470 Interruptions a Week

Business People FightingAfter flying 1,000 miles to meet with me, a prospective client and his team from one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies kept looking down at their “productivity enhancing” gadgets—smartphones.  I stopped talking.  I waited.  He and his team were physically in the room but mentally 1,000 miles away.

Finally, one of them looked up and said, “Oh, sorry, there’s stuff happening back at the office and these keep us connected.” “Yes, they do,” I replied sarcastically. They were too disengaged to notice.  They have technology-enabled Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) I thought.  A few years later, I learned I was right.

Dr. Edward Hallowell, a Massachusetts psychiatrist and ADD expert, says the symptoms of ADD, such as the inability to focus and make thoughtful decisions, are surfacing in the workplace.  The source is technological interruptions.

Forbes magazine has pegged the number of e-mail messages received each week by the average office worker at a whopping 470!  That’s nearly 500 interruptions, and that doesn’t even include regular phone calls, cell phone calls, or text messages.  An article in Time described a study of 1,000 office workers at an information technology firm which found that interruptions waste 2.1 hours a day per person.  Extrapolated to the entire U.S.-based workforce, the financial impact is more than $500 billion per year.

Let’s face it folks, we’re frazzing!

“Frazzing,” is a term by Edward Hallowell his book, CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap—Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD, means “frantic, ineffective multitasking, typically with the delusion that you are getting a lot done. The quality of the work, however, is poor.”

And while no one can say for sure how frazzing affects productivity, psychologists have long known that performance decreases in direct proportion to each additional task being juggled.  What’s the solution?  Go old school… prioritize and problem solve.

Prioritize:  Figure out what tasks you must accomplish in a given day, week, or even month. Then, organize your work day so those tasks get done first.  Turn off email notification, hit “do not disturb” on your phone, shut your door and hunker down.

Problem solve:  Of course, the top of any priority list should be the most difficult tasks, which typically involves solving problems. Start by writing down a clear statement of the problem at hand, continue by listing all possible solutions without filtering good or bad, then move on to prioritizing the potential solutions, pick the best one and begin executing.

Here’s to anti-frazzing!

Want to Live Longer? Smile!

A great seven minute TED talk on the power of smiling.  A couple of the benefits including living longer and being perceived as competent.

Make Time for the Work That Matters (Post 4 of 4)

Keep-CalmIn my previous three posts on “Making Time for Work that Matters” I have recapped an interesting article by the same name that appeared in the Harvard Business Review. I found it interesting that editors at HBR chose to place that article in the magazine’s regular, “managing yourself” section. At Intertech, figuring out what’s important and where we should placing our effort is definitely a management priority.

That’s why we use Key Results Areas (KRAs) with every employee. If you’ve read my book, “Building a Winning Business,” you already know I’m a passionate believer in KRAs! They are an effective tool for keeping everyone moving in the right direction. They provide a simple framework for regular “one-on-one” meetings between managers and staff. And they help us all remember that ongoing learning is essential to strong employee and company performances. Here’s an example of how they are identified, which happens as part of a dialogue between employees and managers:


# KRA Goal
1 Sales $2.5M
2 Learning Complete negotiation training course at local university, finish book on effective use of LinkedIn for sales
3 Special Projects Complete the guideline for onboarding new sales team members—each step must be SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound).

We also include narrative sections covering related duties/activities, performance evaluation standards and skills/knowledge required for each. If knowledge gaps exist, we include a plan for how they will be addressed.

KRAs are limited to five, but should include at least three, and they must be discussed regularly to be effective. We use them as the agenda for regular update meetings between managers and employees. This helps our people know what we value and gives them a valuable baseline against which to measure their day-to-day activities. It also gives them a regular way to let us know what’s happening and if they are bumping up against any barriers.

KRAs are not intended to be a Billy club. Rather, they are more like a spotlight that helps cut through the fog. We keep the KRA dialogues open, ongoing and positive. Besides increasing everyone’s likelihood of success, KRAs used in this way eliminate any unpleasant surprises (for anyone) at annual performance reviews. Using KRAs in combination with the self-assessment tool developed by Birkinshaw and Cohen could be a powerful one-two punch in your and your employees’ daily fight with the clock!

Make Time for the Work That Matters (Post 3 of 4)

Monkey-Using-ToolsThe self-assessment tool that I reproduced in my last post, developed by workplace productivity experts Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen, is a variant of the classic Start/Stop/Continue exercise. Birkinshaw and Cohen adapted the exercise to help knowledge workers make “small but significant changes to their day-to-day schedules.”

In the Harvard Business Review article, “Make Time for the Work that Matters,” (9/13), the authors describe how Cohen worked with 15 executives at Pfizer to implement the tool, achieving “remarkable results.” They describe their process as follows:

  1. Identify low-value tasks
  2. Decide whether to drop, delegate, or redesign
  3. Off-load tasks
  4. Allocate freed-up time
  5. Commit to your plan

Their research suggests that at least one-quarter of a typical knowledge worker’s activities fall into either the “not that important to you or the firm” category or the “relatively easy to drop” category. On this basis, they surmise that most workers should be able to free up to 10 hours per week with no negative impact on productivity—leaving valuable time for more mission-critical tasks.

In my experience, deciding whether to drop, delegate or redesign a task is where this process can fall apart if not done carefully. The authors recommend sorting the low-value tasks into three categories: quick kills (things you can stop doing now with no negative effects), off-load opportunities (tasks that can be delegated with minimal effort), and long-term redesign (work that needs to be restructured or overhauled).

They write that, at Pfizer anyway, keys to successfully working this process included “reflecting carefully on your real contributions,” asking ‘should I be doing this in the first-place?’ and ‘can my subordinate do this?’”

Offloading tasks was the most challenging aspect for many of the Pfizer executives. They had to learn when to delegate and how to continue to “push, prod and chase.” Even so, they delegated from 2% to 20% of their work with no decline in productivity.

So what did these executive do with all their new-found time? They were advised to write down two or three they should have been doing but were not, and to keep a log to assess whether they were using their now more accommodating schedule in the best possible way.

Some of the study participants were able to go home earlier, which the authors believed probably made them happier and more productive the next day. Some reported that their time “was swallowed up by unforeseen events, but more than half reclaimed the extra time to do better work.”

The authors counseled that the last step, committing to the new plan, should be shared with a boss, colleague or mentor. “Without this step, it’s all too easy to fall back into bad habits,” they warn.

In summary, Birkinshaw and Cohen write,

With relatively little effort and no management directive, the small intervention we propose can significantly boost productivity among knowledge workers. Such shifts are not always easy, of course. . . but all participants (in the Pfizer study) agreed that the exercise was a ‘useful forcing mechanism’ to help them become more efficient, effective, and engaged employees and managers. To do the same, you don’t need to redesign any parts of an organization, reengineer a work process, or transform a business model. All you have to do is ask the right questions and act on the answers. After all, if you’re a knowledge worker, isn’t using your judgment what you were hired for?”

In my next post I will share how Intertech keeps the focus on the work that matters.