12 February 2018

Best Practice: Set & Respect "Office Hours"

[This book excerpt is from "Taking Care of Yourself:  Managing Your Priorities, Time, & Energy" in The Project Management Minimalist]
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“Interruption is the enemy of productivity…Those taps on the shoulder and little impromptu get-togethers may seem harmless, but they’re actually corrosive to productivity. Interruption is not collaboration, it’s just interruption. [These] break your work day into a series of ‘work moments.’”  -- Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson in Rework: A Better, Easier Way to Succeed in Business

I once worked in a consulting firm that fought against interruptions by applying this procedure for entering another person’s office or workspace:
  • Knock on the door or cubicle wall and then wait, saying nothing.
  • Wait for the person you are visiting to either 1) speak to you and welcome you in, or 2) silently hold up a hand as if saying “Stop,” indicating that she is busy.
  • If you’re welcomed in, then you go ahead and speak, continuing your visit.
  • If you get the “Stop” signal, then you simply go away without saying a word. The person who gave you this signal is duty-bound to seek you out later, when she is finished with her chore.
Now this may sound overly formal, but it worked great! We were all much more productive (and less irritable from random interruptions) than before this policy was implemented. You might try it in your office.
Here are some other ways you might control your office hours:
  • Set interrupt-free hours versus collaboration hours. For example, establish a policy of no meetings from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. every day.
  • Establish “quiet zones” versus interaction zones. For example, you might decide that all individual offices are quiet zones or that a certain cluster of cubicles is a quiet zone. Then designate a specific conference room or office as the place for conversations.
  • Work at home in your “alone zone.” Sometimes it’s simply better to work at home, without distractions. You might set up one or two days a week for this and make it a regular productivity-enhancing practice. (Here’s a bit of related trivia: Most independent consultants I know report that they typically can get 8 hours of “at the office” work done in a mere 5 hours when they work at home, alone and uninterrupted.)
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