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Posts Tagged ‘distraction’

Closure

Friday, November 25, 2011 @ 11:11 AM
posted by admin

In a world of endlessly available, unlimited information, it is not so easy to know when a job has been completed and has come to closure. If you’re doing research, how do you know when you’re done especially when there is so much more information ‘out there’ that could be incorporated into your findings? How in-depth or thorough does a report need to be before it can be considered done? Unlike other kinds of work, knowledge work requires judgment and experience to determine when you have reached the point of diminishing returns where additional work will not add enough value to justify the cost, effort and time. Closure has come to mean not so much when something is ‘finished” as when the tendency for a continuing effort toward a particular goal actually causes effectiveness to decline after a certain level of result has been achieved.

My client Marsha is in HR, charged with ‘prospecting for the best legal talent available’, one of those knowledge work kind of assignments that can go on forever. “I never knew when enough was enough. I attended recruitment fairs, interacted on social media, prospected at law school events…there just seemed no end to the work.” Meanwhile, all that time prospecting for a new attorney meant the open post continued to go unfilled, the other attorneys had to add more work to their plate, and the yet unhired attorney’s contributions was forestalled. “It’s just not worth it to the company for me to keep trying to find the perfect candidates. I’m done when I prospect what I think are the best 25 candidates a month.”

Another factor that affects closure (finishing or completing something) is the extent to which one is taken off task by an interruption or distraction Each day a typical office employee checks e-mail 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times, according to RescueTime, a firm that develops time-management and tracking software. So defend your right to concentrate. If you truly need to close the door, turn off the cell, and leave email unattended for 3 hours, do it. A recent Harvard University study of 600 managers found that the most significant factor in their perception of their best work days were the days when they made progress, the days they were able to move work forward to closure. Their findings are in a new book called The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer. I have a client who puts yellow crime scene tape across her cubby office opening. She doesn’t have a door but the message is clear. Don’t disturb her till the tape comes down. Many companies have a “no devices in this meetings” policy. Find a place to hide where you can concentrate.

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The Starbucks Effect

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 @ 06:04 AM
posted by admin

It wasn’t a scientific survey. The results would never hold up under academic scrutiny. But when 23 people are asked the same question and 100% of their responses are qualitatively the same, it’s safe to conclude you’re onto something. That’s what happened to me when I discovered what I call “The Starbucks Effect”™. I carried a clipboard to make me look official, and color copies of the covers of my books proving that I’m a published author. With a big smile, I approached people in Starbucks who seemed to be doing work. “Hi, I’m sorry to interrupt. I’m Judith Kolberg, a local author of books about getting organized. I’m doing research for my next book about how people get their work done. My survey takes less than 6 minutes. Mind if I ask you a few questions?” Here’s what I asked: “Is Starbucks a good place to get work done?” To a person, each person answered, “Yes, Starbucks is a good place to get work done.” Why? Being away from the distractions of the office or home was a popular response. And the chocolate/caffeine rush figured into most people’s explanation of why Starbucks is better than the office or home. “It’s kind of noisy”, I said commented over the roar of the espresso machine, clatter of cups and din of voices. “Doesn’t the noise and commotion bother you?” I asked. “No” or “I don’t even notice it”, everyone said.

Productivity, simply understood as planning a task and carrying it out, is a huge challenge for many people. I’m always trying to figure out the reasons why some people pull it off more than others. The Starbucks Effect is one key. It works like this. The external noise and commotion cancels out internal distractions so that a person can concentrate on the task at hand. The more scientific explanation for this is ‘white noise’. In other words, some people can’t take in what’s going on around them, listen to what’s going on in their head, and perform a task at the same time. The mind cannot do all three. Something has got to go. Apparently, the noise level at Starbucks is goldilocks – not too high, not too low…just right to not be distracting itself. It cancels out internal distractions such as random thoughts, ideas, worries, mental to-do list and self-talk so that you can do the task at hand: study, balance a checkbook, read a report, fill out a form, or write an article. I’d always thought the best conditions for getting work done are a quiet spot, without a lot of background commotion going on. For some people it turns out that a quiet environment devoid of activity is itself distracting. It lets those internal distractions run wild. If you are a person who finds it challenging to execute tasks from end-to-end, to finish things, or you’re dissatisfied with your level of productivity, maybe the Starbucks Effect can work in your favor. It doesn’t have to be Starbucks. I have a client who does his taxes at the airport!

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