All workers have days when they just can't seem to get anything done. No matter how many projects or tasks you start, nothing gets checked off your to-do list, and by the end of the day you're even more overwhelmed and frustrated than when you started.
Edward Brown, co-founder of performance consulting and training firm Cohen Brown Management Group, knows this problem has plagued workers for decades. But in an age of constant digital distractions, the loss of time and productivity has become an even more pressing issue.
"Forty to 60 percent of time [at work] is wasted due to unwanted, unnecessary, unproductive interruptions," Brown said. "If these interruptions were eliminated, it could increase the amount of time available to meet productivity and revenue goals." [The Technologies That Distract Workers the Most]
In his new book, "The Time Bandit Solution" (Cohen Brown Picture Company, 2014), Brown identified the five main factors that contribute to lost time in the workplace:
Interruptions — Anything that disrupts your workflow, from a colleague stopping by your desk for a chat to an unexpected phone call or a pop-up notification on your computer screen
Restarts — The effort involved in getting back to where you left off prior to an interruption, which will depend on the nature of the interruption and how long it took
Momentum loss — The breaking of efficiency, accuracy and productivity built up from completing repetitive tasks uninterrupted
Do-overs — Reworking part of a project or completely starting over due to mistakes or poor quality, which stemmed from a loss of focus
Distress manifestations — Side effects of the stress caused by interruptions, such as mental fatigue, irritability, loss of concentration, or reduced efficiency and productivity
The individuals behind these interruptions, including co-workers, bosses and clients, are "time bandits" who take away your valuable productivity time, Brown said. But it's just not possible to entirely prevent these time criminals from breaking your focus.
"Everyone is somebody's time bandit," Brown told Business News Daily. "Colleagues interrupt each other, [and] management interrupts their subordinates [because there is] an architecture where there is no privacy. A person can lean over and ask you something right in the middle of your momentum."
Though you can't avoid all interruptions, you can guarantee yourself a stretch of the day in which you have complete, undivided focus and attention. Do this with a technique Brown calls "time locking." In an ideal environment, all workers would get an uninterrupted block of time — a time lock — in which to focus on the tasks at hand and maintain their momentum and productivity, Brown said. This means no Web browsing, no checking social media, no answering emails or phone calls — just a quiet period, with no external distractions, in which you can get work done. Colleagues and bosses would be aware of and respect time locks, and cover each other during these periods to avoid interruptions from clients or customers.
Brown noted that time locking is so effective because it allows people to focus on their top "critical few" priorities, which often get clouded by the "minor many" tasks that others bring to them on a daily basis. The secret to making this work is identifying and committing to your own priorities during your time lock.
"What others think are urgent [tasks], you may see as just important," Brown said. "Analyze when it would be best to do your easiest and hardest tasks."
It may not be possible to fully implement time locking in your office, but you can start reclaiming some of your lost time simply by learning to approach your time bandits, and make them realize that both you and they can benefit from leaving you in peace to do your work.
"When we approach our time bandits, we must use finesse," Brown said. "There's no such thing as 'just saying no' [to interrupting requests]. Think through what you're going to say, and be as nice and empathetic as possible."
Originally published on Business News Daily