had sinus issues my whole life, although they’ve been very minor since moving out west from the New York metro area.

My Office
This photo of my office was shot just moments after finishing this blog post. The only extra items you see are my coffee cup (on the coaster) and iPad (on a charger). And yes, the chair is temporary; haven’t brought my office chair up yet.

Two items live on top of my file cabinet, which abuts the desk:

  • A printer. Right now, I’m using the Brother laser printer I bought cheap a bunch of years ago. It’s wicked fast and does a decent job printing. I have two other printers — a LaserJet network printer and a Color LaserJet USB printer. But how many printers does a person need? I suspect I’ll replace the Brother with the Color LaserJet when I move into my new home and get rid of the other two printers. Or maybe get rid of the LaserJet — which prints great but very slowly — and keep the Brother as a spare. I don’t print very often, but it would be nice to have the option of printing in color.
  • A portable scanner. It’s a ScanSnap and it feeds a sheet at a time. A great little scanner if you don’t need to scan often. What I like about it is that I can set it aside next to my printer when I’m not using it and, because my desk is always clean, pull it out when I need it.

There are a few other things I keep out in my office area, either on the hanging corner shelves or my oversized windowsill:

  • Router. The internet comes into the room behind my desk; the router needs to be nearby. Added bonus: I can plug my computer right into it rather than use WiFi.
  • Podcaster microphone. I occasionally appear on podcasts and video podcasts and have been thinking of starting a new podcast this summer. The microphone also works well for voice recognition, which I hope to start using more frequently. It’s easy enough to reach for the mic and put it on my desk when I need it.
  • UPS. I’ve always had my computer plugged into an uninterrupted power supply. Not only does this filter the power to make it cleaner, but it prevents sudden shutdowns in the event of a power failure. I keep it on the floor and have just about all of my equipment plugged into either the battery + surge suppression or surge suppression side.

At the end of the day, before I go to bed, my desk cleanup job is simple: just make sure the above-listed items are the only items on horizontal surfaces in my office area. Anything else must be dealt with and/or put away before I go to bed. Because nothing ever accumulates, its remarkably easy to do.

Oddly enough, when I mentioned this strategy to a friend yesterday, his response was, “How you do penalize yourself if you don’t achieve that goal?” My response was: “I always achieve it so no penalty is necessary.”

And so far, I have.

Stress-free Living

The biggest benefit of getting clutter under control and keeping a neat workspace and home is that it eliminates one source of stress.

For me, having those clutter piles around were a constant source of stress. Each pile represented a huge stack of stuff I needed to deal with that I’d already put off many times for many reasons. What made things worse is that when the clutter problem got very bad on my desk, I had difficulty finding things I needed to work on and lacked the space to spread out and work.

Getting rid of clutter is the first step to increased productivity and a stress-free lifestyle. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.

Using a Daily Routine to Maximize Productivity

Some things that work for me might work for you, too.

BooksI’ve been a freelance writer since I left my last full-time job in 1990. While freelancing might sound great to the folks who punch a clock or work some version of the typical 9 to 5 grind, it’s not all about working in your pajamas and goofing off in coffee shops. It more about finding work that pays and getting the work done on time. If you’re a good freelancer, you’re doing those two things every working day. If you’re not, you’re probably not earning a living as a freelancer.

My Background as a Writer

Peachpit Logo
Lynda.com

My career has followed what might look like a bell curve. A slow start in 1990 with a steep rise in the late 1990s that peaked in the mid 2000s and began a decline in 2006 or so. This is mostly because the market for what I wrote — computer how-to books for beginning to intermediate users — has gone into decline, pushed into obsolescence by the rise of Google, Internet based software support, and video how-to. I was fortunate enough to hop on the video train in 2006 and have authored a number of videos for a great organization, Lynda.com. I still do this and I really enjoy it. But the heydays of writing about computers is definitely over.

