Are we too busy to get work done?
What does your calendar look like today? Are you double booked or even triple booked for some periods of the day? Is there any free time on your calendar at all? Do you expect to spend your day hopping from meeting to meeting, barely having enough time to take a bio break? Do you rush through lunch or even schedule frequent lunch meetings because there is no time in the day?
This seems to be the norm these days and almost a badge of honor.
But are you really being productive? And more importantly, is your team productive?
We’re all probably familiar with recent chatter about the productivity losses of context switching and that none of us are really good at multi-tasking.
But the scary part to me, is how willingly we give up our thinking time for meetings, almost without question. Sometimes I will ask those people who are serial meeting junkies — when you get your work done?
The worst answer yet, is — "I work during meetings". So I ask — so you are not paying attention during your meetings? So why are you there? The answer — Well, I have to be!
But you don’t even know what’s going on at these meetings! So we spend our days in this cycle of not being present for anything and never focusing on any particular thing.
Do you ever wonder how that affects knowledge workers?
We ran a survey and found that many of our knowledge workers were experiencing the same types of disruptions all day with the lack of ability to focus on actually getting work done.
At the same time, projects are notoriously late, and quality is down. And there is zero time for innovation.
We started training employees on the concept of "makers time". Maker's time is the time we set aside to concentrate on important work. If we allow ourselves the time to get into "flow", that's where the magic happens. And we want magic, right? We need it. Technology is moving way too fast for us not to constantly look for ways to improve things for customers, or we fall behind.
During training, we play this video that not only talks about the importance of maker's time but also about the optimal times for this focused activity.
So I encourage employees to block off maker's time and be ruthless about letting people disrupt that time. I have done my very best work when I've blocked off time. And the best part is, I finished the work I set out to do in that time. It truly is a beautiful thing and frankly, what I am paid to do.
When Our Bodies Work Best
Another thing that I like to work on with people is finding the best time for us to work. I do my worst work at the end of the day. By the end of the day, I am tired, my brain is fried and I am ready to turn it off. I do my best work early in the morning. So it makes sense to schedule the work that requires the most concentration for when my mind is most active.
Lazy or Natural Rhythm?
I never realized that I was working against my natural rhythm before, although I had a strong sense for it. I have a friend who would schedule staff meetings with his employees at 4:30 on Fridays. We constantly argued about this because I would say that no one was paying attention to anything on Friday at 4:30 after a full week of work. My argument was that he was certainly not getting the best results from the conversations at that time. He argued that that's when he wanted to meet and that the employee shouldn't be lazy and that he'd better be attentive. But I kept insisting that we could argue whatever we wanted about forcing the employees, it wasn't going to change the fact that we are humans and by 4:30 on Friday, most of us were focused on the weekend.
To make matters worse, the meetings would go over their designated hour. Finally one day, an employee told my friend that he was interrupting his happy hour. I had teased my friend enough about being a bad boss that he didn't take offense and finally moved the meeting. After observing his own rhythm, he realized that Friday was not a good time for meetings to go over issues or come up with ideas and started shifting his thinking.
Here's a graphic on what's naturally happening with our bodies in terms of our circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm is our internal clock that follows a daily cycle responding mostly to light and darkness. Our bodies use this clock to activate and regulate biological responses to optimize performance at peak times and slow down to allow the body to rest during sleep. The graph below shows at what times the body is responding based on the traditional cycle of sleeping at night and working during the day.
It's important that we understand the natural rhythm of our bodies for optimal performance. If we can make the time (maker's time) to focus during peak performance time, we could experience expanded levels of innovation and problem solving. Companies that give employees the autonomy to work according to their own natural schedules vs. tying work to specific times and provide environments for employees to work differently, benefit from employees who are thinking and looking for ways to improve their products, which positively impacts the bottom line.
I personally realized that I do a better job of training in the morning. By the afternoon, my energy is zapped and I am less motivated to do activities. So now I try and schedule training for the mornings and if training is all day, I do the lighter team activities in the afternoon. Because not only am I zapped, so is everyone else in the room!
What High Performers are Doing
This isn't all hippy, new-age talk. Many high performing CEOs and leaders are using mindfulness techniques for focus and thinking. We've heard of several leaders (Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs to name a few) who have a limited or repeated wardrobe to minimize decision fatigue so that their minds are clear for the more complex decisions later in the day. And then there are the leaders like Bill Gates who takes a couple of Think Weeks each year to focus on reading articles and books to hone in on learning.
The world is shifting to us observing and gaining an understanding of how we naturally work to produce the greatest results from the old way of force-fitting everyone into the same box and expecting great results. By allowing employees just a little bit of room and flexible environments to work in the most natural way, we can get access to higher levels of thinking and processing. This not only results in better products and services but also more satisfied and loyal employees.
What do you notice in terms of when you are most productive and have you made changes to work with your natural rhythms? Comment below, would love to hear from you!
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