Within the heart of your company, saboteurs lurk. Disguised as instruments of productivity, they are subverting your staff’s most precious resource: attention. Incessant email alerts, instant messages, buzzing BlackBerrys and cellphones are decimating workplace concentration. The average information worker – basically anyone at a desk – loses 2,1 hours of productivity every day to interruptions and distractions, according to Basex, an IT research and consulting firm.
That time is money. Computer chip giant Intel, for one, has estimated that email overload can cost large companies as much as $1 billion a year in lost employee productivity. The intrusions are constant: each day a typical office employee checks email 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times, according to RescueTime, a US firm that develops time-management software. Such interruptions don’t just sidetrack workers from their jobs, they also undermine their attention spans, increase stress and annoyance and decrease job satisfaction and creativity.
The interruption epidemic is reaching a crisis point at some companies and shows no sign of slowing. Email volume is growing at a rate of 66% a year, according to the E-Policy Institute, an electronic communication consultancy. More people are texting. More are using Facebook or Twitter for work. It’s worse than it’s ever been. Staff at insurance companies, for example, are pounded by the avalanche of messaging. And it’s hard to stay focused when everything bings and bongs and tweets at you, and you don’t think. Yes, it is possible to blunt the interruption assault. But business leaders must go on the offensive in a realm most are oblivious to: interruption management.
The Myth of Multitasking
Human brains come equipped with two kinds of attention: involuntary and voluntary. Involuntary attention, designed to be on the watch for threats to survival, is triggered by outside stimuli – what grabs you. It’s automatically rattled by the workday cacophony of rings, pings and buzzes that are turning jobs into an electronic game of Whac-a-Mole. Voluntary attention is the ability to concentrate on a chosen task.
As workers’ attention spans are whipsawed by interruptions, something insidious happens in the brain: Interruptions erode an area called effortful control and with it the ability to regulate attention. In other words, the more you check your messages, the more you feel the need to check them – an urge familiar to BlackBerry or iPhone users. “Technology is an addiction,” says Gayle Porter, a professor of management at Rutgers University who has studied e-compulsion. “If someone can’t turn their BlackBerry off, there’s a problem.”
The cult of multitasking would have us believe that compulsive message-checking is the behaviour of an always-on, hyper-productive worker. But it’s not. It’s the sign of a distracted employee who misguidedly believes he can do multiple tasks at one time. Science disagrees. People may be able to chew gum and walk at the same time, but they can’t do two or more thinking tasks simultaneously. Say a salesman is trying to read a new email while on the phone with a client. Those are both language tasks that have to go through the same cognitive channel. Trying to do both forces his brain to switch back and forth between tasks, which results in a “switching cost,” forcing him to slow down. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that productivity dropped as much as 40% when subjects tried to do two or more things at once. The switching exacts other costs too – mistakes and burnout. One of the study’s authors, David Meyer, asserts bluntly that quality work and multitasking are incompatible.
Brian Bailey and Joseph Konstan of the University of Minnesota discovered that sleeve-tugging peripheral tasks triggered twice the number of errors and jacked up levels of annoyance to anywhere between 31% and 106%. Their interrupted test workers also took 3% to 27% more time to complete the reading, counting or math problems. In fact, the harder the interrupted task, the harder it was to get back on track. (A Microsoft study suggests it takes a worker 15 minutes to refocus after an interruption.) The damaging effects spread well beyond the office cubicle. Kate LeVan, a communications consultant, coaches executives whose brains are so scrambled by electronic interruptions that they stumble during key face-to-face interactions: board meetings, investor pitches, sales presentations. “They can’t have an extended conversation for more than a few minutes,” LeVan says. “That’s the impact of having all this data going back and forth. They have problems in conversation because they can’t focus.”
Here’s how the brain behaves when your attention slips away from a task: The hippocampus, which manages demanding cognitive tasks and creates long-term memories, kicks the job down to the striatum, which handles rote tasks. So the gum-chewing part of the brain is now replying to the boss’s email. This is why you wind up addressing emails to people who weren’t supposed to get them. Or sending messages rife with typos.The striatum is the brain’s autopilot. And no part of your business should be allowed to run on autopilot.
