Interruptions are the tools of the devil! And our lives are full of them – Emails, phone calls, online messaging, spouses and kids.
But why are interruptions so disruptive?
This is a very important question, and there are two answers:
Because we can only focus on one thing at a time, we need to clear our ‘mental processing chip’ before we can focus on a new task.
This means that when we are disrupted, we push all the information that relates to the current task into the back of our minds and fill our ‘active memory’ with information that’s relevant to the interruption.
For instance, if my youngest wants me to read him a story while I’m working, I’ll store the work-related information in the back of my mind and read him the story. Only when he goes away, I can retrieve the work related information and go back to work.
The process of retrieving the work-related information and getting back into ‘flow’ is both time consuming and tiring.
This is one of the reasons that after several interruptions, we become so tired we are unable to re-focus on our work.
At any given time there are dozens of tasks we can be doing. There are bills to pay, house chores to complete and about 20 different things we need to do at work.
This is not an optional process. We always mentally re-evaluate our to-do list before choosing to perform a certain task.
So every time we are interrupted, we enter this re-evaluation phase. And apart from the fact that the re-evaluation process is a time waster by itself, we often choose to do something different.
For instance, how many times did you work on a task, get interrupted, and then when you finished handling the interruption, you decided to check your Email? And before you knew it an hour has passed.
Blocking interruptions with the ‘Insurance Agent’ technique
My insurance agent is a pretty nice guy (for an insurance agent).
Every once in a while he schedules a meeting with me to make sure that I am happy (and that I intend to keep paying him on a monthly basis).
These meetings are not very important to me, but since I kinda like the guy, I treat him with respect.
- Close my cell phone and ask the secretary not to transfer calls unless they are a matter of life and death.
- Close the office door so that we won’t get interrupted during the meeting.
- Close my instant messenger and don’t check Emails throughout the meeting
So how does that relate to being more focused?
Well, at one point I figured that ‘regular’ work is just as important as my meetings with the insurance agent and I started doing the following two things:
- I blocked out ‘work meetings’ with myself in the diary. These are work meetings that are as important as meetings with other people and there needs to be a very good reason for me to cancel them.
- During those meetings, I treat my work with the same respect as I would a meeting with Dave the insurance guy. I don’t take calls; I don’t check Emails, etc.
This practice has allowed me to stay focused and uninterrupted for chunks of time. And I find that I get at least twice as much done during those ‘work meetings’ than in regular work mode.
If you try this technique, I guarantee you’ll love it.
Time is our most precious resource. We constantly fight to get more of it, to become more efficient and productive.
But becoming more productive is hard. Even adopting a slightly different work habit (like the one described in this article) takes time, energy and determination.
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