223 - Are You Plagued by Workplace Interruptions?
I have a secret.... a pretty well-known secret. I love to work on the weekends! Yes, I do find time to socialize and relax, but I treasure my weekends for their focused, quiet stretches. Do you long for more control of your time and energy?
Deborah Goldstein, founder of DRIVEN Professionals, is a thought-leader with something to say. As I've gotten to know her, her message continues to resonate with me: Are You Plagued by Workplace Interruptions?
Plagued By Workplace Interruptions? Set Some Boundaries
Interruptions at work are a pandemic. Professionals get bombarded constantly from all sides. A typical manager gets interrupted every three minutes at work, according to Gloria Mark, associate professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. It’s no wonder that, by the end of the day, we feel frayed but not accomplished. To make matters worse, we interrupt ourselves nearly as often as others interrupt us. Be honest: How many times each day do you find yourself checking Instagram or compulsively tidying your inbox?
Perhaps the most disturbing truism about being interrupted is that it takes up to 23 minutes for your brain to get back to where it left off. In addition to the minutes of potential productivity that slip away during these pesky distractions, your mental willpower becomes exhausted in the process. This means the more you’re interrupted, the easier it is to become interrupted again. Compounding this predicament is the overarching fog of anxiety about future interruptions, instigating an incessant, pulsing worry that you won’t have enough time to get your work done. This releases the stress hormone cortisol into your body, charging you up physically and emotionally. And we all know how that ends: With a hard crash (and the irresistible need for a nap).
That’s just how my client Cathy was feeling when we worked together on her struggles with interruption. Cathy manages a staff of 20 and, in compliance with her company’s culture, maintains an open-door policy. This progressive approach to managing was an important part of her job, and it kept her team on track for timely deliverables. The policy, however, burdened her with constant interruptions by the folks utilizing it. For countless months, she’d look back on each day’s accomplishments, only to discover she hadn’t met her own goals.
Our mission together was to create intentional practices and boundaries to allow Cathy to remain available to her staff and still manage to get some actual work done. Together, Cathy and I devised a plan for her to escape the productivity black hole. Let me share the process with you, and inspire you to apply it to your own career.
Instead of prioritizing your schedule, schedule your priorities.
Cathy and I boxed out two time segments during each work day when it would be practical for her to hole up and crank out some work. At the start of these deep output sessions, Cathy would focus for just one minute on her intentions for the segment at hand, close down all but the most crucial windows on her computer, and set an alarm for the end time. She was then set up for laser-like focus.
“Help me help you.”
Next, Cathy called an all-hands team discussion wherein she educated her direct reports about her challenge, reassuring them their needs would continue to be her priority. She advised them that a closed office door would signal she was off limits for no more than 40 minutes at a time. She then discussed what qualifies as interruption-worthy, encouraging them not to feel cut off from her when time-sensitive matters arose. When a matter was deemed important but not urgent, the staffer would add it to a running list to approach Cathy with in a less urgent way: “Can I grab five minutes with you later today?”
This intentional practice took the anxiety out of questions. It would also save time and provide focus, since Cathy could then address many details in a single interaction. The team also discovered that Cathy was not the only point person capable of handling interruption-worthy issues.
Plan proactive meetings.
Cathy then set up recurring meetings with each of her direct reports. They would meet for 15 minutes twice a month. These high-impact strategy sessions were specifically designed for assessing progress towards goals and sharing perpetual feedback. She created individual Google Docs for each team member with a functional purpose in mind: If an employee thought certain questions that arose during a typical workday could wait, they were empowered to add these details to the document, keeping everything in one place, co-creating an agenda in real time.
Solid results? You be the judge.
After six months of implementing her new plan, Cathy had some promising news. She reported, “I now receive more praise about my focus and organization at work,” and “I am able to take on more assignments than ever before.” She went on to imply the plan will have positive long-term effects when she said, “My colleagues are more respectful of my time and schedule.”
Cathy’s positive experience with eliminating distractions and ramping up productivity illustrates the practicality of her approach. It’s an intentional practice that we can all embrace and feel satisfied that we are working towards our goals, not just supporting others in achieving theirs.
Deborah Goldstein's website: DrivenPros.com