Paying Attention to Paying Attention
In her book Rapt, Winifred Gallagher argues that humans are the sum of what they pay attention to: What we focus on determines our experience, knowledge, amusement, fulfilment. Yet instead of cultivating this resource, she says, we’re squandering it on “whatever captures our awareness.” To truly learn something, and remember it, you have to pay full attention.
E-interruptions are making it so hard to do that that Google, Microsoft, IBM and Intel are members of the Information Overload Research Group, formed in 2008 to collaborate on research, develop best practices and host forums to share new approaches. It’s self-preservation as much as anything; computer engineers were among the first to show symptoms of e-interruption exposure. Ten years ago, Harvard Business School’s Leslie Perlow famously chronicled the interruption of a high-tech software company. Its engineers were interrupted so often they had to work nights and weekends. After studying the workplace for nine months, the source of the dysfunction became clear:
No one could get anything done because of the bombardment of messages. Perlow came up with an intervention: Quiet Time. For four hours in the morning, the 17 engineers worked alone. All messaging and phone contact was banned. In the afternoon, communication could resume. Given time to concentrate, the engineers got a project for a colour printer completed without the graveyard shift. Intel is using Quiet Time at two of its sites. Other companies, including US Cellular and Deloitte & Touche, have mandated less email use, encouraged more face-to-face contact and experimented with programmes such as “no email Friday.”
The results often are surprising: employees build rapport with colleagues – and they save time. Co-workers can settle something in a two-minute phone conversation that might have required three emails per person. Each change reverberates throughout a company, especially since – as a University of California, Irvine, study found – 44% of interruptions an employee experiences are from within the company. Nearly everyone needs such boundaries to get anything done in this 24/7 work world. Count Chad Willardson among the converted. He’s a senior financial advisor at Merrill Lynch Private Wealth Management Group and operates a financial services practice with a partner for Merrill in California.
He used to check for new messages every five minutes, a potential 96 interruptions during an eight-hour day. “The more I checked email,” he says, “the more anxious I would feel over every request and question.” Now he checks email manually, and only four times a day at prescribed hours – the schedule that Oklahoma State University researchers describe as optimum. He says he gets a lot more done, is more in control of his calendar and feels much less stressed. In fact, stress-management seminars often reveal executives driven to wits’ end by their own inboxes. During one session at the aerospace company Lockheed Martin, many managers vented this frustration – until one raised his hand. “It’s not a problem for me,” he said. “I’ve gotten my email checking down to twice a day.”
He explained that his staff knew he preferred to communicate by phone and they don’t send him email unless it’s important that the information be in writing. And because he checked email only twice daily, they had been weaned from the idea that they’d get an instant reply. Chances are this wasn’t just good for the manager, but for all his employees, too. By modelling interruption-management, he was probably reducing the volume of interruptions throughout his division. Everyone understood that he viewed excessive messages as a drain on his performance – and by extension, theirs. One thing was clear that day at Lockheed: when the manager volunteered his solution, it was as if he’d levitated. Other managers looked stunned. And envious.
Debunking the Multitasking Myth
Businesses praise multitasking, but research shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes.
In his book The Myth of Multitasking Dave Crenshaw sheds light on an interesting statistic. Studies have shown that each person on average loses about 28% of the workday due to interruptions and inefficiencies. Multitasking – or switchtasking – is probably the biggest culprit.
In Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School, John Medina quotes research that shows a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50% more errors. Medina also says that the brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to two things at the same time.
Here are some more tips for surviving the daily torrent of communication:
- Create an interruption-free zone at some point during the day.
- Turn off your email, cellphone, instant messaging programme (and yes, the BlackBerry too), and see whether you get more done.
- Write a “to-do” list in the morning. Stick to it and try to do each task one at a time. Use a pen and a notepad to manage your to-do list and record other information.
- Put your cellphone on silent and respond to calls twice a day.
- This way you manage the incoming calls, not the other way around.
- Work on email only once or twice a day. This will stop you from spending hours answering emails when you should be working on your “to-do” list.
How to Calculate the True Monetary Value of Your Time
As an entrepreneur, your time is precious. To protect it, you must know exactly what it’s worth.
Do you know the value of your time? Ken Segall, creator of Apple’s famous ‘Think Different’ ad campaign for agency Chiat/Day, said he got thrown out of a meeting once by the founder of his agency, Jay Chiat.
