Thomas Edison did his best work during the night. Some people today do their best work at night too, mainly because they are interrupted so often during the day. The problem is that most of us were never taught how to fight information overload and constant interruptions. Some folks commonly confuse 'busyness' and lots of activity with productivity, even if much of that activity comes from interruptions. It might even be seen as a badge of honor.
Many interruptions are the result of technologies that didn’t exist not too long ago, such as cell phones, pda’s and email. These interruptions happen at every level, from bindery equipment operator to company owners and managers. The problem is insidious and could be costing you thousands of dollars.
According to a study by research group Basex, “unnecessary interruptions consume about 28% of the knowledge workers day.” How many hours of lost productivity does that translate to for your operations? Losses may be slightly lower for a folding machine or other equipment operator since their job is to keep a machine running, but I’m willing to bet the interruptions exist there and at every level. (Ever see a machine not producing because an operator is talking on their cell?)
The editors of Fortune say you should ask yourself these questions:
- What are you supposed to accomplish in your work?
- What do you actually spend time doing?
- Do you achieve "flow?"
Flow is the state where everything seems to be going your way. You feel calm, alert, focused yet receptive. It feels like the full exercise of the thing you are supposed to be doing.
Some tips on finding an opportunity for achieving flow, avoiding interruptions, and finding more time for what you want to do (and should be doing):
- If you're the one who calls meetings, call fewer of them.
- Switch off the ping that signals an incoming email. Create folders into which messages are automatically shunted. When busy, let outgoing messages tell others when they might expect to hear from you.
- Devote an hour a day to uninterrupted thinking and planning. No calls, no email, no chitchat.
- Say "no." Not saying it to harried bosses and distressed colleagues is the surest way to overload yourself.
Focus on meeting your stated goals and objectives. Allow for family and personal time when planning your calendar. Those who don't are more likely to feel overloaded than those who make time for their personal lives. If you are the ‘interrupter’ at the company (for instance a bindery production manager who must constantly be getting updated information) ask yourself if each interruption of a colleague is really needed. Can you reduce the number of contacts or come up with a new system for gathering information?
Studies show that 20 percent of our time is spent on nonproductive activities. Cut them out or delegate them. For email--delete, file, or answer now. If you recall the 80-20 rule (the Pareto principle) then you understand that there is a different 20% of our activities that generates 80% of our productivity. Ultimately you want to reduce interruptions so you can shift your focus to those all-important and highly productive activities, whatever they might be. That should be a never-ending goal.
Allow me to illustrate why this strategy is so powerful. Assume you have 40 hours of work time available. 20% of that (8 hours) generates roughly 80% of your productivity. Let’s say your reduction in interruptions gives you only 2 extra hours a week. 2 more hours of productive time means you’ve increased your productivity by 25% (2 ÷ 8 = .25) If you could increase productivity by 25% by eliminating a few interruptions, why wouldn’t you?
Feel free to share your insights below!