Do You Mind? I’d Like to Get Some Work Done - Take Back My Day
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Do You Mind? I’d Like to Get Some Work Done

People drop by my cubicle all day long, to ask me questions or to confirm something. It’s almost impossible to focus for any length of time,” says a business acquaintance who works in an office of about 20 employees.

According to industry reports, 28% of an average office employee’s time is consumed by interruptions, the equivalent of 10 to 12 disruptions per hour. In physiological terms, the associated refocusing effort in the brain creates the same level of exhaustion as a night without sleep. Work frequently has to be divided into small chunks, which makes it particularly difficult to come up with creative or strategic ideas.

Whether you are dealing with frequent interruptions from coworkers in an office setting or from family members invading your home office, here are a few thoughts for getting more time to focus on productive work:

Explore how much flexibility you have
in your working hours–is there any opportunity to come in earlier, leave later, or shift your lunch hour to make use of quieter times when you can hear yourself think? Can you rearrange the order of your tasks to take advantage of quieter times, and are there shorter tasks that can be done during the busiest times?

What can you do to signal that you are busy and don’t want to be disturbed? If you worry about being perceived as rude or unhelpful, start by blocking out time in increments of 20 to 30 minutes. Stick a note saying “in phone call” or “writing proposal” at your cubicle entrance and train others to respect your ‘focus’ time. In offices with a completely open floor plan, it may be helpful to wear headphones or to retreat to available quiet spaces if you need to concentrate.
We do our best work during the first hours of the day. As you plan your workload, make sure your most productive time remains undisturbed. Of course, scheduling may not always be under our control, but it is helpful to defend the “time territory” between 7 and 10 am against as many intrusions as possible. If meetings, client appointments, or conference calls can be held later, you will at least gain time to plan and get urgent or unpleasant tasks out of the way.

You have a voice. Companies are i
ncreasingly becoming aware of the need to provide employees with designated quiet zones where they can focus without interruptions. Some hospitals have experimented with a nurses’ version of the FAA’s sterile cockpit rule to reduce medication errors.  Since you are probably not the only employee coping with frequent interruptions, bring up the topic of productivity in staff conversations to talk about possible solutions.

Time management is impossible without time respect

The best intentions for productive work and good time management can fail if others are not respectful of our time. While defensive tools such as headphones or retreating to a quieter space can offer temporary solutions, the underlying problem is rooted in a work culture that does not sufficiently value our time. Until we can come up with more constructive work models that recognize the benefits of concentration and focus, we will have to rely on individual approaches to avoid disruption.

How do you or your workplace handle disruptions?
I look forward to hear from you!

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