It's a little before 7:00 a.m. on a Tuesday and the office is quiet. My wife often asks me why I try to get into the office before everyone else, as if I'm trying to prove something, lead by example, or embody some other agenda. The truth is I just get more done.
I'm not alone (well, I am now, but I mean in this experience). Ask virtually anyone who works in an office environment and they'll tell you that the most productive times are those before and after peak work hours. Want to get something done at 2:00 in the afternoon? Go to a coffee shop, head home, or find a mini storage somewhere with a comfortable chair. Just for God's sake, don't go to your office.
Because people can find you there. How often do you get real, uninterrupted block time at the office for a good three or four hours? I'm betting the answer is "rarely." People come in to chat. Coworkers talk to you about what they're working on...or were before they came in to see you. Managers come in to see if you're working on what you should be working on.
And then the meeting starts.
The manager may think of it as a "quick, 45 minute meeting," but it's not. If the meeting involves 6 people, it's a not-so-quick 270 minute break from productivity. That's the question everyone who calls a meeting should be asking: "is this gathering worth 3½ hours of our organization's time?"
It's funny, but in working with hundreds of small businesses, I find that managers focus on the small things while the big things go unchallenged. Productivity reviews are like the old saying about spider webs in that respect - they catch the fly but let the hawk go free. Managers like to crack down on iTunes or Facebook usage, but never challenge the thought of a meeting or cutting down on daily interruptions. And when employees look to escape the distractions by working from home, they are often met with a knowing "taking-the-afternoon-off" wink, if not outright disapproval.
Contrast this with a study conducted by TNS Research and commissioned by Hewlett Packard which concluded that multitasking causes IQ to drop an average of 10 - the equivalent of missing an entire night's sleep and more than double the fall seen after smoking marijuana.
Perhaps instead of monitoring internet usage (if not scheduling meetings to talk about the epidemic of internet use), companies should sponsor "no-talk-Tuesdays," "no-meeting-Mondays," or encourage employees to designate entire half-day stretches when they do not respond to e-mail or accept phone calls. Maybe even allow people to work in their favorite coffee shop every once in a while.
Look, I'm all for collaboration. And I think a workplace that fosters it will inevitably see better morale, less turnover, greater innovation, and higher customer satisfaction.
But getting the work done? Sometimes that requires shutting the door.
Eliot helps companies overcome the trap of "that's the way we've always done it." Find out how at Outlawyer.