When are you the most productive?
If you’re like most people, it’s unlikely that you answered “during the day in the office.” It might be early in the morning or late at night when no one else is around. It might be a special room in your house or a quiet spot in the library.
For me, it’s when I’m on a plane. There are almost no interruptions, even if there is in-flight wireless. Of course, there are distractions – food, movies, seat mates – but for the most part these can be controlled by me. I choose to let them interrupt me.
Research has shown people are not good at multitasking. It impairs your ability to think for yourself and increases the likelihood that you rely on conventional wisdom. Multitasking reduces productivity.
Jason Fried explores the causes of poor office productivity in a talk at TEDx Midwest by drawing an analogy between interrupting sleep and work. We know we don’t feel rested if our sleep is interrupted; even if we sleep for many hours. By extension, we shouldn’t expect to be productive if we’re constantly interrupted, even if we’re in the office for many hours.
Of course, hardly anyone has long stretches of uninterrupted time. A few years ago I was able to schedule my day in one-hour blocks; these days I track 15 minute increments. If we’re not careful, we get lots of tasks done but precious little important work.
Fried claims the distractions don’t come from Facebook or YouTube or other Web sites. In his words, these are “just modern-day smoke breaks that employees voluntarily take to clear their minds.” While these interruptions are voluntary, the real problems are managers and meetings which force involuntary interruptions.
The talk challenges the conventional wisdom that employees are less productive when they work from home because they are more likely to be distracted. Instead, by keeping them away from managers and meetings, Fried believes that they will have higher productivity at home. They save commute time, they have higher job satisfaction, and they are more productive. It makes me wonder whether corporations should be spending hundreds of millions of dollars on large office buildings.
Fried suggests a three-part approach for helping employees be more productive when they are in the office:
- “No-talk Thursdays”
Schedule long stretches of time when co-workers are prohibited from talking to each other.
- Passive communication
Switch from active communication, like conversation, to passive forms such as email, IM, and collaboration tools.
- Avoid meetings
Replace meetings by simple communication of status or short conversations between a small number of people.
Counter-intuitive, but intriguing. Would it work in your office?