Yesterday I wrote a post about the “Urgency Addiction” and how many people start important tasks late and then motivate with a huge wave of productivity and inspiration driven by deadlines and commitments to others. In the comments section Bill DAllesandro offered some insight that he had seen from Microsoft on “interruptions”
“A study by Microsoft showed just how lethal interruptions are to productivity. The researchers taped 29 hours of people working in a typical office, and found that they were interrupted on average four times each hour. Sounds like a day at most offices.
Here’s the kicker – 40% of the time, the person did not resume the task they were working on before the interruption. The more complex the task, the less likely the person was to resume working on it after an interruption.
That means most of us are getting derailed from our work four times each hour, maybe more if you work in a high email traffic office.”
He also write a nice post on limiting email and managing on the important / urgent matrix from the perspective on a recovering ex investment banker.
This comment and blog post prompted me to write a post that has been in my queue for a long time. I often write that I learned more than I care to admit from working at Andersen Consulting. Compared to being an entrepreneur it feels like I didn’t learn much there but on reflection I learned much more than I think even I realize.
One of the earliest lessons we learned was how to make our bosses productive through a very simple tool called a “point sheet.” The premise is simple: whenever you have a question or get stuck on something you’re tempted to quickly ask your boss or your colleagues for help. This solves your immediate need but it greatly interrupts the productivity of others.
So the solution was that any time you had a question you had to write it down on these pre-printed tablets of paper called “point sheets” and once you had accumulated enough questions you could bring them en masse to your boss (everyone who worked at Andersen in the early 90’s is giving a small chuckle from nostalgia about right now).
And the funny thing – by the time you were ready to walk through 7-8 issues with your boss you realize that you had already figured out 3 or 4 of them on your own. With a bit of patience it’s surprising just how many times you find answers to your own issues if you just try (seems like a lesson I’m trying to teach my 7 and 4 year olds these days). Now imagine in the world of email, IM, Twitter and mobile phones imagine just how much worse this problem has become.
So if you’re managing a team why not ask them to all abide by the PSP (point sheet policy) and save yourself from all of the distracting productivity drains. Set aside one block in the morning and one in the afternoon for going through your team’s issues. Of even if you don’t have a team I’ll bet you have a boss. Why not tell them you’re implementing a new tool designed to make THEM more productive. Chances are they’ll love you for it.