Workus Interruptus

Interruptions Tweets Social Media

A personal rant. Not for the faint of heart or politically correct.

Endless texts, tweets, emails, calls, chats, IMs, Facebook updates… A barely digested cacophony of overwhelmingly irrelevant mind-trash, all uncontrolled by you, all buzzing and vibrating and robbing you of the attention you need to get your work done.

When did our smartphones become our masters rather than our tools? There is no ping, ding, beep, or alert that we are willing to ignore in favor of spending a mere ten consecutive minutes attending to a given task. I have news for you: Not answering that phone call or text or email or IM will not end your career.

Whatever is happening on our phones has become so pressing that we have seemingly even lost our instinct for self-preservation. You may have heard the story from a few years ago of the teenager who sued New York City because she fell into a manhole—while texting. And I do have a pet peeve against those loud, obnoxious people on cellphones who carry on conversations in public as if they were in the privacy of their living rooms. I may be in the minority, but I much prefer to be sitting next to a quiet smoker.

I am now noticing men standing at urinals or sitting on the toilet conducting conference calls. I am not among them. Sorry, I need to pee in peace.

If you’ve read this far without reacting to an alert of some kind, congratulations: You’re probably doing better than most.

It’s Amazing How Little Value People Place on Their Time

We’ve all heard the expression “time is money.” But how many of us really get it? How many are willing to spend half of their lunch hour waiting in line at Starbucks to order their daily Venti Soy Quadruple Shot Latte Half-Sweet, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato, No Foam? Some people can actually recite this without looking up from the half-dozen apps they are using simultaneously on their smartphones. Is this calorie-fest-in-a-cup really worth your $5—or your time? Here’s a solution: Buy your own espresso machine and get on with the important things you have to do.

And what about when you get back to work? How many meetings do you take part in that are actually worthy of your time? Political correctness, avoiding decision making, taking fifty words to say what could be said in ten in an attempt to avoid stepping on others’ toes … If we’re honest, our workdays are probably about 80 percent wasted time. On a good day.

Work Interruptions Cost At Least Six Hours a Day

Of course, we have excuses for every intrusion. But it’s amazing how we consistently find ways to buck productivity. Have you ever noticed that after each interruption, it takes five to fifteen minutes to get your focus back? With IT folks, it’s worse. Even at home, people will run dripping out of the shower, jump up from the dinner table, or ignore their spouse just to look at the phone.

I used to be caught in this trap of dropping everything (apart from the latter activity) in favor of the slightest distraction. Here is how I resolved to cease reacting to endless interruptions—and how you can, too:

  • Begin your workday very early. Very few reach me when I’m up before dawn.
  • Sometimes don’t even go in at all. I’ll work from a “secret” location. (If you decide to do this, make sure to clear it with your boss.)
  • Shut off all electronic notifications. I set times to periodically check messages so I can focus on what I’m doing in between.
  • Ignore “disasters.” Nothing is as bad or as good as it initially appears. Not even love at first sight.
  • Avoid Meeting-itis. Do you really need that next meeting? Can it be done standing up without refreshments? Perhaps at 4:45 to avoid endless discussions when everyone just wants to go home? Besides, the few who will stay late are the only ones you need.
  • Value your time. Time is the most important resource (free e-book) any of us ever has. On top of that, your employer is paying you for it. Your time is incredibly valuable—respect it and make the most of it.
  • Tame your colleagues. Someone interrupting you every twenty minutes with an “idea” or “concern”? Ask him to gather notes and meet with you at 4:45pm the next day. You will see he will not have much to share and he’s solved his “problems” already.
  • Cut close ties with those who consistently socialize. You have a career to build. In fact, to move up the ladder of success you need to tame socialization at work—especially with subordinates.
  • Create deliberate, absolute quiet time. With no interruptions whatsoever. This takes effort, but it can be done.

Productivity vs. Busyness

In today’s hyper-accelerated business environment, it’s common to hear people talk about how busy they are. When I hear that, I am not impressed. Thanks for sharing, but let me ask: “How productive are you?”

You may have read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, who today is embraced as a success guru. In his book, he has some enlightening observations about busyness. For example, Ferriss says that “Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.” Also, “Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

I agree—wholeheartedly.

Look at it this way: Your value to your employer is in your productivity, and your productivity can only increase if—despite all of the distractions—you make it a priority to decrease busyness and focus on business. It’s not a matter of how many hours you spent working, or even of how hard you think you worked. It’s a matter of what got done.

So close your computer, turn off your notifications, and dig into this issue on productivity!

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