This morning I got ready for a client scheduled at 11 AM. Around 10:45 I gathered the client’s folder and some paper to take notes, my phone, my laptop, and moved to a location where I could work in private (the home office during the summer has become a high traffic zone. My wife is in and out, and my kids are watching a PBS show on the TV just outside the office door.)
The client didn’t call or connect on Skype, and by the time I decided to use this hour to blog on the subject it was 11:15. I did a few little things in between 10:45 and 11:15, confirmed evening plans with my wife and so on, but really I lost my focus and drifted for all of 30 minutes. In other words, I can’t tell you what I accomplished in that half hour.
If you’re like me, a real workday is about 10 hours. Losing 30 minutes of productivity during that day (and having to reschedule a meeting for another day) means I lost 5% of my day today and 10% of another day (this meeting has to happen, I can’t just cancel with the client). Part of my progress to stay on focus is to shut it off at 5 or 5:30 and very rarely do I let my workday dribble into the evening hours. It isn’t healthy.
I have heard it said that 90 minutes is a good block of time before you take a break. Granted, you need those short breaks – they help you focus too, once you get back to work. If they’re short, you’re more productive overall. The key here is that a break is a planned transition. The unplanned ones are the time-suckers.
Control what you can of your day. Plan your transitions well, and maybe you can get as much done in six hours as you used to in ten. Parkinson’s Law states that the time to complete a task will fill the time allotted. That’s like a turtle in a 20 gallon tank. The same turtle will grow much larger in the wild – in a pond or river. But you can break the law.
I would normally be happy with getting one good blog done in an hour, but this one is complete in 15 minutes, so I’m going to stop and move on again. Maybe I can salvage the rest of the hour this client left me with and accomplish a few other tasks before noon.
A final suggestion: plan ahead for unplanned transitions. For me, today, it was helpful to have a list of blog ideas I wanted to execute so I could just grab one and go. The reality is that you’ll have miscommunications or no call- no shows. Know what you’re going to do if something throws you off your focus. Have a “Plan B;” something small you can shift to quickly, ready at a moment’s notice.
Post script – the client ended up contacting me 30 minutes late – just as I finished this blog. I was glad to be able to squeeze her in. It saves me from doing that hour another day.