It is Monday morning and Marcia starts her week all committed and determined to deliver on all projects before deadline. She reaches work with a spring in her step and a song in her heart (Marcia loves her job and can’t wait for Mondays) and starts her laptop with gumption and alacrity. And lo behold, her colleague pops in and says, “Do you want to grab a cup of coffee before you get started?” And although there is a voice inside her head which is squeaking and pleading with her not to go, a huge monstrous desire to have that coffee and the amazing sandwich to go takes charge, thus quelling that squeak to a non- existent silence. And so, the day goes by with a phone call here, an email there and questions popping in from everywhere. And before she knows it, a whole week has flown by and the deadlines have all been again revised because they couldn’t be met. Does this sound familiar?
A Basex research conducted in the US reveals that interruptions can impact an individual’s productivity, energy and work satisfaction and the estimated cost of this impact is close to $588 billion a year. The results of this study are startling given that a large part of our day just gets spent getting interrupted. This estimated figure does not include the rise in error rates and the resulting costs from these errors.
According to the Journal of Experimental Psychology, error rates doubled following a 2.8-second interruption and tripled after a 4 and a half-second distraction. So, you can imagine the cost implications of interruptions.
So, who creates these interruptions? Others or do we create them? Dr. Gloria Mark, Associate Professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California conducted a survey of employees at Microsoft and found that 44% of the time employees ended up interrupting themselves.
So how do we deal with this huge problem of interruptions? You can use the ICAP strategy to deal with interruptions.
ICAP Strategy for Dealing with Interruptions
We all have To- do lists which help us identify what needs to be done. But we seldom create the Not- to- do lists. Identify all the things that you should not be doing such as peeking into your phone, randomly checking social network updates, compulsively refreshing to check for emails. Interruption could also be in the form of a person reaching out to you with requests. Identify all the elements that are interrupting your work.
According to a study conducted by The Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, when you spend your time constantly on emails, text messages and calls, your IQ drops by 10 points. This loss is the same as the loss you would experience when you miss a night’s sleep. (Yoga Journal, p. 22, 12/2005).
Take control of the situation. Tell people when you will be available to talk to them. Show that you respect time and treat it as a valuable resource. You can do this by valuing others’ time. You can take efforts to show people that you value time by requesting for time on their calendar or being time- bound and not exceeding time allotted to you. Set up a time to check emails. And I know this may sound very drastic but keep your phone switched off during office hours. That way you won’t feel compelled to check for updates.
Learn to say no. Most often we allow ourselves to be interrupted because it is more difficult to say no or because we feel guilty when we say no. Learn to be Assertive. Remember that you are saying no to the request and are not rejecting the person. It is important to understand that when you are saying yes to this person, you are saying no to your work and the cost implications of saying no to your work are a lot higher that saying no to this person.
Sometimes, interruptions are unavoidable. You can however plan for these interruptions in your calendar. Most people get overwhelmed due to the ad- hoc tasks that come in and which don’t allow for planned tasks to get done. This is why planning is so critical. When you have your day planned and prioritized, little else can deter it. If the interruption at hand does not lead you closer towards your long-term strategy, it means you must not let interruption get hold of you. If the interruption leads you towards that long-term goal, go ahead and welcome the interruption. Plans can be more fruitful when you have clear understanding of your goals.
This ICAP strategy can help you manage interruptions much better and can help you be more productive. If you don’t have a long-term strategy sketched out yet, now is a good time to work on it. Like Mahatma Gandhi said, “The future depends on what you do today.”
Are you struggling with finding time to do strategic things? Do you find yourself mostly caught up with day-to-day execution challenges and firefighting? How is this impacting your performance and movement towards your goals? Do you want to get a hold over your time and focus on strategic initiatives? A coach can help you with this goal. Feel free to schedule a free consultation with us.