I want you to think about your typical day – start at the beginning of the day, think about what you typically do/don’t do, all of the way through to the end of the day. Now – close your eyes and review your typical day. How do you feel thinking about it? Does it leave you energized? Or, do you feel frustrated, angry, stressed, and unfulfilled? Are you able to get the things done that you need to get done in your typical day? Do you have enough time to do your job?
For many of us, the answer to the last question is a resounding “NO”! We are bombarded constantly by interruptions – finding that while we ‘were busy’ throughout the entire day – we didn’t get done what we wanted to, or needed to, get done. It can leave us unsatisfied and angry – knowing that the work will be waiting for us tomorrow.
The situation of interruptions is terrible at most companies. A Wall Street Journal article on Workplace Interruptions contained an infographic that was startling with some of its findings. Based on its reference, the average amount of time spent on a task before an interruption is only 12 minutes, 40 seconds. It then takes almost 30 minutes to typically get back to the task that was interrupted, followed by 15 more minutes to get back to the same level of concentration you had before the interruption. Think about it this way – for an activity that would take 30 minutes of focus and attention; if you are interrupted only once – that activity will take an extra 45 minutes to accomplish. You just torpedoed your productivity.
So – what can we do? We can set boundaries – on ourselves. I believe that we have more control than we would like to admit – and I believe that much of the pain we suffer is self-inflicted. Of course there are times when the boss or colleague calls and it is a true emergency. But, how many of the daily interruptions are self-inflicted? How many of us enable pop-up notifications for email, or instant messaging, and let them run us? If we evaluate the type of task we need to do, identify typical interruptions, and then put some boundaries in place – you’ll have a very good chance of reclaiming efficiency.
Some ideas on how to ‘tame the interruptions’ are:
- Plan out, and book on your calendar, the block of time you need for the activity. Don’t let others book over your time.
- Define ‘an emergency’ up front for your team and colleagues. Then, if you are interrupted – you’ll know that it is truly for an emergency.
- Close email. Turn off instant messaging. Turn your phone to silent AND put it face down on the desk. OK – how many of you just experienced withdrawal? I love the instant ability of technology to both reach out and be reached. BUT – we must be disciplined about its use or we are always at its mercy.
- Book a conference room if you are in a cubicle, or bring your headphones.
- Shift your work hours to earlier or later when fewer people are in the office.
- Stay focused – resist the urge to undo any of these boundaries! Ask yourself – will anything earth shattering happen in the next 60 minutes that it will take to complete this work?
You don’t have to do set any boundaries on yourself. You don’t have to be more disciplined about who interrupts you and when you allow interruptions to occur. The trade-off is that you are accepting that typical activities will take more than twice the amount of time that they could take without the interruptions. Why not try? If things are taking twice as long anyway – there isn’t much to lose with a few boundaries and some discipline. And, you may just gain back a big chunk of your time!
Let us know how we can support you in planning for, and implementing, your boundaries!