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3 Ways To Cut Your Daily Work Interruptions

3 Ways To Cut Your Daily Work Interruptions

Nobody wakes up hoping to get little done in the day and to be distracted by a bunch of things that don’t really matter. Despite this, that’s what many office workers end up doing.

In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport talks about the “metric black hole” that so many of our activities fall into. This black hole is where the measurements of the costs for our activities fall into. Email seems productive because you’re pushing words around in the company, but most of the time it does little more than making you feel productive.

Here are 3 ways you can cut those distractions and pull productivity out of that black hole.

1. Take A New Approach To Email

Yes, email is the way most companies communicate. Quick messages are dashed off across the company with many people CC’d on them. It feels like something is actually getting done, but most often what you’re really doing is reorganizing under the guise of working hard.

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To get on top of this productivity-stealing beast, you need to take drastic action. First, only check your email twice a day at the most and set a time limit. I use the Pomodoro productivity method and I allow only one 25-minute block per day to go through my email. Putting this time limit on email means that it can’t expand into all my available time.

When I was last an employee, and the lowest person on the totem pole, even the CEO understood me only checking email twice a day. A calm, rational explanation that I needed large swaths of time to focus on my work was fine with him. He even adopted the practice of only checking his own email at 11 AM and 3 PM and loved how much extra focus he had.

Second, start scheduling almost all of your email. I use Right Inbox to only send email at 4 PM, regardless of the time I check it. The only exception is when someone is waiting on something from me and they need a response right away. This helps ensure that you’re not playing email tag as you try to clear your inbox and replies keep coming in.

Third, never check your email first thing in the morning. The thing that email is really good at is telling you what everyone else thinks is important for you that day. It rarely has any bearing on what you need to do to push your projects forward. You should figure out the night before what your most important task is. Come in and do that until you have your scheduled email block.

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Fourth, turn off all notifications on your email. Studies show that having these notifications on can cause you to get distracted from the task at hand. If you’re not focused, you’re not doing your work well. Just get used to waiting for your scheduled email times. Nothing will catch on fire, and if it does, the alarm will go off or someone will stop by your office as they run out the door in a panic.

2. Turn Off Notifications For Slack/Hipchat/Messaging

These can be great tools and many companies are diving into group-messaging tools with both feet, cutting out the need for email. The problem is that the expectation is for employees to have chat open most of the time and respond instantly to any message — no matter how trivial. I’ve talked with one manager who felt the most productive programmers were those that had a notification engine built into their code editors so they could jump to chat instantly from the task they were focussed on.

This is simply the notification problem with email exponentially increased. Simply because there is some benefit to a tool doesn’t mean that it’s a good tool.

Just like email, turn off all notifications on your chat tools. Then, quit the application in favor of scheduled checkins. I check my Slack channels twice a day — once just after my morning workout and once just after lunch. I’m already not focused on anything in particular, so there is no attention stolen.

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3. Avoid Unnecessary Meetings

Finally, let’s talk about meetings. So often, someone can easily call a meeting with 10 people for 2 hours which, in terms of salary, costs thousands of dollars, but they could never approve an expense of half that amount. Why does no one bat an eye at this?

To curb the constant meetings, start by refusing to go to any meeting that doesn’t have a clear agenda 48 hours in advance and a single clear decision that you need to be involved in. Again, with my last full-time employment, as the lowest person in the building, I put this in place and managed to avoid most meetings.

When your boss asks you to join a meeting, show them your task list and ask which item needs to get bumped off the list for the meeting. Much of the time, your boss is going to say that the meeting needs to get bumped. When I’ve used this tactic, a 2-hour meeting turned into someone coming to get me for the 15 minutes that I really needed to be there. I weighed in and then was gone.

That super-important meeting often isn’t that important — it’s just that no one has challenged it yet. In the face of a challenge, people acknowledge that the interruption in the workday is worth less than moving projects forward.

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Like I said at the beginning, there are so many distractions in your day. Cutting those distractions out and taking control of your day will mean that you get more done and don’t have to work all hours to be as productive as possible.

Featured photo credit: jpstjohn via flickr.com

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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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