Get more done (part 2): The habit that’s costing you hours every day

Posted on Aug 1, 2019

scheduling in day planner

We all know that task-switching hurts productivity. Every software engineering team I’ve ever worked with has debated how to minimize interruptions. And yet, we still let it happen. Perhaps because, even presented with data, we underestimate its full impact? 

One study shows that it takes 25 minutes to get back on track after a task interruption. (Shit, that’s a lot of wasted time!) I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s twice this in a typical work environment, when you mix in exhaustion, unbelievable frequency of interruptions, and high-pressure deadlines. 

So, if you task-switch regularly, changing this one habit will save you hours of (wasted) time every day. Before you work through the tasks on your success list, check out these tips.

Use your calendar

Are you organizing your day to minimize interruptions? 

You probably know I’m a big advocate of focusing on what’s most important. So get that right, decide to make it happen, and then…

Schedule blocks of uninterrupted time (3 or 4 hours) to focus on your most important tasks. 

Yes, I said 3 or 4 hours. Yes, this can be done in the corporate environment. And once you identify your true priority and decide you’ll make it happen, I’m positive you’ll figure out the how.

That email can wait

Are you still leaving your inbox open all day (or your app notifications on) and responding to emails as they come in? Does your boss know you’re wasting hours of your creative potential every day with this fear-driven habit? 

Stop it!

Schedule non-real-time communications—like email and social media—once or twice per day, and avoid them outside of these scheduled times.

Remember, the sender intentionally used a non-real-time communication method. Email isn’t urgent. You’re making it seem that way.

If this really terrifies you, consider an auto-responder that explains your new habit. You might even inspire others to take more control of their work days.

Thanks for your email! Just a head’s up—so I can focus on helping my amazing clients create energizing, spontaneous-jump-for-joy work lives, I respond to emails between 4 and 5 PM CST Monday-Thursday. Have a great one! – Mandy

Design your environment to minimize interruptions

Notice your most common distractions and use your environment to help you.

If you have a tendency to reach for your cell and thumb your way to Facebook, put your phone in another room. Install an app that blocks the websites you’re trying to avoid, or slows you down enough to make the decision conscious.

What’s distracting you? How can you change an element of your physical environment to easily avoid this distraction?

Strategize with your team

If you work with others, you probably aren’t the only one frustrated by the interruptions and distractions within your work environment.

Create team norms that empower each team member to communicate when they are focused, and when they are open to interruptions. This doesn’t have to be complicated, but you and your team do have to be committed. 

Hang a sign on your cubicle wall, use a status message in Slack, or schedule a meeting-free block for the whole team each day or week. Then adhere to these new standards without exception!

Make it easy to minimize interruptions

Eliminate the everyday mindless distractions you’ve been allowing and watch yourself easily get way more done in less time. Start small, incorporating just one change at a time, and celebrate every win along the way!