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Decrease Interruptions and Get More Done

November 28 2011

We are connected with everyone, which is why we sometimes fight to be connected to our work. I watch my son doing his homework and every few minutes his phone is buzzing and he is texting. Sound familiar? I’ve just described the average knowledge worker who sends and receives nearly 25,000 emails per year. That is not counting texts or instant messages. If you have a dozen friends or colleagues that you interact with chances are you will have a steady stream of interruptions keeping you from getting your work done….with all of your faculties in play.

As a productivity expert, I hear “Garrett (Dad), that’s not an issue with me; I do a great job at multitasking.”  The truth is, you don’t; no one does. Multitasking is a computer term it is not a human term. When computers first came out they had very little memory (RAM) and could only perform one task at a time. For instance, when I was writing a term paper, my first IBM could ONLY type, it couldn’t spellcheck at the same time. When I was ready to spellcheck I needed to take out my ‘word processing’ floppy disc and insert my ‘dictionary’ disc. Only after scanning the entire document would I receive suggested corrections. As computer memory expanded the capacity to multitask increased and this became a significant selling point for the more powerful machines. Today our computers are performing dozens of complicated behind the scene tasks while we type.

Though the human brain is the most powerful and complicated machine we know, we must acknowledge that we don’t have the capacity to expand our limited bandwidth/memory. The fact is we cannot perform two cognitively intensive tasks at the same time, we just can’t. The studies are convincing, multitasking is not something we humans do well or efficiently. In fact, your effort to get more done by multitasking is actually costing you! Studies are conclusive: (Thomas Jackson’s work from Keele Univ, 2002, Steven Covey’s work, Ed Hollowell, or Microsoft’s  work from the Univ of Ill in 2008.) all of these studies show one thing: when you are interrupted it costs you time and energy to return to the same thought process, the same workflow that you were in before you were interrupted. If fact the data suggests that when you are working and interrupted you are more prone to—mistakes and errors AND it actually takes you longer to complete both tasks. About 30% longer.

So what is the solution? Minimize interruptions by scheduling interruptions. Yes, schedule interruptions.

  • Disconnect the ding on your computer (find how to on my Outlook best practices tip sheet)
  • Get rid of the envelope that pops up each time you receive an email. (check Outlook tip sheet)
  • The only 2 setting you should use on your smartphone should be ‘Phone only’ or silent. Don’t let your BlackBerry/iPhone disturb your concentration.
  • Schedule interruptions by chunking your email/IM/Phone time. Choose to handle email during several chunks of time during the day. Let your colleagues know that you tend to your email during certain time periods of the day and they should expect a reply then.
  • Get off-line for periods of time! Significantly reduces the number of times you’ll be interrupted by protecting your time for short periods of time.
  • Set your phone’s settings to draw boundaries that will protect your personal time by automatically shutting down at night and not turning on until work hours. Your family deserves your focus and attention as much as your work does.

Our Creating Space Seminars are packed with time-saving tips and tricks to save you and your organizations time and energy. Our seminars are guaranteed!

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