For the demographic of employees considered “knowledge workers,” being in the zone is a wonderful state to be in. Knowledge workers are those who deliver their primary job outputs using their knowledge of subject matter: writers, programmers, designers, architects, to name a few. It is hard to describe or define being in the zone but everyone who has been there knows exactly what this is.
Studies have shown that it takes around 15 minutes for someone to get back to that productive mental state once knocked out of it. Unfortunately for those people and their employers, distractions abound in the corporate world. Inter-office chatter, questions from peers and managers, phone calls, “urgent” emails, and meetings, constantly vie for the attention of corporate employees. For a creative worker to reach their maximum output, they should ideally have about 50% of their work day uninterrupted. Incidentally, uninterrupted doesn’t necessarily mean quiet. Everyone has their own way of getting in the zone and this may involve music or background noise.
This problem is frequently exacerbated by management behavior. For example, are your knowledge workers given feedback on any of the following:
- How fast they respond to email inquiries
- Being a “team player” – in this case, helping anyone with a question if they are capable of doing so
- Providing immediate/quick availability to their direct supervisors, and of course, their boss’s boss
- Timeliness of phone responses
If employees are trying to maximize their performance on any of the above or similar, they are doing so at the expense of their skilled performance. They are being paid for their knowledge, skill, and judgment. That should never be compromised for the sake of red tape and office bureaucracy.
Here are some tips to get the most out of your creative team. These won’t be popular with everyone, but your expensive knowledge workers will love it. You’ll be happily repaid by their improved productivity.
- Give them large blocks of times without interruptions. During which they are not answering emails, phones, personal requests (even from you and your boss), or other distractions.
- Have their back. When the next melodramatic person comes out of the woodwork with an emergency that needs their immediate attention, try to triage it. The vast majority aren’t emergencies. They are being paid to create, not to put out fires.
- Book a conference room, if available. A chance of scenery can be great, and they’ll be away from the distractions of their desk.
- Don’t automatically shut down any ideas to work unorthodox hours, work from home, work outside, or other non-corporate methods.
- Schedule all office work, question and answer, meetings, and other non-creative responsibilities for a time convenient to everyone else. Let them get it out of the way all at once.
- Consider scheduling “office hours” for which they are available for questions and support
Make a log of how many times you get interrupted in one day. Measure how long the interruption is, and add 15 minutes to each one. Get an estimate of how much of your time is “unproductive” in a focus sense. Were you productive for 20% of the time? 10%? The number probably won’t be pretty. Use some of the tips above to improve it. It’ll be well worth it.
Excerpt from: Management GPS Newsletter – © 2012 Eric Twark – All Rights Reserved