Hold on….I’m finishing an email.
One second, Dale from accounting has a question.
Oh wait, my friend just sent me a text about lunch and I have to respond quickly.
Okay, where was I?
Oh yes. Employee time management and to be even more specific- how you manage interruptions for your team. There’s many (much more than you might think) and I’ll get to those soon enough, but right now I want you to think of the last time you had one hour completely interruption free.
Can you do it? Do you remember one (that wasn’t spent sleeping or staring at a TV)? If your answer is no then you’re like many Americans stuck in the digital age of interruptions and it’s coming at a real cost to your employee’s satisfaction, engagement and company bottom line.
The Insight on Interruptions
Here is an average day in the lives of many of you and your employees (data gathered from the U.S. Labor Department):
They will get about 120 e-mails and spend 28% of that day managing those emails, as well as following up on emails they’ve received in the past. Those add up fast.
They will experience 50-60 interruptions each day. That’s one every 8 minutes and each one takes 5 minutes to deal with, leaving 3 minutes before the next one and 80% of those interruptions are considered trivial.
57% of interruptions come from either social media tools or switching between applications. They will check their mobile phone more than 85 times in a day accounting for over four hours of waking time and over 150 if they are a millennial
They will attend about three meetings (half of these considered a waste of time), eat some food, and if they have enough time- breathe.
The Impact is Real
Most Americans are used to this amount of interruptions. It’s the way of the new workplace and will only continue for the foreseeable future but now real information is pouring in on it’s impact and it’s staggering.
First, there is the psychology of the delay itself. Every disruption will be taking your team out of the productive flow they’ve taken the time to prepare. This includes the bandwidth, resources and focus needed to complete the task. Then there’s the dreaded restart—reassembling the resources, thoughts, and readiness. The loss of momentum grows and creates the creeping thought that whatever they’re working on might also fall victim to another moment of disruption. There is growing frustration from having to rebuild those pathways, which dissipates the energy and enthusiasm that work thrives on.
That’s frustrating and if these moments become regular, if not the norm, then that frustration turns into real disengagement with the work environment itself (Ever have employees who always ask to work at home?).
In a 2016 report by Basex research, interruptions cost U.S. companies nearly $588 billion a year in lost productivity, work loss and flat out time theft. And the more you break it down, the more interruptions at work become a really scary phenomenon:
- 40% of working day is unproductive
- 40% of workers believe it is not possible to succeed at work, make a good living, and have enough time to contribute to family and community
- 40% of professional men and women work more than 50 hours per week despite five decades of research proving beyond doubt that maximum productivity occurs at no more than 40 hours
- 80% of organizations believe their employees are overwhelmed with information and activity at work but less than 8% have programs in place to deal with it.
Ways to Combat it
While most of us create our own ways to fight the incoming deluge of interruptions at work, there are ways you can foster focus at work with programs and strategies. We’ve polled our clients as well as doing our own research to find out some of the most common or effective ways.
- Put the cost into real numbers. Take the time and have your leadership or management team write down each moment of disruption during a given day. Then put that time to a real dollar figure. The numbers might scare you but being aware is the first step.
- Create “office hours” blocks. Remember in college when your professor had “office hours” where you and other students could come and ask them every question under the sun? Well, you can use the same practice in one of two ways. First, you could have your employees put “time blocks” on their schedules as the time during the day to get the tasks one that takes complete focus. Secondly, you could have “office hours” down on their schedules as a time for any fellow colleague or employee to come and ask them questions or task requests. The goal is to bucket time more effectively.
- Use apps or platforms that help reduce digital distractions. In an article posted in May of 2017, Medium.com, wrote about six apps to help you reduce distractions at work. Our favorite (and I personally use this) is Escape. Escape logs the places where you spend your time, specifically, how you use your time on the Internet. If you’re tracking in order to learn more about where the time-suck happens, this app is extremely helpful.
- Leverage your natural time clock. In a recent Wall Street Journal Article, best-selling author Daniel Pink. wrote about the research behind our unique natural body clock. That is to say, the times and patterns of energy, attention, happiness, tiredness, and any number of other reactions that our body undergoes during a day. Why is this important? Because, if you can track when your most productive during the day, you can then pre-plan important tasks to be completed during that time which will enable you to better withstand distractions.
- Create walking meetings. Reduce stress and create natural focus boundaries by switching up a standing meeting in your conference room for a walk around the block. There are many benefits to having a walking meeting but the best one might simply be the ability to focus.
- Batch your tasks. Do you daily have a bunch of similar tasks that can be done relatively quick and easily? It’s best to bunch those tasks together during your “office time” (see #2) and attempt to get them all done at once.