It is sad to say but we are a daily victim of theft, and worse, in many cases we are the thief.  If we do not protect and monitor the use of our time then people will come along and steal your time.

What is stealing our time.

The biggest lie “Have you got a minute”

There are several reasons why our time is stolen from us, or worse we unwittingly give it away and in doing so become our own time thief by letting people take your valuable time through interruptions.  You have probably heard the phrase “Have you got a minute?”.  If it was only minute it might not be too bad, but sadly it rarely is a minute, and even worse, a University study shows that this phrase equates to nearly 20 minutes of your life.  They reasoned that by the time you take your mind of what you are doing to focus on the issue brought to you, then deal with the issue, and finally try to get your mind back on what you were doing before you were interrupted, it averages 20 minutes.  Not only have you been robbed of this time but there is a danger that you may not be able to remember what you were thinking about when you were interrupted, and a brilliant idea or concept could be lost.

Nowadays you can still be interrupted by unscheduled visits, and traditional phone calls to our landlines, but we also have a myriad of new ways to be interrupted like the mobile phone, which has opened the door to not just calls but texts, emails, messenger, Skype, Facebook, snapchats, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Slack to name but a few, and then at work we also have the desk phone and hundreds of emails on your computer.  In essence we have provided ourselves with too many ways that we can be interrupted.

We need to first accept that this is true, and then introduce barriers that can hold back the communication until we are ready to receive it.  A barrier is not designed to hold it back for ever, just to delay the communication until a time when it won’t interrupt what you are doing.  If you try to turn the barrier into a wall by not returning the communication, then the person trying to get in touch is likely to try and break down the wall and will definitely interrupt you and probably at the worst time.

Mobile phone and email the two worst interupters

The two worst interrupters are the mobile phone and emails, so what are the barriers we could put in place.  The most obvious for the phone is to turn it off whilst you are working on a task, and then turn it back on when you have finished.  The task would have been done in less time, without the interruptions, and therefore hopefully the fear of being out of contact will be lessened.  If you are very worried, or in some cases, addicted to the phone then you may not be able to turn it off (this is something you may have to have a think about if it is the case) then at least put it on silent, and try to ignore the messages that pop up.

Email has become overwhelming for many and one of the most regular interruptions.  Email is only electronically delivered mail; however, it has become almost text messaging for some people.  Many think they are saving time by holding a conversation by email.  The reality is that every email is an interruption and does as much harm as an actual interruption.  One phone call is a single interruption, versus the 10 emails that interrupt us 10 times discussing the same subject.

What are our barriers for visitors?

What about visitors, what barriers can we put in place, like being willing to say you are busy and can they come back later.  Perhaps at work you could set a time when people can come and see you.

My absolute favourite barrier in companies, is what I call the “Golden Hour”.  For one hour each day, every person within the company must leave everyone else in the company alone.  No visits, texting, emails that need an immediate response, or phone calls.  The only interruption would be for emergencies and for customer issues.  It is an amazing time when you can focus uninterrupted for an hour a day.  But in essence it is just a barrier, in the same way that surgery times at the doctors are a barrier.

What barriers do you need to set in place to reduce your interruptions?  Start with the mobile phone and you will see immediate improvement.