The modern office is a minefield for efficiency and you will have to be strong and find tactics to avoid being constantly disturbed. Modern office layout, technology and much higher expectations from clients increased drastically the number of ways for you to be interrupted in your work. I will describe some of the daily struggles that I’m sure many of you are experiencing. I will also give you a strategy to reduce disturbances dramatically in order for you to focus on your main tasks and get things done.
Open space rage
First you will most likely be in an open space which is very loud and make co-worker chatters so much easier and difficult to avoid. Chit chat are good for business and I’m sure many of your colleagues are also your friends but if you spend 20min chatting with each of your 10 colleagues around you every day, you will never get things done. So how can you avoid getting dragged into a conversation with your colleague who can spend 30min talking about his fantasy sport team or the other one complaining forever about the marketing department? Headphones are your friends, put them on, that will help you avoid a good part of the intruders. But not all unfortunately, for these ones, just tell them that you have to make an urgent call or that you expect one any minute (or just fake being on the phone) and ask them to sum up their question in one minute or send you a detailed email (always the best solution). Most of the time they will follow your advice. Furthermore, when people come to ask you questions, they will usually come unprepared and it will most likely be confusing and you will spend time organizing their own thoughts into a coherent questions/tasks... An email is quite different, they will have to go through this process first and their question/objective/task will be clearer and usually well defined. On top of it, since it’s written down, they can’t be any confusion or misunderstanding as with a conversation and you can always come back to it if necessary.
If your boss is micromanaging you and calls you every 15 minutes for an update on the task at hand or worse give you another one, you should sit down with him and show him how more productive you would be if you could focus on your tasks without being interrupted and make sure that you give him/her a timeline for each tasks. Being autonomous is key and being able to handle a task/project from A to Z will greatly increase your efficiency.
Teach a man to fish
I’m sure you have in mind a colleague that will constantly come back to you because you know how to do one of their task and they don’t. The first and second time that’s fine, but eventually you are not doing him/her a favor because this colleague is not learning. You need to teach him/her and give him some pointers with a tutorial. They will eventually be grateful to you.
Have you ever felt like you needed a 48h day to barely stay on top of all your tasks. You end up acting like a firefighter without being able to work on any medium to long term projects or any work that requires more than 15-30min of concentration. And on average, it takes 20min to be able to focus back to your task once you have been interrupted so you can imagine how much time is wasted when you operate this way. You are juggling with constant requests from a lot of departments and you are the only one able to complete these tasks. Congratulations, you won’t be laid off any time soon but you are over tasked and your company should probably hire someone to help you. But what if the company is reluctant or cannot afford a new hire. First, you need to sit down with your manager to prioritize your work and make sure that the priorities are known to the other departments. Then you need to get some help and that will require offloading some tasks on other departments and train these people to execute them. So initially more work but that should pay off quite quickly.
Never Ending Meetings
How many of these dreaded meetings have you attended with a vague agenda and colleagues trying to monopolize the boss’ attention. Meetings often drag for hours and lead to no substantial results. A complete waste of your time that could be better used to finish automating a complex spreadsheet or develop a better strategy for lead conversion. So how could you reduce their duration and make them more efficient? That won’t always be possible and some meetings are necessary and useful but the vast majority are badly prepared and conducted. First thing would be to require a detailed agenda before the meeting to keep things in check. You should also remind your colleagues about the agenda during the meeting if they try to derail it. Finally, you can also try to always speak first and then leave for an urgent task and ask for the minutes of the meeting later on. That way, you will get the bottom line without the fluff. A meeting should never be more than an hour, 30min is actually best. If you have to brainstorm, it should also be prepared and be done quickly.
Messaging apps overdose
The more recent “innovation” and the cherry on the cake would be all the applications that are supposed to improve your productivity like Slack, Skype, Whatsapp... and keep ringing all the time (usually from your colleague sitting next to you!). If possible I would try to stay away from them, and if not possible silent them and also check them once a day if really necessary or restrict the usage (push back if your boss wants you to be included in 10 different slack channels for instance). Don’t keep the tab opened for these applications, because even if the chats are muted, you will see that you have one or more messages waiting and you will want to check them and reply, which will only increase the number of messages received. One thing I almost forgot, just stop using social networks during work hours (except of course if it’s part of your business tasks), it’s not only your worst enemy for productivity but more and more companies are checking your logs and that will likely have a negative impact on your annual review or get you fired...
There are different type of phone calls and each type should be handled differently. The highest priority should be given to your manager and the clients. However, you can even increase efficiency by “educating” them. For instance, if a client constantly calls you a few minutes after sending you an email to already ask you if the report they requested is already done, you can give them a rough estimate of how long the report will take to be produced (double the time to take into account any type of emergency or potential delays), which will deter them from calling. The best practice would be to put your phone on silent and voicemail (have a different phone for your family) and use tools to convert voicemail into texts (which you can check easily at the same time you are checking your emails).
Funnel everything to emails
The never ending emails that keeps on coming (with all of them with the word urgent in the subject line) are driving you crazy, isn’t it? There is a radical and proven solution to avoid spending your life in your mailbox and go back to work on your main tasks. You can just check your emails twice a day (best times are usually around 11-12am (after everyone arrived at the office and has sent or replied to emails) and around 4pm in the afternoon (leaving enough time to read any replies to your previous email/send new emails, but not enough time for them to then reply back to you before you leave the office). By reducing your time checking your mailbox to only twice a day and spending around 30min each time, you have reduced drastically the amount of time you spend checking/responding to your emails and can dedicate the rest of your day to important tasks. You should also mention it in your email signature along the lines of the following: “I have a heavy work load to handle and as a consequence I will be checking my emails only at 12am and 4pm.”. You should talk to your boss about it and highlight the increased productivity generated in order to convince him/her.