A simple truth is this:
When a day is gone, it is gone to never return again.
From the perspective of creative work it means that whatever you have left undone, it remains undone until the next possibility comes.
Time is precious.
When time leaks between your fingers, it is your responsibility to take a hold on it. Time is not a resource as we sometimes assume because we can neither create nor buy more time. Of course, we may be assigned more time to finish a project but it is either due to an ineffective management or a necessity for a better / more complex solution than we currently have.
If you are a person whose progress and work depends on deep thought, guard your time with all your might.
If you are a group leader or manager, your role is to co-create the conditions under which your colleagues work effectively and efficiently, making substantial progress. Guard their time with all your mights.
The challenge is this
People who manage others usually forget how it is to work on multiple projects that require a deep thought and focus. Managers’ days are gone fast, split into small chunks of time, perhaps of 15 or 30 min each. Within these short intervals, they jump between conversations, talks and meetings, and deal with their derivatives such as emails, phone calls, brief readings, short writings or small talks. They need a fast switch between the tasks and a short-span focus. Small talks or humor in between are purposeful because they are refreshing and relieve tension.
On the contrary, thinkers or creative workers, such as programmers, designers, researchers, scientists, analyzers, medical doctors, writers, artists or engineers require uninterrupted chunks of devoted time of a considerable length, say 4h, at least.
Because it takes a lot of time to reach a deep focus, and even more time to understand what the question or the next step is before taking a small step forward. While some people are able to reach it within 30min, many will need an hour or two. This is both a personal skill as well as the multitude and variety of deep thought involvements in projects a person has to run. The stakes are really high!
Currently, many people have to juggle as many as 10 to 20 projects at a time and each of them of considerable complexity and difficulty. Small talks are detrimental to the progress and to the person’s ability to conserve energy because they kick him/her out of the Flow.
How can such people deliver creative solutions if they are interrupted by meetings, discussions, calls to action, small talks, courtesy talks, messaging and so on?
Do you realize that any interruption to focused people often wastes a considerable amount of their time and progress? After a short conversation, it may again take them an hour or more to return to the same level of thinking as it was before you interrupted them.
But … what if a meeting is still awaiting ahead? All the time may be lost if there is only little time left before the meeting. Why? Because it would not make much sense to start the real work if a thinker knows, will soon be interrupted.
The goals of creative workers and their managers/supervisors are totally opposite (think marathon runners versus short distance runners), a few tasks and a long-term focus versus multiple tasks and a short-span focus.
The next time you knock on sb’s else door or come to start a talk with your team member, ask yourself whether the issue you have at hand is of such importance that it potentially justifies the total waste of their efforts today.
If your progress depends on the quality of your thinking, take all the necessary steps to prevent interruptions. These may involve actions such as:
- A note on your door indicating when and how you prefer to be interrupt
- Personal communication to all members of your team, asking them not to approach your with a small talk
- Using noise-removal headphones to remove all the background distractions
- Request to your manager to group the meetings or talks together, ideally first thing in the morning or just after the lunch
- Working from home, or
- Shifting hours of work
If you are a manager, your main task is to lead the projects and the group towards progress. It highly depends on the ability of your colleagues to maintain deep focus in order to create the solutions your company needs. Meetings severely interfere with the productivity and creativity of your workers.
Even a meeting of 10min, say 2h after the start of the day, may destroy all the progress made in these hours. What is even worse, many creative people may not even start the thinking process because if they have too little time, say one hour before the meeting, they know it is to little to really do something. Consequently, they will choose to procrastinate than to loose the thinking energy in vain.
Your role is to either create or help create big chunks of undisturbed and uninterrupted time for your workers. Not only that, you need to think how to create a positive and open atmosphere in which work is a pleasure. To improve the situation, your actions may ask you to:
- Cut on talks, discussions and meetings, and when necessary, group them together and make them brief.
- Choose brief emails (or perhaps messaging) over personal chats.
- Choose polls on the web to direct and shorten the discussions when important decisions need to be made.
- Enable other colleagues to work at home.
- Raise the team’s awareness on improving personal focus and efficacy.
- Introduce time for small talks, chats and humor, e.g. before / after the lunch or before the end of the day, to relax the atmosphere.
- Schedule short time for personal talks with your team members.
Whether you are paid for creative solutions or managing, choose to value the Time. Of yourself and Others. Become a guardian of the Time. It will pay off.
To learn how a company can be set and run from the homes of creative workers, study the success of the 37Signals company. I recommend reading the Rework book, created by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.
Top photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.