How many times a day would you say you’re distracted from your work? Five? Ten? If you have children at home, probably a lot! Any idea how costly these distractions really are? U.S. businesses lose nearly $600 billion a year, according to a Basex study.
Money aside, frequent interruptions and other distractions increase stress, which may lead to depression and other illnesses. Never underestimate the destructive power of stress.
Let’s break this down. Did you know that a five-minute interruption robs you of much more than a mere five minutes? Nope. It takes the human brain about seven to refocus, so you’re looking at a whopping twelve minutes!
If that doesn’t seem like much, look at it this way. Let’s say that you allow employees, clients, friends, and family members free access to you all day long. And let’s say that you keep your email and social media sites open while you work. I’m going to take a modest guess of this leading to about 20 distractions a day. Now I’ll estimate that you get side-tracked for about four minutes each time you drift off course, (laughable, I know). Add those seven minutes it takes to regain your focus and that’s over three-and-a-half hours a day. To be exact, based on 260 work days in a year, it’s 952 hours. Imagine what you could do with some of that time back in your day.
Realistically, many of these interruptions are legit and need to be addressed, and many do not. But you get the point. These phone calls, knocks on the door, and your constant attention to social media and email are costing you--big time.
So what can you do about it? It’s not just a matter of designating times to check emails and return calls. That would be far too easy. What about all of those people who “need” you all day long? As I tell my clients, you teach people how to treat you. When you develop the pattern of taking calls from mom, giving clients and employees instant access to you, and jumping to attention every time your text notification sings to you, you’re teaching people that it’s OK to interrupt you as often as they please.
Now it’s not going to be easy to change their behavior, or your own, but the payoff is well worth it. Here are a few things that may help.
Keep Employees and Contractors Well Informed.
If you have standard operating procedures in place, along with scheduled meetings and project guidelines, your team should be able to find most of their answers without interrupting you. Get employees involved in creating these documents so they are well aware of their existence. When someone knocks on your door for an answer to something that is already in writing don’t give it to them. Politely request that they check the manual instead and that they continue to do so in the future. Also let them know when you cannot be interrupted and give yourself two-hour windows of time to focus on your projects.
Explain the New Rules To Friends and Family.
Those who care for you will understand what’s at stake here. Tell them that you are excited about all of the opportunities to grow your business and that you intend to get hyper-focused. Let them know that they can help. To make it easier for them offer a window of time during the day when you’ll be available for a brief chat—like after hours.
I work with a lot of work-at-home parents who have childcare assistance, yet interruptions every thirty minutes are the norm, most of them unnecessary. These interruptions become acceptable, mostly out of guilt. Watch out for parental guilt! Work on minimizing it by being absolutely present when you are with your children. No cell phones, tablets, or drifting off in your head to solve a problem. Designate work time and family time and honor them both. Obviously, you’ve hired someone you trust, let them do their jobs. If you are unable to hire help consider swapping time with other parents and other creative solutions. Working while your children are in your care is not realistic or healthy for anyone. Asking for help doesn’t mean you love them any less.
Understand Your Avoidance Tendencies.
You may tell yourself that you have to stay on top of email and social media updates all day long, but I’m going to challenge you on that. In my experience most entrepreneurs use this misguided belief to avoid doing what they should be doing. Keep your action list up to date to make it easier to choose your next task and when you get into the avoidance mode take a moment to consider why. Once you face your avoidance head on it may kick you into a higher gear. If this issue surfaces frequently, it’s time for a coach. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.