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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 August 6, 2020

Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

Bristol is the most congested city in England. Whenever I have to work at the office, I ride there, like most of us do. Furthermore, I always make sure to go at off hours; otherwise, the roads are jam-packed with cars, buses, bikes, even pedestrians. Why is that? Because everyone is working a traditional 9 to 5 work day.

Where did the “9 to 5” Come From?

It all started back in 1946. The United States government implemented the 40 hour work week for all federal employees, and all companies adopted the practice afterwards. That’s 67 years with the same schedule. Let’s think about all the things that have changed in the 67 years:

  • We went to the moon, and astronauts now live in space on the ISS.

  • Computers used to take up entire rooms and took hours to make a single calculation. Now we have more powerful computers in our purses and back pockets with our smartphones.

  • Lots of employees can now telecommute to the office from hundreds, and even thousands of miles away.

In 1946 a 9-5 job made sense because we had time after 5pm for a social life, a family life. Now we’re constantly connected to other people and the office, with the Internet, email on our smartphones, and hashtags in our movies and television shows. There is no downtime anymore.

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Different Folks, Different Strokes

Enjoying your downtime is an important part of life. It recharges your batteries and lets you be more productive. Allowing people to balance life and work can provide them with much needed perspective and motivation to see the bigger picture of what they are trying to achieve.

Some people are just more productive when they’re working at their optimal time of day, after feeling well rested and personally fulfilled.  For some that can be  from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m; for others, it could be  2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

People have their own rhythms and routines. It would be great if we could sync our work schedule to match. Simply put, the imposed 8-hour work day can be a creativity and morale killer for the average person in today’s world.

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Productivity and Trust Killer

Fostering creativity among employees is not always an easy endeavor, but perhaps a good place to start is by simply not tying their tasks and goals to a fixed time period. Let them work on their to-do list at their own pace, and chances are, you’ll get the best out of your employee who feels empowered instead of babysat.

That’s not to say that you should  allow your team to run wild and do whatever they want, but restricting them to a 9 to 5 time frame can quickly demoralize people. Set parameters and deadlines, and let them work at their own creative best with the understanding that their work is crucial to the functioning of the entire team.

Margaret Heffernan, an entrepreneur who previously worked in broadcasting, noted to Inc that from her experience, “treating employees like grown-ups made it more likely that they would behave the same way.” The principle here is to have your employees work to get things done, not to just follow the hands on the clock.

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A Flexible Remote Working Policy

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously recalled all her remote workers, saying she wanted to improve innovation and collaboration, but was that the right decision? We’ve all said that we’re often more productive in a half day working from home than a full day working in the office, right? So why not let your employees work remotely from home?

There are definitely varying schools of thought on remote working. Some believe that innovation and collaboration can only happen in a boardroom with markers, whiteboards and post-it notes and of course, this can be true for some. But do a few great brainstorms trump a team that feels a little less stressed and a little more free?

Those who champion remote working often note that these employees are not counting the clock, worried about getting home, cooking dinner or rushing through errands post-work. No one works their 9-5 straight without breaks here and there.  Allowing some time for remote working means employees can handle some non-work related tasks and feel more accomplished throughout the day. Also, sometimes we all need to have a taste of working in our pajamas, right?

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It’ll be interesting to see how many traditional companies and industries start giving their employees more freedom with their work schedule. And how many end up rescinding their policies like Yahoo did.

What are your thoughts of the traditional 9-5 schedule and what are you doing to help foster your team’s productivity and creativity? Hit the comments and let us know.

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