How to Tackle Your To-Do List In Today’s Frenzied Office
Why You Can’t Get Anything Done…
Between meetings, conference calls, interruptions from managers looking for an update, and the 5th birthday celebration of the month – it’s a wonder we get anything done at the office. With all the distractions and interruptions, many people would go as far as to say that they have nothing to show at the end of a busy day – the feeling that even though their calendar was full, no meaningful work was accomplished.
It doesn’t take an expert to recognize that long stretches of uninterrupted time are necessary to think and work through problems. Unfortunately, today’s typical office is just not conducive to that. That is what Jason Fried’s TED talk, “Why work doesn’t happen at work” is all about. This talk is entertaining and thought-provoking – definitely worth taking the time to listen.
Towards the end of his talk, Mr. Fried offers up a few solutions to what he says are the problems – managers and meetings. He argues that offices need “no-talk” quiet time, more passive versus active communication, and a decrease in the frequency and size of meetings. I think these are great ideas, but for a lot of us, not feasible in the near-term.
How to Focus & Stay Productive at Work
So while we try to convince the higher-ups of Mr. Fried’s wisdom, here are a few tips that have worked for me in various working environments at different clients throughout my consulting career.
1) Schedule a Meeting – just yourself though, and if possible, in a conference room away from the craziness that is so common in open-office layouts. This way, it’s on your calendar and people know that you are busy, and are less likely to interrupt. I especially like the suggestion of LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, that we schedule free time into our days: “The Importance of Scheduling Nothing” .
2) Clearly Communicate. When you’ve got a tight deadline, try letting your manager and coworkers know ahead of time that you are going need to focus on that project for a period of time, say the afternoon. In the event that people don’t realize everything you have on your plate, this will alert them to the fact. When your manager invites you to one more meeting, let her know what you are working on and ask her how she’d like you to prioritize. She might even come to the realization that you don’t need to be at that meeting after all.
3) Adjust Your Expectations & Plan Ahead. Part of the stress in not getting specific work done is that your original intentions are not realistic. On days that are going to be particularly meeting heavy, consider planning ahead and not even trying to get substantive work done during the day. This might mean a night (or a few nights) where you stay late, or plan to put in a few hours after the gym or dinner.
4) Learn to Batch. If you have control over your day, try scheduling (batching) like activities together. So meetings are on just 1 or 2 days a week, 2 days are dedicated to uninterrupted work time, and maybe 1 day for everything else that comes up and/or creative time.
5) Listen to Music. One of the most challenging places I’ve ever had to be productive was in the middle of a trading floor at a client site. If you work in an open-office layout, there will be times when your only option is to pull out the headphones. I find that fast paced music can actually help me focus and even speed up my work pace (that’s the reason they play that type of music in many restaurants – to get you to eat fast! – but I digress…).
Or a babbling brook… If songs distract you, no need to listen to elevator music. Try white noise or some version of it like that found on SimplyNoise. Donning headphones does two things: (1) it allows you to tune out everything going on around you and (2) it gives a signal to your coworkers that you are focused on your work, and hopefully leads to a lower likelihood that they will interrupt you unnecessarily.
Do you find it is hard to get work done at the office? If so, please share your best strategies below for staying productive in a workplace full of distractions and interruptions.