IT, by nature is an interrupt driven work environment. At any point in time you could be fighting fires, responding to customer requests, dealing with email, or responding to monitoring systems. IT can be a noisy place to work and therein lay the problem.
Interruption Addiction – It’s a Productivity Killer
It starts slowly with an almost imperceptible urge to check email before starting anything. Maybe you start checking your work queue more often than necessary, in fact you even start hitting “refresh” on your monitoring tool to see what alerts might be waiting to surprise you. Why are you doing these things, because you’re becoming addicted to the interruption. Before you know it your day is wrapped around what your next interruption will be. Without even realizing it you’ve started telling yourself “I shouldn’t start something new or write that documentation we need because I’ll just be interrupted in a few minutes anyway.
There’s Truth in the Lies your Mind Tells You
What’s the best way to tell a lie, wrap it in some truth. Your mind is pretty smart when it’s convincing you to procrastinate, fail your diet or be lazy. In the case of the interrupt addiction your mind tells you things like; “Maybe tomorrow I’ll have a few hours with no interruptions” or “These emails are critical to our customer responsiveness metric”. The worst one is when your mind tries to convince you that any work that doesn’t have an immediate feedback loop is OK to delay.
You Must Fight the Urge for Instant Gratification
The problem is potentially fatal to your productivity and maybe your job. If you identify with any of the comments above, you should immediately pull yourself away from the keyboard and take a long hard look in the mirror.
I’m not suggesting that you should ignore your interrupt oriented duties, what I am suggesting is that you must place a strong focus on making improvements in the function or department you were hired into. There are a number of programs out there for helping you to be more productive at work, but the problem is generally that you have to be looking for help in order to accept it. Most of us that have fallen under the spell of the interruption addiction don’t realize we’re addicted until it’s too late. The demands may seem overwhelming and your concern of disappointing someone valid, but if you don’t block out time to work on real improvements, you will always be fighting fires (the more you fight fires, the more you’ll be fighting fires).
Communication and Acknowledgement
Once you’ve recognized your problem, approach your primary customers, team mates, and boss and let them know you need a little patience from them while you break the habit. You’ll find that most people respond positively to this message, especially when they realize you’ll be using your time to make the problems go away for good, instead of just finding new ways to respond to the same problems faster.
Identify several hours a day when you block out the rest of the world, and allow your mind to focus on real change. It will be hard, the draw to look at email when you pause or lose steam will be as strong as the urge a retired smoker has to light another cigarette, but you must steel yourself. Start by identifying changes that will resolve root cause (and never take “we’ve always done it that way” as a reason to not pursue a fix), then work on ways to improve delivery or bring quality and change management into the equation earlier in the process. Simple things like lists that can be checked off or basic Gantt charts to use for tracking progress and breaking down work effort will help you stay enthusiastic. After a few successes you’ll begin to see the fruit of your efforts and realize that not only are you improving your department, but making yourself more valuable to the organization.
You’re Never Fully Cured, but there is Hope
You might have kicked the habit, but stay alert, like many addictions it can come back to bite you without warning. However, if you create a few simple rules for your daily work effort you can keep the habit at bay and go home a happier less stressed employee as a result. What do you have to lose?