When you hear the "ding" on your inbox or see the "new" message pop up on your task bar, do you immediately go reply to it? If you are caught in the never-ending cycle of constant distraction, whether it's a buzzing BlackBerry, instant message, or e-mail alert; you are not alone. Most people have totally lost their ability to concentrate because message interruptions are ruling their time and attention. In today's workplace, attention is your most precious asset. If you are squandering it by constantly checking for messages or replying immediately when you recieve one, you are wasting your time.
How Much Time Are You Wasting?
According to Basex, an information-technology research firm in New York City, interruptions now consume an average of 2.1 hours a day, or 28 longer to complete, than, if they were done one after the other. Additionally, the quality of each task when done concurrently will be degraded making mistakes more likely.
Manage Your Focus
To ensure you are as productive as possible, it is necessary to manage your focus. If you want fewer interruptions, here are some helpful tips:
Lead by Example
- Turn off alerts. You can and should disable the message "ding" and the pop-up visual alert (if you are using Outlook, Go to Tools, Options..., E-Mail Options..., Advanced E-Mail Options..., then changes the settings under "When new items arrive in my inbox")
- Limit compulsive e-mail checking. Only check e-mail 3-5 times per day. Resist the urge to check your e-mail every 15 minutes. (If you have critical messages or certain people require immediate urgent action, set up a rule that plays a sound when you get a message from that person or with a certain subject.)
- Reduce your outflow. Only reply to all if essential. Don't send unnecessary replies. Tell the reader if no reply is necessary.
- Pick up the phone. If a short phone call will eliminate ten e-mails, then, by all means make the call.
While you may not be able to change everyone in your company, you may have more of an impact than you realize. Modeling different behavior often has a rippling effect in organizations. Hyper-urgency can be addicting. Like most addictions, there are some serious negative consequences for this behavior. It has become such an issue that even technology companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Intel are members of the Information Overload Research Group (iorgforum.org) whose stated purpose is to reduce information pollution. While information overload has become a global problem, don't let that stop you from changing your little corner of it.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it's the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead"