Productivity and GTD

Interruptions, the Great Enemy of Personal Productivity

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
“The effectiveness of work increases according to geometric progression if there are no interruptions.” ~ André Maurois
Interruptions

Interruptions are the number one public enemy in the field of personal productivity. If you don’t get things done on time and you need to work late, or even on weekends, it’s probably because there have been many interruptions at work. In other words, it’s not that you have that much to do, but that you’re not good at managing your attention.

It’s true that there are environments in which fighting against interruptions is harder. In most organizations, interruptions between partners get masked under terms such as “collaboration” or “camaraderie.” But let’s not fool ourselves, an interruption is an interruption, and if you stop doing your work for 20 minutes because someone passing by has decided to ask you or tell you something, it will be 20 minutes that you will need to regain. And since days always have the same 24 hours, you will have to steal some time from hobbies, family and friends to compensate for all that accumulation of interruptions.

In addition to the typical interruptions from your colleagues, are the interruptions caused by the simple fact of being always “connected”. The Internet and smartphones have created a culture of distraction from which it’s difficult to escape.

And then you have your own inner interruptions, those that your own mind produces because you don’t want to forget to do something, or because you have some problem at home which you haven’t yet clarified, or because of many other possible causes.

All these interruptions break an eight-hour working day in a multitude of mini-moments of work that, at the end of the day, don’t even add up to five hours. You work half an hour and then your friend comes and makes a joke. You work fifteen more minutes, and then you receive a call. Another fifteen minutes working and you can’t wait any longer, you have to stand up and go for a coffee… And so on for the rest of the day.

Obviously, interruptions greatly affect your efficiency and personal productivity. In order to be really productive you need longer periods of work without interruptions, where you can concentrate on what you are doing and flow. You need periods in which you don’t have to go from one task to the other and then go back to the first one.

Is this so difficult? I don’t think so. Organizations can establish standards where a part of the day without interruptions is respected. In addition, there are ways to fight against external interruptions. And there are techniques to better manage the inner ones. Also, you can adopt a personal management method like GTD, that frees your mind from the stress of having to constantly keep your attention on open loops.

4 comments

321173e18f51cfe631db8758f339f07b
Commented about 2 years ago Mitko Ivanov

Exactly! This is among the most underestimated productivity secret.
Thank you Francisco!

321173e18f51cfe631db8758f339f07b Mitko Ivanov

Exactly! This is among the most underestimated productivity secret.
Thank you Francisco!

B106331265724a910e735e2ebf3895a3
Commented about 2 years ago Steve Parker

Exactly. I have worked for many years with an open door policy. I need to reduce the time my door is open!

B106331265724a910e735e2ebf3895a3 Steve Parker

Exactly. I have worked for many years with an open door policy. I need to reduce the time my door is open!

8fdba5734e1e242db92c6d5218afbbe7
Commented about 2 years ago Jody Combs

There is no doubt that *unfruitful* interruptions lead to inefficiencies. The problem is that it is difficult to predict which interruptions might lead to insights, new ideas, or bonding that will pay off in the future. When I was a grad student, some years ago, there was an unspoken rule: if a fellow student was reading a book when you walked by (i.e., staring at pages in a book) you simply did NOT interrupt. No "hi how are ya," no "how you doin'". Nothing. You just assumed that this student was ultra-focused on his/her task of reading. So here's the thing--from the vantage point of many years later: those that spent time being "interrupted" are the CEO's or deans or heads of corporations. Those that were straight-laced, hard-nosed focused, are doing okay--but just barely okay. There isn't a simple formula for succeeding. Refusing to be "interrupted at all" is like refusing to learn something new. The challenge is to take every interruption and make it an opportunity to learn if possible. If there is nothing new to learn, let it go and move on. But don't confuse "getting things done" with "getting important things done."

8fdba5734e1e242db92c6d5218afbbe7 Jody Combs

There is no doubt that *unfruitful* interruptions lead to inefficiencies. The problem is that it is difficult to predict which interruptions might lead to insights, new ideas, or bonding that will pay off in the future. When I was a grad student, some years ago, there was an unspoken rule: if a fellow student was reading a book when you walked by (i.e., staring at pages in a book) you simply did NOT interrupt. No "hi how are ya," no "how you doin'". Nothing. You just assumed that this student was ultra-focused on his/her task of reading. So here's the thing--from the vantage point of many years later: those that spent time being "interrupted" are the CEO's or deans or heads of corporations. Those that were straight-laced, hard-nosed focused, are doing okay--but just barely okay. There isn't a simple formula for succeeding. Refusing to be "interrupted at all" is like refusing to learn something new. The challenge is to take every interruption and make it an opportunity to learn if possible. If there is nothing new to learn, let it go and move on. But don't confuse "getting things done" with "getting important things done."

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented about 2 years ago Francisco Sáez

Thank you guys for your comments.

Hi Jody, in my experience interruptions "per se" are rarely leading you to learn new things. In any case, letting every one interrupt you just in case you could learn something would be like opening every email as it reaches your inbox just in case it's something important (it sounds like FOMO - fear of missing out). That's simply inefficient. Every interruption breaks your focus on what you're doing and makes you lose about 15 minutes when you try to regain that focus. I'm sure there must be better ways to learn ;)

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Thank you guys for your comments.

Hi Jody, in my experience interruptions "per se" are rarely leading you to learn new things. In any case, letting every one interrupt you just in case you could learn something would be like opening every email as it reaches your inbox just in case it's something important (it sounds like FOMO - fear of missing out). That's simply inefficient. Every interruption breaks your focus on what you're doing and makes you lose about 15 minutes when you try to regain that focus. I'm sure there must be better ways to learn ;)

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