Edward G. Brown May 9, 2014

Time Locking for Interruption Management

When you come across the words “bank efficiency,” more than likely “technology” and “consolidation” are in the vicinity. It’s almost an article of faith that those are the only two paths to bank efficiency: automation and consolidation.

I’m all for technology innovation, but what happened to managerial innovation? Are managers to let technology usurp their search for better ways for making employees’ work more efficient and productive?

An often overlooked culprit in the productivity battle is our “Interruption Culture.” Managers themselves are rendered so distracted by their own interrupted environment that they don’t even notice it, the same way fish don’t notice water.

But it’s well worth noticing. A Basex Research study put a number on it: $588 billion lost to U.S. businesses because of office worker interruptions – more than two hours of precious time per day squandered because interruptions prevent people from getting their work done.

Our own research finds that when people are asked to record the time they lose to interruptions each day, they regularly come up with three to five hours, or 40 to 60% of their time! Imagine how frustrating that is for good workers who are already stretched by lean conditions. Despite the technology gains, they are unable to maximize and leverage their potential productivity or meet their deadlines.

When good people are unable to work productively or get their work finished, their morale suffers and so does the quality of their work, a vicious circle. What they need more than motivation or automation are Time Locks: uninterrupted blocks of time during which they can maintain maximum, quality-controlled productivity while diligently observing their own 80/20 rule – focusing on the 20% of tasks that produce 80% of their results.

Imagine if you could quell interruptions to provide those Time Locks. You’d not only have better and more motivated workers but you would, in effect, grow your work force at no added cost. The good news is, there is a managerial solution to slumping productivity, as outlined below:

Add it up. First, to get yourself and your people motivated and committed, calculate the actual time lost to interruptions. Begin with the time the interruptions take up. Add the time it takes to restart tasks (either from where they left off or, sometimes, from the beginning) and regain momentum. Notice the frustration employees begin to feel at this point, as well as the distress and then fatigue. Calculate that in energy lost. Interruptions don’t just steal time; they steal energy and motivation, too.

Time Locking sounds simple (brook no interruptions but emergencies) but it takes planning and practice. It means your people need to learn to politely explain to those who would interrupt them – I call them “time bandits” – why they’re Time Locking, why it’s in the interrupters’ best interests, and how and when they will take care of the interrupters’ needs. That is not a natural skill, since these time bandits are often the most important people in their lives – the boss, their customers, their colleagues, friends, and families. They are hard to say “no” to.

The Interruption Culture makes it harder by making heroes of the distracted: If you aren’t being constantly interrupted by phone calls, urgent texts, or people lining up outside your office, you must not be very important, right? Not many people today would have the courage to say, “I don’t have too much to do.”

Focal Locking. Even when we are not being interrupted by others or our devices, we interrupt ourselves by daydreaming or diversions; we are our own worst time bandits. Focal Locking means gaining mastery over our own minds, preventing the “mental leakage” that diminishes the focus and quality of our work. Just a few powerful but simple techniques will help you and your people undo old habits and make full use of the time that Time Locking restores.

Allocate the time regained. Once you have reclaimed time that used to be stolen by interruptions, how do you use the time wisely and not treat it like surplus? Deliberately separate your obligations into the handful that are the most important (the “critical few”) and then all the rest (the “minor many”). Heroes of the Interruption Culture are expected squeeze in every little thing and multitask like crazy. But sometimes people need space and solitude.

Batch processing restores time by letting you and your employees efficiently dispose of repetitive or homogeneous tasks. Carving out a time for batching them saves more time and energy than sprinkling them throughout the day as they come up.

If we can interrupt the Interruption Culture and restore two or three or more hours a day to the productive time of our best people, we won’t have to wait for technology to do management’s job.

Mr. Brown is the president, co-chairman and co-founder of Los Angeles-based Cohen Brown Management Group Inc. and author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had. He can be reached at Ed_Brown@CBMG.com.

 

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