Think of what you could do if you could take control of your schedule to find an extra hour each week. And now think of what your company could do if each and every one of your employees found an extra hour of time in their week. What would be the productivity impact of all that extra time? What about the financial impact?
The answer isn’t to add more hours—it’s to maximize the time you already have.
The Impact of Distraction
We all struggle with not having enough time. But the root of the problem is often that the time available isn’t being used efficiently.
Do any of these stats sound familiar?
People switch activities—such as making a call, speaking to someone, checking e-mail, or working on a document or project—every 3 minutes.
On a typical day, office workers are interrupted about 7 times per hour, or 56 times per day.
On average, people devote 11 minutes to a project before being distracted.
Professional success has a lot to do with understanding what it is that you do that adds value to your organization, and yourself personally. This sounds obvious, but when you look at how people spend their time and destroy momentum by allowing their time to be fragmented, it’s clear that many don’t understand the power and value that creating momentum produces in one's’ professional life.
The goal is to minimize fragmentation, enabling you to create greater momentum. That said, it’s not easy or productive to switch gears quickly with certain tasks. Detailed and technical work requires deep concentration. To achieve a deeper level of thinking, it’s important to give the brain uninterrupted time to focus on and respond to a business opportunity or challenge. This requires getting into a rhythm and the right headspace, something that is impossible to achieve when you’re constantly interrupted.
Plenty of scientific research shows that distractions increase the time it takes people to complete tasks. If I’m interrupted 3 times an hour, the length of the distraction isn’t just the couple of minutes it took to have the discussion—it’s that time plus the time it took me to recover my train of thought and get back to work.
The lost productivity is truly astounding—and very costly to your individual productivity and overall effectiveness. Conversely, the effect of managing your time well will produce significant financial rewards.
How do I know? Many years ago, when I was focused on improving my own overall effectiveness and impact as the founder and CEO of a rapidly growing business, I was able to apply several key principles to take back control, improve my work-life balance and increase my personal productivity and income.
At that particular moment in time, my wife and I had two young sons under the age of five and I was leading a company with approximately 40 employees. But by being clear about my priorities, reducing fragmentation and building a weekly structure, I was able to take control of how I managed my time, priorities and unscheduled distractions.
Now I work with business leaders to help them bring this simple time and priority management methodology into their companies. Here are a couple of tips to help you get started on the same path.
Tips for Maximizing Time
Tracking. One of the first things I ask clients to do is to simply note how many interruptions they encounter, how many times they start and stop a specific activity. After you do this for a week or two, it will become very clear, very quickly, how much time you are losing to unscheduled interruptions and distractions.
Evaluating. Next, pay attention to how many of these interruptions are preventable. Urgencies pop up, and that should be expected if you’re running a department or business. But non-urgent interruptions, conversations, emails, and meetings, those can be controlled and scheduled.
Time chunking. This is simply reserving blocks of time for a specific activity, and being consistent with this from week to week throughout the year. For example, at one of the companies I founded, I started holding all my internal meetings on Monday and Friday mornings. I also reserved specific blocks of time, daily and weekly, for people to access me regarding the priorities that popped up that needed my attention or input. This gave my team access to me daily during a specific time of the day as opposed to me having a steady stream of interruptions through each and every day. This simple tweak in how I managed daily and necessary interruptions ultimately enabled me to create greater momentum for myself each and every day. This small change also helped our leaders to become more efficient with their time as well. They increased their access to me while reducing their own fragmentation.
Momentum. Clarity and prioritization is a big part of creating significant momentum for yourself, your team and your company. Be clear about how you create value for your organization. What are your two or three money-making activities? What can’t be delegated? These activities get priority as you design your workweek.
Don’t spend your days fragmenting yourself, diminishing your overall effectiveness by switching between activities requiring deep-thought with activities that require less concentration. Create momentum for yourself by combining the concept of time chunking with category management. In other words, reserve specific blocks of time daily and weekly for specific activities. Create momentum for yourself by developing a weekly cadence, one that reserves times for the deeply cranial activities and other times for the less heady stuff.
Distraction management simply means that you provide full access for your team, but you control when this access occurs on a daily and weekly basis. As a leader, if you provide access any time, any day, if you allow yourself to be interrupted whenever, you may be service oriented but you’ve dramatically diminished your overall effectiveness and you’ve conditioned your team to do the same. Living in interrupt mode is not productive for anyone.
Team buy-in. This approach works best when your entire team understands and agrees that people need focused, uninterrupted time in order to accomplish their most important priorities. I help leaders improve their ability to manage time and priorities, and we do this one-on-one over the phone. Once the leader is comfortable with the concepts, and once they’ve begun to make progress, we will co-teach their team the same exact material via a webinar. This approach ensures the team is on the same page with the leader, and once this happens, tremendous momentum is created for the entire team. I encourage the leader to record this webinar so their team can revisit and reinforce these concepts as needed.
Self-assess. It’s important to check in with yourself to see how much of your distractions are self-generated. You don’t have to check your email, Slack, Facebook or the news every 5 minutes. It’s easy to convince yourself that you need to check these things frequently, but how much of that is really urgent and how much is a habit that has to be unlearned? For myself, when I went through this process, I found one extra hour each day by reducing daily fragmentation/interruptions; some of this fragmentation I created and and some was created by others. Either way, all progress starts with an honest self-assessment.
Leaders are sometimes the worst offenders when it comes to interruptions, so make sure to practice what you preach. If you follow these tips, you can reduce fragmentation and bring a sense of control to a hectic workplace—and you’ll see the effects in productivity and overall effectiveness.
Related White Paper
Interested in more tools for taking control of your schedule? Download a PDF my Time & Priority white paper here.
If you’d like to hear more about my experience with time management and controlling your own schedule, listen to our Management Insights podcast on the topic.