My office is a time machine! You may have heard me say this before, but some days it really does seem like I come in to work and the next thing I know, it is time to go home. What did I do with 9 or more hours? It is not like I was staring out the window or was caught up in some huge project that was in alignment with our company goals. I decided to spend time looking at what things I was doing and if they aligned with my HIBU (Highest and Best Use). There were some startling findings.
- Email was a huge distraction. I would look at notifications, vibrations from my phone or just see what had changed every 8.5 minutes on average.
- The phone rang an average of 42 times a day. This, on a 9-hour day, is a distraction every 21 minutes!
- Chat was next. Chat in this case was the “After Meeting” chat, “Pre-Meeting” chat, “Coffee” chat, “How was your evening” chat and more. While not a huge amount of time, these short interactions were distracting.
- Throughout the week, I also received an average of 18 Instant Messages.
- Had 4.6 meetings per day!
- Received 25 text messages per day.
It became clear that my office wasn’t a time machine, it was a distraction machine. I did some research with my peers around the country to try and find best practices on how to reduce distractions. Below is what I learned, and what was effective in reducing the distractions.
- Check email four times a day. Now to be honest, I am currently at once an hour and am communicating that I only check four times a day. (I have a goal!)
- Manage your phone interruptions. I stopped giving my DID and cell number out. I also spend a little time with those trying to sell me things to let them know I will not respond if they call my DID. I do not want to ignore people; rather, I want them to be scheduled. For clarity, I encourage customers and employees to call. I have found that people inside our company rarely call these days. Maybe I am now the old-fahioned one; however, if you need something with a timeline, the phone is your best option!
- Reduce the chatting. Socialization is needed for the pleasantries in the office, but we can all get too much of a good thing. What I have found is I am the major problem in this area. I've had to teach myself to schedule the chatting, too. Don’t be rude, but set aside some time every day to touch base with people, then focus getting things done when you don’t want to be interrupted.
- Limit the Instant Messaging. Instant Messages were and still are distracting. During meetings, I do not respond to them at all. I have found many times that chat is just a crutch to either ignore a phone call or avoid sending an email. (You know because that is a lot of work!) Instant messages are great for those little answers, but they are still a problem for me to weed out.
- Make meetings more effective. I feel like I do a good job having an agenda and sticking to it. Like everything else, I could be still more focused. Here are some things I am going to try:
- Cut the length of the meeting down by half and set the expectation that we will be done on time.
- Stand during the meeting.
- Reduce the number of people in the meeting and assign the communication to different parties at the meeting.
- Cancel some meetings we have had over time and just see what happens? (I know…be careful!)
- Have more virtual meetings and use more video. Reducing travel saves time and money.
- Make sure people know what they are to have ready for the meeting and what they are to do after the meeting. Put it in writing (You know, digital writing!)
- If people are not prepared, end the meeting and have them reschedule.
- Avoid texting when possible. I am trying to limit this to my family, but we will see. It is becoming more and more a business tool. (My family would say I am poor at responding to text!)
Really, it all comes down to reducing the noise of having to switch tasks, but then there is the statement that there is no such thing as multitasking. Another way I am going to work on my focus Is by evaluating which tasks I take on. First, I need to make sure each task actually needs to be done (many times this is questionable). Next, I will be delegating more tasks to other people that are better at doing that task, or have more time available to get it done well. When I look at what my time is worth, I know that I am not maximizing its worth. I will keep focusing on the things that matter and will hopefully be gaining more time to make a difference.