I am sure we have all said that from time to time.
No matter whether you are a business owner, director, manager or executive, you have important tasks that need your undivided attention and ‘protected time’, says Verbatim Call Centres Director Graham Hill.
“When Gavin Peck and I set up Verbatim Call Centres in 1997, as an outsourced telephone reception service, we did not appreciate the role the business could play in providing ‘protected time’ to business owners and managers” says Graham. It’s a benefit that was first brought to his attention by Nigel Temple, a small business marketing expert, who maintains that one of the key benefits he receives from using Verbatim’s call answering services is ‘protected time’. Graham explains:
“Nigel spends most mornings from 6am-10.30am writing articles, business books* and preparing seminars. Before using Verbatim, the phone would start ringing from around 8:00am resulting in a 50% reduction in his thinking time, because of general day-to-day business interruptions. He now has scheduled protected time every day.”
By diverting his calls to Verbatim, Nigel is able to work in peace and be considerably more productive.
He has the peace of mind that his calls are being answered by human beings at a professional reception service.
This powerful anecdotal evidence prompted Graham to find out whether any research has been published on this subject.
It seems that Time Manager International (TMI) have been offering courses and seminars on this subject for over 20 years. They coined the phrase ‘time stealers’.
Typical time stealers might include:
* a knock on the door
* a colleague popping in for a chat
* a telephone call
* a Tannoy announcement asking you to call engineering
* an email popping up on screen
* a voicemail notification
* a text notification
Harvard has also looked into this area and an extract from The Harvard Business Review was reported in The Times 25th October 2007:
“- Many executives view multitasking as a necessity in the face of all the demands they juggle, but it actually undermines productivity. Distractions are costly: a temporary shift in attention from one task to another- stopping to answer an e-mail or taking a phone – call increases the amount of time to finish a primary task by as much as 25%. It’s more efficient to focus for 90-120 minutes, take a break then begin to focus a gain”
Tom De Marco & Timothy Lister, in their book Peopleware Productive Projects and Teams, write about single-minded work time which psychologists call ‘flow’.
Flow is a condition of deep, nearly meditative involvement. In this state time passes without realisation and the work output just flows.
De Marco and Lister rightly point out that not all work roles require a state of flow to be productive, but on the other hand jobs carried out by engineers, solicitors, accountants, software designers, analysts and writers, to name just a few will benefit from protected or flow time. You can’t, however, turn on ‘flow’ like a light bulb because it takes approximately 15 minutes to reach those levels of deep concentration.
As we descend into flow we are particularly sensitive to noise and interruptions – a phone call, a knock on the door etc.
Each time we are interrupted we require an additional immersion period. Hence the often quoted “I can never get any work done between the hours of 9 and 5” is heard in nearly every office up and down the country.
“Imagine the following scenario in your office” says Graham, “You have an important document to prepare for a client. This should take you about an hour or so to complete. You start work at 9:00am and have to have it finished by lunch time. Whilst working on the document you take time out to answer a dozen phone calls.
“If the average incoming call takes five minutes, including noting the outcomes and actions associated with it, and your re-immersion period is fifteen minutes the total cost of that call in productive time is twenty minutes. Result: half a day gone, the document is late and rushed, leading to lost productivity and increased frustration.”
Some companies have traditional time accounting systems and assume that work output is in direct proportion to the number of paid hours. If time sheets are prepared on this basis they make no distinction between meaningful productive work and hours of pure frustration.
What matters is not the time you spend working, but the time you spend being productive.
“One hour of ‘flow time’ is much more productive than ten work periods of six minutes each sandwiched between eleven interruptions” adds Graham.