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Interruptions in workplace cost productivity, experts say

“Got a minute?”

Answering “yes” to the common workplace question can cost workers hours in lost productivity, and their companies untold profits, workplace experts say.

“You don’t just give up a minute,” said Los Angeles business consultant Edward G. Brown, who’s publishing a book on recovering stolen time. Rather, interruptions, he said, cost workers their energy, enthusiasm and work enjoyment, and the U.S. economy, an estimated $588 billion a year, according to Basex Research.

Time bandits often contribute to errors and cause workers frustration, irritability and worry over having less time to accomplish their work, Brown said.

“There’s the diversion itself and then the restart, or reassembling the resources, thoughts and readiness,” he said.

Employees’ biggest disruptors often are their own bosses, Brown said.

“Our bosses have total authority over time and don’t realize when they take our time, they’re losing their investment in our time,” he said.

Brown said workers should have polite conversations with their supervisors about allowing them to create blocks of time to become more effective. “Promise them that if they give you a reasonable amount of time, you’ll use any surplus time to increase your productivity,” he said.

Time training

Weatherford-based business coach and adviser Bill Bendure said his clients are addressing the interruption issue in team training that encourages workers to spend the bulk of their time working on important issues, including planning, preparation and relationship-building.

“Team members are trained to identify and accomplish the big rocks — or what’s first and the most important — in each of their roles for the week,” Bendure said. “They must manage by saying ‘no’ to unimportant activities.”

Melissa Bogle, manager of development for GableGotwals law firm in Tulsa, and the recruiters of Oklahoma City-based Principal Technologies Inc. staffing company regularly set aside time for certain tasks.

Do not disturb

When she’s working on projects that require significant concentration and creativity, Bogle closes her office door, turns off the pop-up box on her email and ignores phone calls.

“I utilize email a lot to ask simple questions so that people can answer when they have time and I am not popping into someone’s office and interrupting them,” Bogle said. “And I try to keep a list of items to discuss with my supervisors so that when I have their time, I can get numerous topics covered at once,” she said.

Blocking out hours

At Principal Technologies Inc., recruiters plan their days in two- to three-hour blocks of time, marketing coordinator Michelle Hubble said.

“They all work on certain tasks, such as getting updates or suggesting potential employees, at the same time,” Hubble said. “So while one recruiter is calling their client about any new job openings or whether a contractor is working out, another isn’t distracting them with information about a new applicant.”

Oklahoma City human resources expert Gayla Sherry said she was amazed how much time she saved when she left the corporate world and started her own company. “I now can get eight hours of work done in six hours or less, because of the lack of interruptions,” Sherry said. Even working on her own, Sherry still tries to batch routine tasks, such as email or phone calls to reduce interruptions.

Email or voice mail

“If I can’t reach someone directly, I’ll follow up with an email or leave a detailed voice mail, including times that I can be available for return calls,” she said. For her most complex work, she said she carves out time Tuesday through Thursday mornings, which she’s found to be her “best thinking time.”

Tips to stop interruptions

* Personalize the cost. When you calculate the personal time lost to interruptions, you’ll be inspired to block disruptions. A quiz and cost calculator is available at stwm.com.

* Carve out time for important tasks. Aside from emergencies, allow no interruptions. Politely and cheerfully explain to supervisors and coworkers why the “time lock” is best for everyone.

* Dedicate most of your time to your most important contributions. These likely will include work proposals or projects due that day and grander matters like an outline for a new charitable foundation or daily text to your kid at college.

* Set personal deadlines. To avoid the Internet or other distractions, meditatively focus on tasks with the mantra “calm.”

* Batch time for repetitive or homogeneous tasks. You’ll save more time and energy, say returning calls and emails collectively, than handling tasks as they arise.

SOURCE: Edward G. Brown, author of “The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had” due out in August, and co-founder of the Los Angeles-based Cohen Brown Management Group.

Paula Burkes

Paula Burkes has nearly 40 years' experience writing and editing award-winning material, including since early 2001 with the business desk of The Oklahoman. After earning a journalism degree from Oklahoma State University in 1981, Paula wrote for... Read more ›

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