I love working with new clients. There are simple things that outstanding managers and leaders do well, and introducing a new client to those simple (but not always easy) things pays off so quickly. I don’t even want to charge them for it. But of course I still do.
Last week I introduced some time-management concepts to a group of front-line managers at a construction company. Of course their biggest personal challenge is having enough hours in the day to react to everything be instantly available to everybody all the time.
Now when I say it that way it doesn’t sound very appealing. Re-framing our work day in these terms gives us a different perspective, and maybe even an “Aha! No wonder my head feels like it’s exploding with this feeling of being constantly overwhelmed!” Now we can shift our perspective.
The Power of Interruptions
In “The Mythical Man Month”, published in 1975, Frederick Brooks talks about how programmers are more efficient, correct, and productive when they can close their doors, transfer their phones, and focus on their work. Even a 30-second interruption from a single phone call would mean they would have to spend the next 15 minutes getting their state of mind back to where they were before they were interrupted.
Those four phone calls you answered in the last hour? That’s why you didn’t get that report / estimate / article done.
The Power of Being Focused
For one particular manager, that shift was simply reducing office noise. By asking his office peers to close their door when they were having meetings (or closing his own door), turning off his email notifications, and not answering his phone for an hour (he still kept an eye on who was calling, just in case it was a client), he was able to get done in that hour what usually took him two.
We use “courtesy flags” in our office when the noise gets out of control. We like to have fun, but that’s not always appropriate when somebody is on the phone with a client and they can’t carry on a normal conversation. It’s a simple pendant on a straw that gets waved when somebody needs things to calm down. It works well.
A Minute a Day
Here’s the interesting bit. One hour saved in a day doesn’t seem like that much. But if our construction manager does that every day he’ll have 200 extra hours in a year. That’s five weeks. Maybe he won’t have to come in on the weekends any more. That’s not a small shift any more. That’s a huge shift. For him personally, for his family, and for the company. He’s better rested, better energized, and working harder when he is there.
Even small changes, continually applied, add up. It’s like the power of compounded interested. Finding even a minute a week, over 52 weeks, isn’t just 52 minutes. It’s 23 hours: 1 minute the first week, 2 the second week, and so on.
That’s the part I love, making my clients eyes go wide when they realize how small changes sometimes have huge impacts. In this case not continually allowing ourselves to be interrupted. It’s doing the basics right. Being focused. It’s sharpening the axe before cutting down the tree. Being productive and working on what we want to work on.
If you’re a fireman, you’re exempt from this question:
Is there something you can do to stop being interrupted at work when you need to focus? What’s the worst thing that will happen if you don’t answer your phone or every text right away every time? What can you do to build at least some uninterrupted time into your daily routine?