Don't let the others kill your productivity

By Francisco Sáez • May 07, 2012

One of the most frustrating things when you have managed to establish a personal productivity system that works for you, is to realize that the others do not give a damn about your productivity. You just need to decide to tackle a task that requires total concentration and an idle co-worker will come and start telling you whatever story. You just need to decide to sort out your personal finances and your partner will tell you she feels like going out for a walk and, of course, what you are doing can wait.

To be productive, you have an additional job that nobody told you: train the others to respect your time and your decisions, tactfully, so they will not feel offended and your relationships will not get damaged.

When someone cuts you off, stop the conversation tactfully and say that you are in the middle of something and that you will be available later. Your work area must be your temple. Do not permit casual visitors. Close your office door, put a “do not disturb” sign on your table or put your headphones on (even if you are not listening anything) when you do not want to be bothered. For others to realize your attitude, you have to be persistent and also consistent. You are the first that should respect their time.

When someone sends you a message or email, you are not expected to answer immediately—or should not—, so this need not be a problem. You decide what moments of your day you will spend to answer emails. With phone calls you could also do the same, although in this case people do expect you to answer, which could cause some troubles. In any case, avoid people to beat around the bush, do not encourage them to chitchat and get them to the point quickly, arguing that you have only a couple of minutes.

Avoid meetings. Show people that your policy is to stay focused on doing the right things, not on wasting time doing things that do not help advance your projects. It will take a little to be assimilated, but they will accept it and respect you for your discipline. Since most things are not urgent—though the others want to believe they are—your order of preference in communications should be as follows: email, phone call, meeting in person. If someone requests you a meeting, invite him to send you an email with the subjects, arguing that you have much work to do. In most cases, the subjects will be treated in the email itself. Are you afraid to tell that to your boss? Do not be. He cares—or should—about your productivity.

At home, it is important to train your family not to interrupt you when you are working on something. Let them understand that if you get more done in less time, this way of acting will allow you to spend more time with them, eventually.

Remember that when you say no, you are acting proactively, rather than letting others decide how you should spend your time.

What do you do to preserve your productivity? How do you get others to understand and help you?

About the author

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Francisco Sáez (@franciscojsaez) is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a web developer specializing in Ruby on Rails who is passionate about personal productivity and GTD as a means to a better life.

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