Fortunately, I still have enough of a reputation as a writer that I can get opportunities to write short how-to articles and blog posts for paying markets. I did quite a few of these over the years, but lost interest in 2011 and hit a mental road block in 2012 that made it very difficult to write much of anything. I’ve worked my way though that now, mostly out of necessity. My recovery is due, in part, to two new editorial contacts that have offered me money for fresh content. Because my other work as a helicopter pilot is seasonal and very slow in the winter months, I’m embracing these new opportunities. My book and video course royalties only go so far.

Unfortunately, I’m also still “flaking out” once in a while — basically dropping the ball on opportunities I should consider myself lucky to get. As I told one of my editors the other day, I’m my own worst enemy. When I’m focused, I can write good content very quickly — my editors are always happy with what I send. The trick is getting and staying focused long enough to get the job done.

And that brings me to today’s topic: setting up and sticking to a routine.

My Current Routine

I am a morning person. I have been for longer than I can remember. I wake up early and work best before noon. This becomes extremely important as I try to maximize productivity and still have time to take care of the other important things in my life — like the construction of my new home, socializing with friends, and exploring new hobbies like beekeeping and warm glass work.

That said, I generally wake between 4 and 6 AM. (Yes, I know that’s pretty freaking early, but that’s the way things are these days. I haven’t set an alarm clock in years.) I usually stay in bed until at least 5; if I wake before that, I check in on Twitter and Facebook on my iPad before getting out of bed. I’ll also check the weather and my calendar for the day. (More on the calendar in a moment.)

After taking care of bathroom stuff, I head into the kitchen to make coffee, wash the few dishes that might be in the sink, and feed Penny the Tiny Dog. Sometimes I’ll make breakfast, too.

I take my coffee and breakfast to the kitchen table where I spend some quiet time writing in my journal about the previous day’s activities and thoughts. (If you think I share a lot here and on social networks, you should read my journal. This blog is the tip of a very deep iceberg. I’ve already made arrangements to have it published when I die.)

By 7 AM, I’m at my desk working. I try to spend a solid 4-6 hours writing. I’ll try to write work I can sell first, but if nothing comes to mind, I’ll write in my blog about something that’s been on my mind. Sometimes that stimulates my mind enough to trigger ideas for a piece I can sell.

Yesterday was an extremely productive day. By 8 AM, I’d already written a 450-word illustrated how-to article for an editor, a short illustrated blog post for this blog, and a brief proposal for a new video course. I’d gotten an early start — I was at my desk by 5 — but I was still pleasantly surprised.

Distraction is my enemy and it takes many forms. Social media is the worst. Using the Internet to research and shop for things that interest me comes next. Reading old blog posts comes after that. If I’m not careful, these activities can blow hours of my day.

Oops! I’m back. Just lost 30 minutes doing all of the above. Seriously. I wish I were kidding.

The key is to not allow distractions to take you away from your work. Face it: if a task takes 4 hours to complete and you blow away 2 hours on distractions, you now have a 6-hour work day. Wouldn’t you rather finish your work and have the rest of the day off to deal with other things, including those distractions? I know I would. But sometimes it’s difficult to avoid them.

(This is something that’s been on my mind for a while. In 2007, I blogged “5 Tips for Staying Focused.” And in 2009, I blogged “Writing Tips: Avoiding Distractions.”)

When I’m done with the task at hand and have nothing on my calendar to take me away from my desk, if I’m on a roll I try hard to keep working. Yesterday, after a lengthy midday distraction, I made several false starts on a blog post for an aviation blog, started to write a different flying-related blog post for my own blog, and realized what I was writing for my blog might work for the other blog. I pasted the text from my blog composition software — yes, I still use ecto — to Microsoft Word and finished it up. I sent it in and crossed my fingers that it’s accepted. If it isn’t, no sweat; I’ll publish it here on this blog and write something else.

I should mention my calendar and its importance in all this. Because I do my best work in the morning, I try to schedule all my non-work activities for the afternoon. This reserves the morning time for work. I also put everything on my calendar, mostly because I forget scheduled responsibilities if I don’t. And I use to do list software that automatically syncs between my Mac, iPhone, and iPad to keep track of tasks that need to be done and maintain a shopping list. (I should probably blog about that one day, too.)

