Being a big fan of the products and philosophies of Jason Fried of 37 Signals, I harken back to this TED talk he gave a while ago about truly productive work. The question is simple: How many of you have a moment in your day where absolutely nothing interrupts your workflow? Pure focus. The zone. Feelin’ the flow. You know the exalted state I’m talking about.
Think about it. How often do you encounter a person coming up to you to ask you a question, a phone call, a buddy suddenly IM’ing you, etc. I’m also including interruption by choice like looking at your phone, checking your email, watching a YouTube video, whatever. Quite often, probably, right? And when we have these interruptions, the brain takes a little while to get back on track – a friend of mine told me 15 minutes is what’s required to get back in that frame of mind. 15 minutes. Think about how many lost minutes and then lost hours that equates to.
How many PURE work hours do you really have?
In this context, the answer may be zero. Or 1-2 hours if we’re lucky.
The point isn’t that doing these other things is bad. The point is that we can get smarter about how we balance it.
For creative people working on another insane deadline, there’s never been a more important time to shut out the world. That’s not easy in an agency when you’re sitting in your cube trying to bang out some brilliant headline or website design and people are flying by talking at loud volume about the upcoming client meeting or brainstorm. Which is why agencies need to invest more into spaces that allow their people to get away and just think in peace on the idea they have to come up with. If your agency doesn’t have that or all the good spaces are taken, take it upon yourself to at least invest in some really, really good noise canceling headphones.
For entrepreneurs like myself that operate from a home office and use a virtual office from time to time, we may not have as much danger of office interruptions but we still can run into bad habits that disrupt our flow, like the e-mail/phone checking mentioned above. Besides that, here’s another yours truly was guilty of: For many days, I’d have a schedule that consisted of writing, email checking, conference calls, taking a networking meeting, writing some more, sharing a video, sharing an infographic, taking another meeting, writing, checking email for the 30th time, reading an article on last night’s Bulls game, you get the idea. Not that unusual from most people’s days…except breaking things up with too many variances was undoubtedly having an effect on my pure work hours.
In other words, you could have a seemingly “balanced” day that is, in reality, doing bad things to how clear-headed you can be. It’s not just about being efficient. It’s about clearing more time for ideation to happen – which makes us better Copywriters, better Designers, better Web Programmers, better Brand Strategists. Better in many other professions too.
So I’m trying something a little different – rather than jumbling the mix in what seems like balance but is actually more disruptive, is it possible to push more pure work into whole days devoted to that and more new business development and client meetings into other days devoted to those activities? It’s an interesting experiment and I’m sure there will be times that it won’t work absolutely perfectly but it’s an effort worth making. I’ll let you know how it goes.
In the interim, think about this concept of pure work hours without any interruption. Rather than beat yourself up for being too in touch with the world, I wonder if you have any ideas for how you find that special zone that nobody else can get into for a designated period of time. Feel free to share your tips and tricks for how you tap into it. For while it may not deliver creativity and strategic thinking on demand, I have a feeling this approach gets us a whole lot closer.