July 24, 2019

Distraction, or Communication?

Shane Hawkins

Shane Hawkins
Engineering and Operations Executive/

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Refocusing costs you time and money

Communication and productivity always compete with each other. On one side, you will hear "Did you read the email I sent you", and on the other side "What, that's not done yet?" How do we answer those questions?  How much attention should we pay the emails, text, instant messages, and all manner of business social media communication? Can we turn the communication off and get some things done.

When we communicate, we have to ask, how fast do you really need that response? Is it worth interrupting a productivity flow to get an answer?  According to Gloria Mark, (who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine) it takes 23 minutes 15 seconds to refocus back on the task at hand after the interruption. Here are my suggestions on keeping your communication and productivity in harmony at full speed.

If it's truly urgent and critical, yell, scream, call, do what need you need to for immediate communication. This is reserved for phrases like, the building is on fire, There's a tornado coming, etc.. Don't be silent or afraid to speak up at this level, you really don't even have time to dial a phone.

When it's urgent and important, you have a little more time. A phone call, text, instant message are all good ways to go. The difference is you can give the person you are communicating with the extra time and options to answer. Expect that they are busy, your interruption is cost the business 23 minutes of time to get refocused if they answer. There are plenty of opportunities to communicate at this level. You may be in the meeting, needing to have a side conversation. "Did she really say that product development is killed? I just spent all week on it!"  It's an agile world, a pivot can happen anytime.

Most of the time things are time-sensitive and important. This is the grey area between email, instant messaging, kanban/scrum board, a professional blog, and patience. This is where communication flow and productivity meet. The sender communicates the information to a group or individual, and the receiver picks it up on their timeline. "We're starting on the UI design in two days" can trigger the check to be sure all the UI requirements at gathered. "We decided the GEOLocation feature isn't going to make this sprint" can allow resources to refocus on different backlog items.

We’ve been doing this when things get behind for years. Corporate retreats and Lockdown meetings are results of constant refocus and lost time.  If you stop productivity to “check your email” twenty times is a week, you have lost an entire day to refocusing. If you let that go on, you can easily lose a week of productivity in a month.

Face it, if you or your team are answering all your emails immediately, your sacrificing productivity. Sometimes you need to communicate immediately, some things will wait for an hour, some communications will wait for a day, sometimes there is no response required at all. Even taking an entire minute to decide what level of communication is appropriate, can save you 23 minutes of productivity. Set the right communication standards, start with turning off your email notifications.

Shane Hawkins


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