Almost 20 years ago I read a book by Eli Goldratt called The Goal. This business novel told the story of a young production manager tasked with turning around an ailing factory, introducing the production management concepts of bottlenecks and diversions. For many years this book has been recommended reading for people working in production operations or lean environments (with over 100 5 star reviews on Amazon).
So, I was quite surprised when copyblogger featured it in the 38 books every blogger should read. I thought that it was a mistake. But then I started thinking about it and realised that actually it was quite a smart inclusion and not just for bloggers but for every business owner, regardless of their business.
You see, every business has diversionary activity.
Emails, Phone calls, Instant Messages, Social Media
Emails, phone calls, instant messaging and social media are all activities which divert your attention from achieving your goals and being productive. Each of them ensure that your break off from what you are doing. They ensure that your train of thought is disrupted and they stop you being productive. Big Time.
Selfgrowth.com quoted the average American as being disrupted 73 times a day and a 5 minute telephone call can take you 20 minutes to get back to being in the state of mind prior to the interuption. The same is probably true with the short break to check the text message or check an email popup which has just displayed on your screen. Disruptions can lead you down rabbit holes. Responding to the text message or just finding that document that your boss wanted or dealing with that customer query. They all take time and they all stop you from being productive and moving towards your goals.
Diversions kill productivity
If you’re wanting to be super productive you need to take control. You can start by identifying what you need to get done that day or for that week. Then you need to block time out to get that work done.
Realistically, this is not hours at a time, if you’re anything like me, I can be working on one thing and ideas just spring up in my head and unless I was disciplined I’d end up working on that more interesting thing. Which more than likely is 10 times more interesting that what I have to do at that precised moment. So I break my ‘task time’ into 30 minute segments and work solidly on a task for 25 minutes. Then at the end of 25 minutes I take 5 minutes out maybe to check emails or get a coffee. This is called the Pomodoro Technique and works really well for me.
Telephone calls can be a major distraction so use voicemail when you’re on ‘task time’. Then once or twice a day (I like 11.30 and 4.30) just before lunch and just before people go home, go through all your voicemail messages and call the people back.
If a lot of your orders come over the telephone, then I can understand that you will want to be super responsive as you don’t want to miss a telephone order.
Challenge: So for the next week write down every reason that you had a call. Was it to ask a question about the product/service before they placed the order? Was it to actually place the order? Was it to check when the stuff would be shipped or check your opening hours?
Once you’ve logged all the reasons why you’ve had calls you need to think about how you could service these calls more effectively. For instance, could you create a Frequently Asked Questions Page (FAQ) on your website to answer the most common questions. Could you direct people to a contact form to send you their details and you could call them back.
If it’s just to place an order, do you really need to take the call? Could this be outsourced to a local call answering service or to an assistant? If your have a website why aren’t your customers ordering from that? Is it difficult to use?
I personally get my best work done in the mornings. So I try to aim for as few distractions as possible in the mornings, especially meetings.
But before I actually have a meeting or agree to attending one I decide whether I really need to attend that meeting or hold one – don’t be fooled there’s very little that can’t be done over phone or by video conferencing (such as Skype). In fact I once worked with a team for a year who were based overseas and I never met them. (Although I did speak to them nearly every day on the phone).
So, could a phone call do instead?
If a phone call isn’t suitable and it absolutely must be a meeting I put meetings in to my least productive part of the day. Which for me is after lunch and late afternoon. To make your meeting as effective as possible here are some guidelines for more effective meetings and tips to make them as short as possible.
Dealing with Email
Worse than phone calls are emails, as more and more communication is spent this way now. Most people think they are super productive because they respond quickly to emails. I once worked in an environment where I was getting a 120+ emails a day. I did not think I was productive. Every time I walked out of a meeting there were another 10 emails to deal with.
Some people advocate putting an email rule on which says something along the lines of:
“Thank you for your email. I’m currently checking emails twice a day at 11.o0am and 4pm, when I will get back to you”
Whilst this is good for setting expectations, if you’re working in a large organisation, I know that some people will always take exception to that and call your boss and complain. Not a good situation to be. As attending a meeting with your boss either gives you more work (bad for productivity) or a black mark for a pay rise.
But if it’s your own organisation, then you’re the boss, so that’s fine!
Dealing with email interuptions
Also on the subject of emails, whenever I work long term with a client and they provide me with a laptop installed with Outlook I installed I go straight to settings and disable the desk top alerts which stops a message displaying or pinging every time an email arrives.
If you want to know how to do this here’s how:
Turning off your email alerts
First go to the menu bar in out look and select Tools\Options and then select Email Options
Then select ‘Advanced Email Options‘.
And finally ‘deselect‘ all the check boxes in the section ‘when new items arrive in my inbox‘
That’s it, you’re done. No more distracting emails to disturb you and you can get back to batching your emails twice a day.
So, that’s what really helps me avoid diversionary activity, but what about you? What works for you? Please share your comments below.