Be Productive. Not Busy.
Teams that spend their time focused on a few objectives are more productive than teams who are managed with the goal of staying busy. How can you can help your team to work smarter, remove impediments, and accomplish more?
In The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress, researchers at the University of California, Irvine discovered:
When people are constantly interrupted, they develop a mode of working faster (and writing less) to compensate for the time they know they will lose by being interrupted. Yet working faster with interruptions has its cost: people in the interrupted conditions experienced a higher workload, more stress, higher frustration, more time pressure, and effort. So interrupted work may be done faster, but at a price.
So, what is the cost of “interruptions”? Reflecting on the research, Department of Informatics Professor Gloria Mark had some answers. The experiment involved two sets of workers tasked to answer email. In one condition, they were left alone. In the other, they got phone calls and instant messages. Mark discusses the effect of the inflicted multitasking:
We used a NASA workload scale, which measures various dimensions of stress, and we found that people scored significantly higher when interrupted. They had higher levels of stress, frustration, mental effort, feeling of time pressure and mental workload.
The Cost of a Busy Day
As a manager, you are inherently destined to be interrupted. Issues arise that need your attention especially when overseeing many people, many projects, or many clients. These all add to the busyness of your day–and all detract from the time you thought you had to pursue your primary goals.
Interruptions will happen. It’s how you recognize them and how you to choose to engage of defer engagement with them that makes a difference.
Professor Mark states that if interruptions are short, they’re not so bad. “Any kind of automatic task that doesn’t require a lot of thinking would not be a major disruption. It’s generally counterproductive if you’re working on one task and you’re interrupted on a completely different topic… you have to completely shift your focus.”
In the research, Professor Mark refers to the workload types as spheres, though a manager is more likely to think of them as projects. If you’re having deal with issues in one project while having planned to make progress on another – that becomes a busy day, not a productive day.
Managers need the capacity to recognise the different spheres of their work – communications (emails, phone calls and team meetings) might be one sphere, time allocated for one current project might be another, and continuing work on a long-term project would be a third.
When you minimize interruptions that drag your attention between or out of these spheres, productivity drops. It’s impossible to eliminate interruptions completely. Email Inboxes are notoriously distracting and you certainly do not want to spend up to 6.3 hours a day monitoring your inbox as other research has shown. Even messaging apps like Slack, Hipchat, or Microsoft Team that get you out of your inbox and into more dedicated team communications can also turn into new channels of productivity killing chatter if left unchecked. Software that truly enhances productivity needs to help minimise interruptions.
Staying Productive and on Task
In our research for TeamworkIQ, customers told us they wanted something as easy to use as email or chat apps, but something that would actually track tasks and processes to help everyone stay focused on priorities without the distractions of the inbox or interruptions of chat apps.
Smart, automated checklists became the answer. As easily as composing an email, TeamworkIQ lets you simply type up who needs to do what and send it out. However, TeamworkIQ is not only smart enough to remember who needs to do what and in what sequence it needs to be done, it’s smart enough to manage the process through from start to finish for you. TeamworkIQ not only saves time and keeps things from falling through the cracks, it provides a place for the team to go that’s always focused on priorities and what work needs to get done — free from the distractions of the email inbox and unwanted interruptions of chat apps.
With a smart, synchronized system to keep teams focused on productive tasks, projects, and processes, there’s less interruption, priority uses of time are clear from distractions, and everyone is more productive.