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Unwelcome interruptions can steal more than half your work day
Emails, meetings, bosses, coworkers, phone calls, noises, pop-up screens, computer problems.
All of these can become what Edward G. Brown likes to call “time bandits”—his favorite term for the daily interruptions that he says can rob employees of three to five hours from every work day.
If that sounds implausible, ask yourself how long it takes to:
Brown, president and founder of time management consulting firm Cohen Brown Management Group, says that it’s not only the interruption itself that swipes time from your work day.
“Interruptions are not momentary nuisances,” said Brown, author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had (Cohen Brown Picture Company, 2014). “They are greedy, grasping thieves of your time. There’s the interruption itself that throws you off task. There’s loss of momentum due to the work stoppage. There’s the time wasted reassembling your thoughts and resources. There’s frustration at having to rebuild them, which dissipates energy. There’s the distress and fatigue of having to make up for time lost. All of these things can cause errors—so you have to do the task over again, which of course takes even more time.”
Respondents to a June 2015 survey by CareerBuilder.com, a popular online job search and recruiting service, said the top 10 biggest productivity killers in the workplace were: cell phones/texting (54 percent); email (31 percent); gossip (37 percent); co-workers dropping by (27 percent); and meetings (26 percent). The survey also revealed that these workplace distractions lead to compromised work quality (45 percent), missed deadlines (21 percent) and loss in revenue (21 percent).
“People won’t take seriously the need to protect their time until they realize how much time they lose to interruptions, so I have [clients] account for—not just the time it takes to attend to the interruption –but how much time it takes to restart where they left off,” Brown said. “They are astonished to discover that, on average, they lose from three to five hours a day this way. And this holds across all kinds of industries, all levels, and all job types. No one is immune to interruptions—from the CEO on down.”
Brown admits that he used to unwittingly distract his own employees from the jobs he would give them.
“I’d give an assignment to a hard-working, reliable employee, and… half an hour later, I’d call him to noodle on a creative idea,” Brown said. “An hour would pass and I’d ask him to show me an item on last month’s financials. Two hours later, I’d ask him to show me the results of the first assignment. How could he excel on any of those tasks? If you have good, hard-working employees, and a boss who doesn’t ‘get it’ about interruptions, then you [can] have a train wreck of productivity and a lot of frustration all around.”
Eliminating interruptions at work requires a change in work culture, Brown said. His suggestions:
Said Brown: “These [can] become lifelong habits that give people control of one of the most precious resource they have—their time.”
Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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