I’ve owned my business since 1992 and over the years there have been some trends in what employees are interested in talking about when it comes to their personal time management and productivity challenges.
Years ago questions were about setting goals. A few years went by and the discussions seemed to migrate towards priorities. This moved into questions about how to manage priorities because they seemed to shift. There were a couple years of desperate questions looking for answers on how to manage the email beast. And now we all know there’s really very little you can do to manage email. You can only manage how you react to it.
But the past year or so there have been many discussion about the inability to focus when you find yourself in an ‘always on’, potential 24/7 business environment.
How Companies Help Employees Stay Focused at Work
Companies like Apple and Google have recognized that an ‘open door’ policy, cubicles and team-only orientation aren’t always conducive to critical thinking. These companies have either designated or built rooms where no talking or noise is allowed. These rooms are designed for thinking only. The goal is to provide employees with a place to focus on how to execute on their existing priorities. But it’s also intended to create a physical and mental space for critical thinking on strategic initiatives. In fact, this is the biggest complaint I hear from the academic world. When students are asked to invoke some critical thinking on a topic, they tend to begin an internet search rather than reallocating their time to think at a deeper and perhaps more complex level.
However, this cry from employees to help them focus is impacted by more than just an ‘always on’ business climate. Some other culprits to consider include…
How to Manage External Interruptions
20+ year ago we experienced 3 interruptions per hour. Now it’s 20+ per hour. That’s one every 3 minutes. The cost of each interruption is doubled because research shows it takes anywhere from 20 to 26 minutes to get back to the same level of focus you were at before the interruption.
Minimize interruptions by first determining the source. Keep a log for a week and see where or who interruptions are coming from.
Once you have this information, determine which of those interrupters you can impact and set some boundaries (see below).
How to Manage Internal interruptions
Gazing out the window? That’s OK…some of it is a good thing when it comes to developing something creative or solving something difficult. But when you gaze out the window more often than not, check social media more often than not or want to chat at the water cooler/ping pong table more often than not, it becomes a problem for keeping your personal productivity humming and improving your overall performance.
If gazing is your thing, think about alarms or triggers that can help you come back to the work at hand.
If socializing is your thing, do it at specific times of the day for a somewhat predetermined amount of time.
Managing internal and external interruptions is all about setting boundaries. And setting boundaries is about accepting the idea that ‘no’ is an acceptable word. It depends on who you say it to (perhaps not your boss or spouse), how often you say it and mostly how you say it. Acknowledging the person’s concern and offering an alternative are key elements to a successful discussion. Practicing this at the appropriate time is what helps you maintain focus and get to those priorities that are waiting for you.
You have plenty of ways to become help yourself become distracted and they are a big part of what prevents you from focusing on your work. Identifying your interrupters and setting boundaries for yourself and others is what helps you move forward to realize better outcomes and less stress.
Because if you don’t protect the time you have, who will?