2 May 2013

Interruptions Are Our Greatest Time-Stealer

At my Breakfast Club session in Wellington last Friday I asked my audience: ‘What is your biggest time-stealer?’ They were a cross-section of people from 11 different government organisations as well as several commercial businesses.

The list was extensive and there was a tie for first place. I suspect you won’t be surprised to hear that they were:

interruptions
and
email

The two issues are often linked, and one of the major reasons is the problem of recovery time.

But what about when we interrupt ourselves?

I was living in Neutral Bay, Sydney in September 2000 and on a very tight deadline for the publishers with my second book ‘About Time 120 tips for those with no time‘ when I noticed something interesting.

If I hadn’t been under such pressure to get the manuscript to Reeds I doubt if I would have seen it quite as dramatically.

I’d set myself a target of writing 7 tips per day none are more than an A4 page and some are less so most days I cranked out about 1200- 1500 words.

I knew about blocking out distractions and thought I’d shut down the significant ones. Email wasn’t looked at. No phones rang between 5 and 8. No-one was walking around. The only other momentary diversions were the kookaburras calling down at the harbour edge, the big white cruise liners coming up the Sydney Harbour to convert into floating hotels for the duration of the Olympics and the beauty of the changing sky and water as the sun came up. They gave lovely opportunities for pause moments but I certainly didn’t count them as distractions.

But I began to notice that I was my own worst enemy. Each session began like this:

1. Re-read yesterday’s work
2. Make relevant corrections
3. Start writing

Nothing wrong with that, you’re probably thinking. Problem was when a correction triggered a thought about something already written some pages prior. If it necessitated a change in work already done, when I stopped to attend to it then and there it would be often as much as 15 20 minutes before I’d get back into the flow of new writing. I was shocked to realise I was my own interruption!

Solution? I started keeping a scribble pad beside the computer. As a thought relating to something already written popped in I would simply note it. At the end of the morning’s writing session I then gave myself permission to attend to the corrections. It worked like a charm and the speed of production ramped up significantly.

If you’ve studied Edward de Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats system you’ll know about keeping the brain working in one kind of thinking at a time. I couldn’t do new content and editing at the same time one was critical thinking, the other was creative.

And if you’ve read some of my books or attended any of my webinars, courses or speeches, you’ll have probably heard me talk about the power of CHUNKING. This little experience was an example of the power of chunking. I guess de Bono and I are talking about two sides of the same coin just different terminology.

(And did I get the manuscript completed? Sure did! I had the delight of pressing Send to the editor and then walking down to the end of Kurraba Road with neighbours to watch the jet plane and its dramatic after-burners whoosh down from Homebush Stadium and out through the Sydney Heads to mark the closing ceremony of the Olympics.)





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