Somebody is stealing your time, your most valuable, finite resource. These Time Bandits operate by the simple means of interrupting you. When you don’t protect your time, you don’t just lose a minute or two.
Our research shows that workers at all levels report losing three to five hours of productive time every day due to unwanted, unneeded, and unproductive interruptions.
The 80/20 rule probably governs here, too. That is, for most people, probably only 20 percent of their Time Bandits account for 80 percent of recoverable time. Catch those Time Bandits, and you can restore most of your stolen time. So how do you identify yours?
Okay, who interrupts you? Don’t guess. Count. Choose a week that looks to be “ordinary” and when someone interrupts you, note their name on a form you keep handy or on an app. Note each time they interrupt you.
That tells you the source of your interruptions, and how many. But it doesn’t tell the big story – how much of your time they consumed.
Not all interruptions are equal. Interruptions are insidious because they cause so much collateral time loss. Until you recognize that extra loss, you won’t know which Time Bandits take the most time.
· There’s the interruption itself, throwing you off task.
· There’s also loss of momentum due to the work stoppage.
· There’s the time wasted reassembling your thoughts and resources.
· There’s frustration at having to rebuild them, which dissipates the energy that work thrives on. There is the distress and fatigue of having to make up for time lost.
· All these things can cause errors that need to be corrected at the cost of even more time.
So on your form or app, it’s important to note approximately how much time you lost to that person’s interruptions. If your controller interrupts a meeting to collect your signature on something you’ve reviewed before, that’s minimal. If you get pulled out of a board meeting by a panicked salesperson, that’s massive.
Not all Time Bandits are people. Living as we do in an Interruption Culture, don’t be surprised if it has shaped you. Many workers tend to be tethered to email, text and phone 24/7 no matter what else they purport to be doing. They’re accustomed to being endlessly interrupted by those constant beeps and sneak peeks that they don’t even consider them interruptions. But they are.
We truly cannot think about two things at the same time. At best we toggle back and forth between two things, doing neither justice, being fully present for neither. If you allow email and texts to claim your attention without your control, you have a serial Time Bandit.
Stealing time is a crime of convenience. Our research shows that, not surprisingly, most interruptions (68 percent) come from inside the company. What appear to be innocuous interactions can add up to serious loss of time; you know how an innocent-sounding “Got a minute?” ends up taking a lot more than a minute! You might be glad to be your boss’s ready confidante and have him or her drop in on you without notice, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an interruption. If you’ve ever had an office that people pass on the way to the break room or worked in an open design or loud office, you know how hard it can be to concentrate in those circumstances. Office conditions can be Time Bandits, too.
When customers are Time Bandits. We all know that customers are our priority, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be Time Bandits. If they cause unnecessary interruptions that end up making it hard for you to serve them well, that’s not good for you or them. It takes special planning to deter customer Time Bandits without offending, but the point is, if you’re going to change them you have to be able to recognize them.
Your biggest Time Bandit. Just look in the mirror. Most of us are our own worst Time Bandits. We are not masters of our own minds. Even when we wish to bear down and focus, our minds wander. We daydream. When what we’re doing doesn’t engage us tightly enough, our mind wanders to more attractive subjects. How much time do you lose to your own wandering mind?
Remember, Time Bandits can be stopped. But until you identify them and truly realize how much time they cost you, you won’t have the incentive to take the necessary steps. Once you realize which Time Bandits stand between you and your ability to realize your dreams, you will find yourself well motivated to take the next steps.