Leave Me Alone---I'm trying to work!

June 29, 2010 | by Michael Harms

Okay, so unemployment is at 10% and the economy has lost over 8 million jobs since this recession began. You don't have to be an economist to know that this is, shall we say, less than ideal. However, the untold story is that for those of us who are fortunate enough to have jobs, life goes on… only with a longer to-do list and the added stress that comes with it. There are now fewer hands to help push that boulder up the mountain and we all know that boulders don't move themselves, so we are forced to do more with less. And the numbers prove this---productivity rose 5.8% from the last quarter of 2008 to 2009.

While it would be nice to think that this was simply the result of increased efficiency, the truth is that we are more likely working harder and longer. Unfortunately, time is a zero-sum game. Every hour we spend working is an hour less we can spend reading a book or at our children's soccer game or enjoying any of the other pleasures of life.

So what are our options? Well, for starters, let's start doing work at work. It's a novel concept, I know.

For many of us, the workplace is full of distractions and interruptions. There are several ways you can combat this. I personally like to limit the seating options in my office to discourage visitors. I also like to scatter papers across my desk first thing in the morning to create the illusion of work (note: later you can shred these papers to really make it look like you are doing something). If all else fails, the barbed wire and "No Trespassing" sign outside my office door usually gets the point across.

If this sounds extreme, might I suggest you check out the new best-selling book Rework by the co-founder of 37signals, Jason Fried. If you haven't heard of 37signals, they are a technology company that creates project management and communication tools which are designed to help organizations get stuff done. And these guys get an amazing amount of stuff done… especially when you consider they have less than 20 employees and rarely have meetings.

According to Fried, most workplaces are "optimized for interruptions" and interruptions are the "enemy of productivity." As a result, most of us end up doing our real work after hours. Sound familiar? Check out the video below for Fried's take:

For many of us, Fried's ideas may push the limits because they challenge the old-guard thinking. As business guru Seth Godin, says, "This book will make you uncomfortable. Depending on what you do all day, it might make you extremely uncomfortable. That's a very good thing, because you deserve it. We all do." Among these ideas:

  • Meetings are toxic
  • Long lists don't get done
  • Don't copy your competition
  • Decommoditize your product
  • Hire managers of one
  • Hire only when it hurts

Any of those pique your interest? Or do you love meetings as much as I do? While you may not agree with all of Fried's ideas and some may not apply to your world, they will definitely make you think. And that's the whole point.

Now go away… I have work to do.

Topics: Human Resources , Staffing & Training

Michael Harms / Michael Harms is a Senior Business Analyst for People Report & Black Box Intelligence, acknowledged leaders in providing restaurant executives with financial analysis and insight into the best people practices.
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