Stop Interrupting Employees and Let Them Work

The main reason why people can’t get work done at work are managers and meetings. That’s Jason Fried’s take on things as he exposes it in his latest TEDx Talk. He lays out the main problems to getting work done and presents three suggestions to making work work.

No Talk Thursdays: He actually suggests a compromise of one Thursday afternoon a month where no one disturbs anyone so that all can focus on getting things done.

I am fortunate that though I work in an office, it is a small office and I can often get quite a few hours of uninterrupted work time. I can actually sometimes get 3 to 4 hours without being disturbed, usually about once a week. This uninterrupted time is necessary for me when I need to analyse complex problems or systems, or work on a larger, more complex project.

Passive Models of Communication: Instead of interrupting people to have a face-to-face discussion about something, send an email or an IM. This reduces the instances of interrupting reflections, thoughts, a creative moment. The passive model allows for people to respond when they are ready to switch gears and respond to you.

This is my preferred mode of communication when dealing with dispatching tasks or requesting information. I had received a comment earlier this year that it could be perceived as impersonnal, which is a valid remark. I therefore took the time to approach the individuals that I exchange with to explain to them why I preferred communicating the bulk of work related information by email. They agreed and even told me that they appreciated the lack of interruption, especially the administrative staff who work in the open spaces and are constantly interrupted.

Cancel the Next Meeting: He doesn’t suggest postponing it. He suggests cancelling it all together. According to Fried, managers call too many meetings which are a waste of employee’s productive time. He relates that what managers talk about at meetings is usually not as important to company productivity than the managers think it is.

On this one, I only meet Fried halfway. If we are going to move to a mode of passive communication and no-talk periods to let people focus on their work, there needs to be a moment where we all get together and communicate face-to-face. That said, I think that the face-to-face time needs to be used wisely to do the things that are less well done in writing.

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Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today