During my coaching conversations, one of the most common challenges that comes up with clients is the need for uninterrupted time to work on tasks, projects or just being strategic. Usually one of the first things I will task these clients with is carving out that time in their calendars to do just that.
I then ask them to identify the best place they can get that uninterrupted time in 60-90 minutes blocks. The answers are fairly consistent: home workspace, coffee shop, library and plane. You may agree with any one of these yourself. What’s interesting to me is what never seems to make the list . . . the office!
Modern work life has rendered our offices the absolute killer of productivity. If you actually get work done in your office I would guess that it’s before anyone shows up or after they leave. How has this happened? To put it quite simply, I blame it on the 3 M’s. Multi-tasking, Meetings, and Managers.
Think about your own workday. My guess is that on your way to the office you have visions and thoughts of all the work you plan to accomplish that day. As you sip your morning coffee you may even feel a sense of pre-accomplishment as you enter your building. Then something happens the minute you sit down to your desk. A massive shredder comes and slices up your day into meaningless 10, 15 and 20-minute increments, making it impossible to really get anything done.
Meetings and conference calls are set up last minute for seemingly no reason, interrupting any workflow you have begun. Your manager needs you to drop whatever it is you’re doing (work) and join an important yet unproductive discussion, again interrupting your creative process. Emails and text messages bombard your smartphone and computer constantly, carving up any meaningful work you attempt to complete into five and ten minute bursts.
This slicing up of our time, and creativity, makes it impossible to complete even basic tasks, let alone anything of meaning or value and ultimately leaves us stressed out and exhausted by the end of our workday. It’s no wonder that study after study finds us all working longer hours, getting less done and ultimately being unproductive.
I read an article recently that suggested the stages of work are a lot like the stages of sleep. Think about it. When you go to sleep you don’t just close your eyes and “bam” you are in productive sleep. Real, effective sleep comes in stages and if we interrupt any one stage of our sleep we don’t get to close our eyes and continue where we left off. We have to start all over at the beginning. It’s why some nights when you toss and turn for hours, you wake up feeling exhausted and tired because you never got to your productive REM sleep that causes you to feel rested and restored.
Work is the same way, it comes in stages. We can’t just give ourselves 15 minutes to suddenly be productive, creative or brilliant. Like sleep it comes to us in stages and if we get interrupted at any stage we can’t just pick up where we left off. Sorry my friends, we get to go right back to the start and crank it up again.
A recent study on the brain suggests that when you are extremely focused and “in the zone” on what you are doing to the point that you have lost any sense of time, once you get distracted for even a moment or a “quick second” it takes your brain up to 20 minutes to re-engage at the same levels of productivity . . . 20 minutes!
It’s those extreme moments of concentrations where most of our brilliant ideas and solutions are discovered and exactly where you want to be when the solving the complex problems you face in your workplace. Once those moments are wasted on yet another redundant email or distraction they can be lost in the trash bins of our minds forever.
If you really want to do yourself and your teams a favor, start scheduling uninterrupted time in your office so everyone can get back to work. If you have the ability to do so, cancel a meeting. I promise the business will not shut down if you cancel just one meeting. Just imagine the feeling your team will get when they suddenly have and extra hour or two in their day. Start something in your office like “no interruption Friday” or “no meeting Thursday.” Do something this week to get people in your office doing what they all would really like to do . . . work.
Ask yourself this week:
Where do I get my most productive work done during the week? If it’s not in the office, then what measures am I going to put into place to change that?
How am I contributing to my team’s lack of productivity? Am I one of the 3 M’s?
Before I ask anyone on my team to drop what they’re doing, maybe I need to take some time to actually appreciate what they are doing. Or better yet, plan my week better so my team can plan theirs.
What time of day or day of the week is the best to schedule 60-90 minutes of clean, un-interrupted time for myself? Believe me, once you start committing that time for yourself, it will be the one of the appointments you really want to keep.
Thoughts for the week:
Distraction is a lot like water: First refreshing, then exhausting, and finally, fatal. –Unknown
Lack of direction, not of time is the problem. We all have the same 24 hours everyday. – Zig Ziglar
Practice saying, “No.” It’s the only way to reduce distractions from the work at hand. – Unknown
Multi-tasking arises out of distraction itself. – Marilyn vos Savant
You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks. – Winston Churchill
Three things you can’t recover in life: The moment after it’s missed, the word after it’s been said, and the time after it’s been wasted. – Unknown
Looking forward to our next conversation.