Yesterday I had to run errands down in the valley (on my to do list), buy a few items (on my to do list), and join some friends for dinner and pumpkin carving (on my calendar). Because I was determined to finish that blog post before I joined my friends and because I allowed midday distractions to eat into my work time, I arrived late for the social activities and only ran two of three errands.

That’s my basic routine: Wake early, coffee, journaling, and writing work in the morning; personal and social activities in the afternoon and evening.

I should mention here that I’ve tried working in the afternoon after something takes up my morning and I simply can’t do it. There’s something about the morning that makes me more productive and enables me to stay more focused. When I sit at my desk in the afternoon, I can’t even get started. The distracting influences are simply calling too loudly.

I should also mention that the short days I experience here in Central Washington State make it very easy to occupy myself at my desk in the early morning. The sun rose this morning at 7:43. (Of course, next week, when we change the clocks, that’ll drop back to 6:43.) But, on average, I’m awake for two or more hours before the sun rises here in the late autumn, winter, and early spring. If I’m not working at my desk, what else could I be doing when it’s still dark out? To me, I’m spending the least useful part of the day doing something that helps me earn a living, leaving the most useful part of the day available to do other things. In the summer, of course, things are very different — and so is my routine.

Setting Up Your Routine

That’s my routine. Now think of yours.

First of all, consider when your best work period is. I’m certainly not suggesting that you wake before 6 and hit the keyboard. (Hell, I wish I didn’t do it.) That works for me but it won’t work for everyone.

Once you know when that golden productivity time is, schedule your day around it. Make that period of time sacred, a time when the only thing you’ll do is work-related. Follow the suggestions in the two posts I linked to above to minimize distractions. Know that distractions will only lengthen your time at your desk. Don’t allow yourself to leave a task unfinished if it only needs another hour or two of your undivided attention to get done. Finishing tasks is extremely rewarding.

If you finish early and have other tasks to complete, do them! Do enough of them and you might get a whole day off.

Ddo your best to make each day’s work schedule pretty much the same, creating a routine. This adds a rhythm to your life that should make it easier to get work done.

What do you think? Use the comments link or form to share your thoughts and tips.

Staying Focused in a Distraction-Filled World

Distractions come in all shapes and sizes.

One of the most difficult things about working these days is simply staying focused. There are far too many distractions in my workplace to stick to the task at hand. And I’m willing to bet that if you work in an office or at a desk, it’s the same for you.

Writers Need to Concentrate

As a writer, it’s vital that I be able to concentrate to organize my thoughts and then get them out in well-written sentences and paragraphs. That’s the task I’m faced with when I need to write something: think about what I need to say and write it.

I’m fortunate. If I can stay focused, I have no trouble writing. Words form sentences, sentences form paragraphs, paragraphs form blog posts, articles, and even books. If I can concentrate on the topic and what I need to say about it, I can get the words out easily. In most cases, I don’t even need to go back and edit other than to check sentence structure and fix typos.

I thought it was like this for most writers. It’s only recently that I discovered that other writers struggle with the actual process of writing. That’s not my problem at all.

My Personal Distractions

My problem is staying focused in an environment full of distractions. Here’s a list of some of the things I face in my office:

