Have you ever been deep in thought or just hit your stride on
a project only to have it snatched away with a phone call,
an incoming email that you caught from the corner of your
eye, or worse, a loud ding from a device you’re working with? Research
has proven that it will take you up to seven times longer to come up
with the thought you just had than it took for the original idea.
You must build in time for the unexpected—or as the business
world affectionately calls them, fire drills. In an article entitled “Don’t
Let Technology Take Over,” Dave Beck references a Basex study of
over one-thousand office workers showing that interruptions consume
more than two hours, or twenty-eight percent of a typical workday. To
quote the article,
“More than half of those surveyed said they open email immediately
or soon after it arrives, no matter how busy they are. The two hours
of lost productivity included not only unimportant interruptions
and distractions…but also the recovery time needed to get back on
task. The study found that based on an average salary of $21 per hour
for ‘knowledge workers’ whose jobs involve information, workplace
interruptions cost the U.S. economy $588 billion a year.”
Have you accounted for these two hours in your calendar? Have you
trained yourself to jump in to actually deal with these interruptions?
Think about how you schedule your day. If you schedule all eight
hours in a work day, you are guaranteed to not meet everything that’s
on your calendar. Look at your schedule for the coming week and start
to block off time to account for fire drills—the things you didn’t plan
on dealing with today, but have no choice. Maybe the few minutes
here and there don’t need to make your calendar to deal with those
small tasks, but you may need to account for it in other administrative
or work action time. For example, if it takes you thirty minutes to
typically do paperwork daily, schedule an hour for administrative
purposes. Next, it’s time to schedule specific time for real-work action
like responding to emails and returning messages. Personally, I prefer
the quiet morning time for email and later in the morning for phone
calls, when possible. Next, identify other x-factors such as busier days
of the week or seasonality, and make the adjustments. As another
example, when I was a manager in a call center, we knew the call
volume was heaviest on Mondays, so we built time for managers to be
on the floor with the people on the phones that day, and made a point
not to schedule Monday staff meetings.
You may be asking yourself, “Why does scheduling stuff I know I
need to do each day need to make my calendar?” You probably already
know that if you don’t schedule it, it may not get done. Having the
actual reminder will prompt you to get to it. These scheduled periods
of time become a barrier of protection to show you what’s supposed to
be done today. The phrase supposed to is italicized because we know that
planning a day doesn’t always mean that’s how the day will play out. By
scheduling administrative work and overestimating the expected time,
you are leaving a fire drill cushion.
You can’t control all the interruptions that may come your way, but
you can control your reaction to them. You don’t want to be a slave to
your calendar, but you do want to be committed to it when you can.
Let’s go back to the paperwork example. If you actually completed it
in the expected time of thirty minutes and had no interruptions, you
bought yourself some extra time to pull future work in from other days.
If you did have some fire drills to deal with, you accounted for much
of this with the reserved blocks of time.
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):
- Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
- Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
- The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
- From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
- The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood
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