CEOs used to be better positioned to protect their time; but somewhere along the line, they became so accessible that nowadays they are endlessly interrupted. If that’s happening to you, it is inevitable that your priorities will be sacrificed.
1. Calculate Time Stolen by Interruptions. For one week, keep a record of the time lost to interruptions, and at the end of each, tally it up. However, the damage is never limited to the interruption itself that throws you off task. There’s loss of momentum due to the work stoppage, and the time wasted reassembling your thoughts and resources. There’s frustration at having to rebuild them, and the distress and fatigue associated with having to make up for that lost time, which can lead to errors. You would be a rare CEO if you came up with less than three hours squandered daily. In fact, U.S. companies waste $588 billion annually because of interruptions, according to Basex research. My own company’s research finds that office workers at all levels report losing 3-5 hours of productive time every day due to interruptions, most from inside the company.“Office workers at all levels report losing 3-5 hours of productive time every day due to interruptions, most from inside the company.”
2. Put a Value on the Stolen Time. What if you had spent that stolen time with your company’s best customer, or helped your top salesperson seal a deal, or did something that helped you beat the competition? When you assign a dollar value to your time, you’re not looking for precision, just order of magnitude. (Warning: if you haven’t calculated this cost before, you will be aghast at the numbers.
3. Convert Your Worst Time Bandits. How do you start refusing interruptions without offending the people who interrupt you? Explain how your staying on task is in their best interest. They have to want to not interrupt you. They will be tentative or anxious the first few times, but when they realize you have their best interests at heart, they will acquiesce, often with pleasure. After all, your “Time Bandits” are afflicted with Time Bandits of their own!
4. Lock in Time and Learn to Love It. Once you’ve staved off interruptions, it’s time to re-learn to do what today’s interruption culture has almost destroyed: to deliberately carve out time to work alone, totally focused, on a task that will profit by unswerving attention. Does best studying, strategizing and writing take place when you were left to yourself? You will be surprised what you can accomplish by getting back in that habit. Be deliberate and be disciplined about it.
5. Reset the Company Culture. CEOs are inevitably role models. Once you have set the tone against interruptions in a positive way, fill your management team in on the return you’ve received on time less interrupted, then encourage them to follow suit. When they complete Tips 1 and 2, they will be self-motivated to recover the time stolen from them by interruptions. Imagine all the time they will have to focus on their priorities.
Regain control of your time, and you regain control of your professional life.