  • A cluttered desk. I find that I have a much easier time staying focused when my desk is clear and organized. Yet day after day, I find clutter piles that nag at me and make it difficult to work.
  • Too many open projects. As I summarized in a recent blog post [ADD LINK], I have too many “irons in the fire.” All the time. That’s mostly because I, as a freelancer, need to do work when it comes and keep looking for work so there’s no gap. I’ve been doing this in one form or another for 20+ years. You think I’d be able to compartmentalize better by now. But it’s hard to stay focused on one thing when you know that two (or three or five) other things need attention the same day.
  • Background noise. I have a parrot. Sometimes she makes annoying sounds that can really get under my skin when I’m trying to concentrate. (And yes, getting a parrot was likely a huge mistake. Worse yet, since she’s only 10 years old with a life expectancy of 50, I’ll have her for the rest of my life.) Unfortunately, my parrot isn’t the only source of background noise. At my Phoenix office, there are the landscapers, my neighbor with his loud girlfriend, barking dogs, and the occasional news helicopter hovering over the Apple Store a half mile away any time a line forms for a new product release. Sheesh.
  • The Internet. I could break this down into its components: a Web browser to look up anything anytime I want and an email client to pounce on incoming email as soon as it arrives. Just knowing that it’s there is enough to distract me when I hit even the slightest snag while writing.
  • Social Networking. This is so insidious that it deserves its own bullet point. Thank heaven I’m only addicted — and yes, I do say addicted — to Twitter and Facebook. I bailed out of Google+ about a month ago and am too sick of people trying to sell themselves on LinkedIn to check it more than once a month. But imagine if I’d also jumped in on FourSquare, Pinterest, and those ridiculous “newspapers” people create based on tweets?
  • The weather. In Arizona, almost every day (other than during the summer “hell season”) is perfectly beautiful. Do you know how hard it is to stay indoors when you know how nice it is outside? And then, on those rare days when there are clouds or rain — do you know how hard it is to stay inside and miss the chance to actually get rained on? You think I’m kidding? This weekend, it rained for the first time in three months. I purposely scheduled my work around the expected weather so I could be home to enjoy it.
  • The phone. This is way down on my list because I don’t get many phone calls and I don’t make many phone calls. In all honesty, I don’t like talking on the phone. But that won’t stop me if one of my extra-talkative friends calls and wants to chat. Last month, I used 110 excess primetime minutes on my cell phone — which is my only phone these days — because of long conversations with two chatty friends. (Do you know what that cost? Ouch! I’ve since upped the minutes on my plan.) The phone, of course, is also a source of business for Flying M Air, my helicopter charter service. But at least 80% of the calls I get are people fishing for a cheap flight who tell me they’ll “think about it” when they hear what it’ll cost. And don’t get me started on the ones who need time-consuming flight plan calculations to arrive at an estimate and then never call back.
  • Text messaging. Thankfully, I don’t get or send many. For a while, I had Twitter set to send me Direct Messages on my cell phone. What was I thinking?
  • Chores. Like most people who work from a home-based office, I use chores as a means of “justified procrastination.” For example, “I can’t finish this article now — there are clothes in the dryer that need to be folded!” Or, “I can’t start this outline now — I need to run to the store to buy milk for tomorrow’s breakfast!” (I just did it. I stopped doing this, went outside, toweled off my car (which was wet and clean from the rain), put my Jeep in the driveway, put my car in the garage, and pulled all the clothes out of the dryer. Seriously, I’m hopeless.)
  • Food. I snack all day long. Not huge snacks and not bad snacks. I eat fruit, hard-boiled eggs, cheese on crackers, leftovers. This is not a good thing. I don’t need to snack.

This gives you an idea of what I face. Think about what you face. I bet there’s a lot of overlap.

The Writing Environment

On top of all this is the distraction-full environment of the three applications I normally use to write: Microsoft Word for general writing, Adobe InDesign for book creation, and ecto for blogging.

It’s the formatting options that really get me with Word and InDesign. As I write, I get distracted by the task of formatting my text. With InDesign, the situation is often much worse until I’ve settled on the final styles and template for my book. I’m constantly tweaking things to make them perfect. ecto isn’t nearly as distracting, although since I write in HTML, it’s sometimes more difficult to go back and read what I’ve already written, especially after inserting links and images.

A lot of people swear by applications like Scrivener, which have a full-screen writing mode that supposedly removes all distractions. I’ve tried Scrivener and I really don’t like it for several reasons. First of all, Scrivener has to be learned to be used. That’s an investment in time that I’m not convinced will ever pay off since those skills can only be applied to Scrivener. Second, that distraction-free writing environment has to be turned on. If you don’t turn it on, you have Scrivener’s weird pseudo-outline interface or the cutesy index cards and cork board. That’s not distracting? Third, Scrivener creates Scrivener files, which are generally not readable by other applications. I’ve been bitten in the past when I adopted an application to help me be more productive or “think better” — the program was called Thought Pattern — and wound up with files I could no longer read when the application was abandoned and could no longer run on my computer’s operating system. As a result, I prefer applications that create files in standard formats: TXT, RTF, and DOC/DOCX. (InDesign is a big exception, but worth it for obvious reasons.)

