That multitasking and workplace interruptions are bad for productivity has been known for decades now. But things seem to be getting worse and worse.
As an article in The Wall Street Journal noted last week, the problem is being exacerbated by a host of factors. “Open-plan offices and an emphasis on collaborative work leave workers with little insulation from colleagues’ chatter,” the newspaper observed. “A ceaseless tide of meetings and internal emails means that workers increasingly scramble to get their ‘real work’ done on the margins, early in the morning or late in the evening. And the tempting lure of social-networking streams and status updates make it easy for workers to interrupt themselves.”
Fortunately, there is a relatively easy remedy for any employee easily sidetracked: Create blocks of uninterrupted time on your calendar—and stick to them.
At Intel Corp.’s 14,000-person Software and Services group, for example, managers have piloted a program “allowing employees to block out several hours a week for heads-down work,” the Journal reported. “During four weekly hours of ‘think time’—tracked via group calendar and spreadsheet—workers aren’t expected to respond to emails or attend meetings, unless it’s urgent, or if they’re working on collaborative projects. Already, at least one employee has developed a patent application in those hours, while others have caught up on the work they’re unable to get to during frenetic workdays.”
Peter Drucker (who, as we’ve described, was a stickler for focus) would have loved this idea. Indeed, as he explained in The Effective Executive, Drucker felt that “even one quarter of the working day, if consolidated in large time units, is usually enough to get the important things done.”
He particularly admired the no-interruptions example of one executive with whom he worked, a man who when meeting with Drucker would shut the door to all interruptions for 90 minutes. When asked about this, the man told Drucker, “My secretary has strict instructions not to put anyone through except the president of the United States and my wife. The president rarely calls—and my wife knows better. Everything else the secretary holds till I have finished. . . . I have yet to come across a crisis which could not wait 90 minutes.”
How do you create the blocks of uninterrupted time you need?