“Why are you here?” he asked Segall and the art director, who’d shown up with everybody else. “We’re just responding to the invitation,” said Segall. Chiat told them to get lost. “Go create something,” he said.
Jay Chiat knew the value of his creative people’s time. He knew it wasn’t worth it for them to go into that meeting when they could be putting together the next big ad campaign. They were more valuable to the company doing the creative work that made it run than attending a meeting.
That’s what knowing the value of your time can do for you; it tells you what’s most important. Time is the one resource all of us have, but it’s also painfully finite in nature. You can’t bank it — all you can do is invest it wisely.
As an entrepreneur, if you don’t know the true monetary value of your time, how are you going to prioritise your business and your life? What does it take to find the monetary value of your time?
Invest your time
Be aware that your time is likely to appreciate in value. If you’re a founder or running a successful business, your time’s value will increase as your business does. Sooner or later, the monetary value of your time is going to surpass the importance of money. It’ll be more important for you to invest your time in moving the business forward because your time is going to be worth more. So, invest your time on process early, lest you spend it later putting out fires.
Crunch the numbers
Entrepreneur James Clear decided to approach this problem systematically — he talked to everyone from poker players to executive coaches to figure out what the optimal method of measuring his time’s value was.
Then, he sat down and tracked every hour for three months. The upshot of that time investment was a very clear process that you can use to lay out what your time is worth.
First, figure out the amount of time you spend to earn money. That’s not just time spent working. Are you commuting? That’s time you’re using towards work that’s not going elsewhere. School? That counts. Drop the kids off at school? Add it on.
If it’s related to the time you spend earning money, add it on. Clear’s estimate guesses that most full-time employees and entrepreneurs spend around 2 500 hours a year on this (his exact estimate for himself came out to 2 742).
Then, figure out how much you earn in take-home pay per year. That calculation should be pretty simple, though if you’re a business owner, it’ll be a little more complex as you figure out taxes and withholding.
Divide your total earnings by the hours you spend to earn it. That’s your time’s value.
Surprised? It’s probably lower than you expected, especially if you calculated the extra hours devoted to things like dropping of kids at school or commuting accurately. We don’t often think of our work value in terms of total hours spent.
Create a system of checks and balances
You don’t want to just rely on that, though. Maybe you’re being underpaid (or underpaying yourself, if you’re an entrepreneur — don’t laugh, it’s more common than you think). Maybe another factor is throwing it off, or your math has an error.
Consider a few other factors:
- What do other people make to do your job?
- What would you pay someone else to do your job?
- What could you make on the open market if you were to go find another job?
Run those numbers against each other to determine an average. For entrepreneurs, this changes everything. Once you understand this number, it’ll change the way you approach everything in your business and your life.
Know what your own time is worth. Remind yourself of it constantly. If you do, you’ll find yourself more productive, more efficient, more satisfied, and more successful.
So, what are you waiting for? Invest wisely.
(Infographic) 9 Productivity Mistakes You’re Making In The First 10 Minutes Of Your Day
From setting goals to drinking coffee, these bad morning habits might surprise you.
There are a number of things you’re probably doing every morning that are actually hindering your productivity.
If you’re an avid coffee drinker, you might be surprised to find out that drinking coffee between 8 and 10 a.m can make you more stressed throughout the day. That’s because caffeine early in the morning interferes with the time that the stress hormone, cortisol, is peaking in your body. It’s best to get your fix between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
When you get into the office and try to jump right into the top of your to-do list, you might find yourself confused and not very productive. When you don’t let your brain empty and refresh before starting a project or task, it loses a sense of control, becomes overwhelmed and ultimately, makes you less productive. Something else to avoid is checking email or social media right when you wake up. Typically, after checking your inbox, it takes a person at least 25 minutes to get back into a productive state. If you start your day off reading and responding to email after email, it will take you a long time to get back on track.
Another surprising mistake is setting self-imposed goals. Setting goals and deadlines for yourself might seem like an obvious productivity hack, but it turns out, that’s not the case. Instead, share your deadlines with others and you’ll feel more pressure and responsibility to get things done.
