Picture a standard morning at the office: you’re checking a complicated spreadsheet. Ring! you turn away from spreadsheet and take the phone call. When the call is over, you turn your attention back to the spreadsheet. Ding! MS outlook just alerted you to a new e mail, read it, and dash off a short response. Ting! It’s your mobile phone alerting you of an incoming SMS. You scroll over the message and press a reply button, type ‘will cal u later’ and press send button. Knock! Knock! Your colleague from accounts department ducks in with a quick question.
You feel in control. You’re multi tasking, efficiently getting so much work done in so little time. You’re also wrong. Multi tasking doesn’t work. As a knowledge worker, you simply cannot deploy all your mental acuity and creativity if you can’t focus intently on the task at hand. All the interruptions of modern life office – email, SMS, voice mail, old-fashioned knocks on office doors –conspire to destroy your ability to concentrate and focus.
According to research, today’s knowledge workers are interrupted on average every 11 minutes, and it takes them about 25 minutes to return to that task – if they return to it at all. And of course, even when they return to it, it takes them a few minutes to get back to their original trend of thought. Add that up and you’ve got a colossal waste of time. A recent study revealed that 55% of workers surveyed said they open e-mail immediately or shortly after it arrives, no matter how busy they are. It also found that workers lose 4.5 hours per week to interruptions.
So what can you do? The answer is simple: batching. Batching your work means doing similar tasks at one time. For example, rather than reading each e mail, as it comes in, schedule a specific time during your day to check and answer e-mails. Do the same with your voice mails, and outgoing phone calls. You should also batch your interactions with people.
Don’t interrupt co-workers whenever you get an idea, but instead meet at regularly scheduled times. Keep a folder for each key colleague where you can drop notes and reminders for your next meeting. By respecting other people’s time and being mindful of their need to concentrate, they become more respectful of your time – a virtuous circle that leads to improved efficiency.
Batching your work and reducing interruptions makes it easier to maintain focus on the tasks that need your attention. You’ll not only do your better, you’ll do it faster.
The author is the HR & Admin Manager
Kobil Petroleum Rwanda Ltd