By Paul Morin
Would you like to increase your productivity? It can be done pretty easily if you are able to say no and to politely ask people to go away and not disturb you.
The idea is simple: In order to be more productive, you must have uninterrupted periods of time to work. That’s it.
Okay, so the idea is simple, but the execution may not be so simple, particularly if you work in an office. The idea for this post comes from a TED video I recently watched. It was a talk given by Jason Fried of 37signals, entitled “Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work.” He made some great points about the inherent evils of meetings and of bosses who interrupt you at inopportune moments, to make sure you are being productive. It’s ironic, isn’t it?
One point that Jason made that really resonated with me is that work is like sleep, in that there are phases, and that once you are “awoken” from a particular phase, you have to start all over again. Regardless of the scientific accuracy of this analogy (who cares), it really resonated with me. All of us have been awoken from a deep, high-quality, restful sleep, only to not be able to get back to sleep afterwards. We then wake up miserable the next day, feeling unrested and cursing the noise or whatever woke us up.
Isn’t work the same way? We go through phases of productivity in our work, particularly if we’re doing work that requires significant thought and focus. We start out slowly, getting in the right frame of mind, getting all the facts straight, creating a space in our mind that has the right context for productive thought, then we start making some progress. What happens if the phone rings at that moment, or someone walks in and interrupts us? Can we simply start up where we left off?Not usually!
So what does this imply about how we should manage our workspace and our work time? In my case, I try to get all work that requires deeper thought done early in the morning, when I’m fresh and no one else is even awake to disrupt my train of thought. For others, they are better able to focus late at night. You probably already know which is best for you.
Another implication of this “work phases” line of thinking is that, even during the work day, when there are lots of potential distractions, we should be diligent — some would even say ruthless –about keeping those distractions to a minimum. This is particularly true if we can’t push all “deep thought” work to when others are sleeping. We don’t want to be rude, of course, but depending on the demands of your business at particular times, you may need to be a bit tough about protecting your time. The alternative is to allow your productivity to be undermined by unnecessary interruptions.
Finally, I’d encourage you to test what works best for you. I have spent my whole adult life working on this issue, so I’ve found some ways that really work for me. I encourage you to do the same. A couple of suggestions: music, particularly classical music that doesn’t require you to listen to the words, and earplugs. Also, turn off the phone, Facebook, texting, e-mail, Twitter and various other potential distractions when you want to operate at peak mental productivity. Those activities are fine during downtime and other times when you don’t have to have your brain focused and operating at peak productivity, but they are a detriment otherwise.
I look forward to your thoughts and questions. Please leave a comment; I’d love to read any other tips you may have to increase your productivity.
Paul Morin is the founder of CompanyFounder.com. Morin has worked with various entrepreneurial companies in senior management roles and has led the development, review and selective implementation of several hundred start-up and corporate venture business plans, financial models, and feasibility analyses. You can e-mail Morin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published: Dec 5, 2011