Check out resume.io’s infographic below for more productivity mistakes you’re likely making in the first 10 minutes of your day.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Workflow And Business Efficiency – 5 Strategies You Ignore At Your Peril
Emails alone don’t cut it as an efficient way to communicate with team members. You’re not still depending on email, are you?
An inefficient business can cost you a lot more than just growth – it can affect your revenue, too. According to a report by IDC, your business runs the risk of losing 20 to 30 percent of your revenue due to inefficient systems.
Unfortunately, many companies still struggle to implement the right systems to improve their workflow. Others have it worse, because they have no systems. In those situations, projects take ages to be completed, more time is spent on menial tasks and teams never seem to get enough done during work hours.
If that describes your company, your company’s profits may start to plummet, too.
Every successful business, then, has clearly defined systems to help the business run like clockwork. Improved workflow, better management and business efficiency save time, increase the bottom line and ensure a higher profit margin.
In fact, in an article on ContractZen, Tim Cummins, president of the International Association for Contract & Commercial Management, wrote that, “The average corporation could boost its bottom line by almost 10 percent if it invested in improving the quality of contracting.
For many companies – especially those in more complex, project-based industries – the prize could be much higher – perhaps as much as 15 percent.”
Related: Become A Life-Hacker
Unfortunately, some companies fail to provide systems that put users first, taking a negative toll on those companies’ workflow and efficiency. The good news is that they’re only five strategies away from turning this around:
1. Automate all you can
From email lists, bookkeeping, invoicing and contract management, to social media posts and payrolls, almost everything can be automated. For a business that aims to be more efficient, automation is a must.
Automation doesn’t just save you time, it can be the one strategy that can guarantee explosive growth and higher conversion rates. According to this Lead Generation Marketing Effectiveness study, 63 percent of companies polled that were outgrowing their competitors said they had automated their marketing.
Automating monotonous tasks that have to be repeated several times during the day helps you be more productive in tasks that require your personal attention.
2. Invest in customer-relationship management software
It’s not uncommon to find businesses that are barely able to keep up with their leads. Some waste hours hunting the low-quality leads instead of focusing their energy on those ready to buy. Here, a customer relationship management (CRM) solution linked to these businesspeople’s network phone system is a great way to enhance customer communications.
Customers value businesses that provide excellent customer service. A CRM solution increases the ability to keep track of customer information, monitor leads and provide efficient delivery. Businesses can provide for their customers’ needs faster and make effective business decisions. With CRM, businesses can also keep their focus on quality leads that will drastically improve conversion rates.
3. Set up a task-management system
Emails alone don’t cut it as an efficient way to communicate with team members. Email makes it difficult to carry everyone along. However, setting up task-management software like Slack, Trello or Asana makes it much easier to have everyone’s tasks in one place and ensure that everyone is carried along in the project.
Task-management software helps members of a team track their progress and ensure that everyone is working on their tasks.
4. Sync your calendar with that of everyone else on your team
How many times have you had to reschedule appointments because you didn’t know you had other meetings lined up for the day?
Aside from leaving negative impression in clients’ mind, this error makes you less productive. Having to go back and forth until you have settled on an appropriate date can be cumbersome especially when different time zones are involved. So, do this instead: Sync your personal calendar with your work calendar, and make sure that everyone in your team is synced to the latter, too.
This will ensure sure that everybody is “on the same page” in terms of appointments and deadlines. Google Calendar can help you do just that. Once everyone is synced up, any change in the calendar will be seen by everyone so they can manage their own appointments.
5. Block out chunks of time
Constant interruptions hamper your workflow. Imagine having to deal with turning over a project on a deadline while you’re stuck in a series of meetings throughout the day. It can get very difficult to focus on completing your most urgent tasks.
Block out chunks of time on your calendar for uninterrupted work. It’s better to schedule a series of meetings in one day than to spread them throughout the week.
If you’re creating content, block out one day to create all the content you’ll use for the week. That way your business will run more efficiently.
Related: 3 Reasons You Should Embrace Change
Wrapping it up
With the right strategies, you can turn your business around to make it efficient and lucrative. Automating your processes, setting up the right software and remaining focused on the tasks at hand will go a long way to help you do this. But just as with every good strategy, you need to remain consistent and give it time to do its magic.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.