Edward G. Brown, Founder, Cohen Brown Management Group
“The Employee of the Month Has a Battery”
Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2014
CEOs and investors are right to worry when they see productivity gains from the digital revolution tailing off. But many seem to have a quaint faith that salvation comes from one source only, the one they agree is exhausted right now: digital innovation.
Time Magazine reported recently, “If we want to get back to the worker-productivity gains
we were experiencing a decade ago, we need to somehow figure out how to encourage the kind of technological innovation that has led to previous waves of sharp productivity growth.”
So that raises a question: Does that mean CEOs and managers ceded their responsibility to the technology innovators? Have managers run out of tools or inspiration or commitment to, ahem, managerial innovation?
If so, there’s a good reason: our Interruption Culture. Managers themselves are rendered so distracted by their own interrupted environment that they don’t even notice it, the way fish don’t notice water.
But it’s well worth noticing. Basex Research put a number on it: $588 billion lost to U.S. businesses because of office worker interruptions.
Cohen Brown’s own research, conducted while training people to protect their time from interruptions from “Time Bandits,” finds that when people are asked to record the time they lose to interruptions each day, they regularly come up with anywhere from three to five hours a day every day, or 40–60% of their most productive time.
Imagine how frustrated good workers feel when they are criticized for missed deadlines as a result of unwanted interruptions. Most workers strive to increase personal productivity through quality-controlled momentum. Instead, they face the five interruption-related Time Loss Factors most associated with interruptions.
- Interruptions (the time devoted to satisfying the interruption)
- Restarts (seeking to regain momentum)
- Momentum Loss (losing the tempo and accuracy)
- Do Overs (starting from the beginning due to mistakes)
- Distress and Fatigue (manifestations of having been diverted)
If these Time Loss Factors could be avoided by training, the result would be a better and more motivated workforce and, in effect, a doubling of your work force! Here’s how:
- Add It Up. First, calculate the time lost to interruptions, including the above Time Loss factors.
- Time Lock for an Interruption-Free Period. Time locking sounds easy (brook no interruptions but emergencies) but it takes planning and practice. It means politely explaining to interrupters why they’re time locking and why it’s in the interrupters’ best interest.
- Focal Lock against Oneself. Even when people are not being interrupted by others or their devices, they interrupt themselves by daydreaming or diversions. Focal locking means gaining mastery over the mind through a few powerful but simple techniques.
- Allocate the Time Regained. Once time that used to be stolen by interruptions is reclaimed, how do you use the time wisely, not treating it like surplus? By deliberately separating your obligations into the handful that are the most important (the “critical few”) and then all the rest (the “minor many”).
- Batch Processing. Batch processing restores time by letting people efficiently dispose of repetitive or homogeneous tasks. Carving out a time for batching them creates momentum, which in turn saves more time and energy than sprinkling them throughout the day or handling them as come up.
“The recession has forced American firms to become more muscular,” The Economist reported as the recession waned. But in the same article, an analyst noted: “Many firms have been starving the organization to see how it can do with a lower cost structure.”
While everyone’s waiting for the next technological innovation to change the world, and maybe waiting a long time, if you could vow to interrupt the Interruption Culture by training your people how to reclaim two or three more hours a day, imagine what that could do for your bottom line. The technology innovators would be hard pressed to match the effect.
About the Author
Edward G. Brown is the author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had and co-founder of the #1 firm in culture change management consulting and training for the financial services industry, Cohen Brown Management Group. For more information, please visit, www.timebanditsolution.com and connect with Mr. Brown on Twitter, @EdwardGBrown.