(Just took a 10-minute phone call. Booked a flight for Wednesday. Added two things to my To Do list. Tweeted. )

Now before you use the comments to accuse me of “bashing” Scrivener, please re-read that paragraph. I’m not saying Scrivener is terrible. I’m just saying why I don’t like it. It doesn’t work for me. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for you.

And if all you want is a word processor that has a “distraction-free mode,” why not use Microsoft Word? It’s full-screen mode might be just what you need.

iAWriter
iAWriter’s normal document window is pretty simple.

Of course, I need something more hardcore. So I spent $8.99 for iA Writer, which must be the most basic, distraction-free text editor on the planet. I’m using it to write now. It forces me to concentrate on the actual text by not allowing me to build outlines or format characters or view my document in some sort of print-centric page view that no one really cares about anyway these days. And rather than taking the time to code the links you see throughout this piece, I’m just putting in [ADD LINK] notes to remind me to add the links before I publish.

iAWriter Focus Mode
Here’s iAWriter in full screen view with Focus Mode turned on.

And if I really need to focus on my text one sentence at a time, there’s Focus mode, which basically fades everything I’ve written except the few lines around where I’m currently writing. (I just typed [ADD SCREENSHOT] to remind me to add a screenshot of this and will take the screenshot now. There.) The benefit of Focus mode is that it makes it just a little more difficult to go back and review or edit something you wrote earlier in the document. If you’re like me, you know how much productive time can be lost by tweaking text before you’re finished with the first draft.

There’s zero learning curve to this program. It’s about as close as you can get to a typewriter without losing the ability to edit.

I’m hoping to use this more often to get “back to basics.”

Other Remedies

If a super-simple, feature-free word processor is a remedy for distractions inherent in standard word processing applications, it follows that I should be able to come up with remedies for my other distractions. Here’s what I’m thinking.

Problem Possible Remedy
A cluttered desk. Clear the damn desk. Then clear it again at the end of the work day. Every day. My sister did this at her bank job. Every time I came to visit her, her desk was completely clutter-free. It was spooky, but I think I could work better at a desk like that.
Too many open projects. Organize tasks with a To Do list that prioritizes project work. Stick to it. Also try to work on each project until finished before starting new ones.
Background Noise. Sometimes I can get Alex the Bird to shut up if I move her cage into my office. Sometimes certain foraging toys can keep her quietly busy for hours. I have to work on this. Not much I can do about the other noises. Of course, I could resolve all noise related issues by simply getting a dedicated office in a quiet place — and leaving the bird at home.
The Internet. Close all Internet apps and keep them closed. No browser, no email. Of course, this is impossible sometimes — my work often requires me to consult websites for information, etc. I think I need more willpower. Maybe a sticky note reminding me to stick to business?
Social Networks. Leave the Twitter client app closed. Stay off Facebook. I think if I schedule my social networking activities to certain times of the day, that might work.
The weather. I got nothing. I’m always going to want to get out in the rain — unless it rains for more than one day in a row. I think that if I gave myself a real day off once in a while, I could enjoy an appropriate number of nice days, too.
The phone. Because work comes by phone, I have to answer the phone. Fortunately, I don’t have to restrict myself about making calls because I seldom call anyone else.
Text messaging. Not enough of a problem to warrant a remedy.
Chores. This is an easy one: save chores for break time. Real break time. Scheduled break time. Of course, that means I have to schedule some break time.
Food. See above. Also, keep food out of the house. That might sound weird, but I’m one of those people who shops for groceries almost every day anyway. It’s one of my chores.

What about you? What distractions do you face? What remedies do you use to stay focused and get things done? Share some of your tips in the comments for this post.