How much time in your week do you dedicate to focused, uninterrupted work? This is time you intentionally set aside to think deeply, analyze, envision, or strategize. My hunch is very little. A recent statistic caught my eye but didn’t seem surprising. In a poll of 1600 employees and managers, “60.6% of employees admit that they rarely to never do even an hour or two of deep, focused work each day.”
It’s a tall order. An hour or two of deep, focused work each day. Most working people I know are either in many meetings that break up their day in ways that don’t allow for 2 hours of focused work OR they have so many distractions (email and text notifications on, open office spaces with housemates/colleagues/pets coming and going, etc.) that their attention is regularly diverted.
Not many have the kind of jobs that allow for daily focused time. But the point is there, many of us are missing out on this important activity to turn-out high-quality work. Deep thinking, reflection, or focused time leads to better performance, greater job satisfaction, and less burnout. Distractions, whether they take the form of notifications, office interactions, or meetings, prevent everyone from dedicating quality time to their work and thus reaping the benefits of it.
What I find fascinating is that most organizations will drop everything for a meeting as well as schedule over someone’s “focus time” for a meeting. There are implicit rules that everyone must attend, whether it is of value to them or not. Organizations are willing to accept a loss of productivity (work stops for meetings) despite most organizations near dismal performance in holding productive meetings. Here are just a few compiled stats:
Most employees attend 62 meetings per month, where they say half of them are a complete waste of time.
Executives consider 67% of meetings a complete failure in communicating the purpose of the meeting.
Ineffective meetings cost up to $70 to $283 billion to the US economy.
Clearly there are two topics at play here:
If meetings take place, they need to be productive. This blog has posted plenty on that topic. If you’d like some tips see this, this, and this.
Focus time needs to carry the same weight as a meeting.
This week we focus on point #2. How do we put the same level of urgency, importance, and priority on “focus time”? The same as we do for a meeting. It begins with bosses. Leaders hold the power. Here are three things leaders can do that will amp up the priority of dedicated focus time:
Carve out the time for all I recently observed a VP propose that he would like to reserve Thursdays from 8am-12pm for no meetings. It sounded like his ultimate goal was to get the entire organization to do it but was starting with his own group. It was thrilling to see. While some on the team struggled with the idea at first, focusing their attention on currently scheduled meetings and what to do with them, many seemed to come around quickly. This is a solid approach. If everyone is engaging in “focus time” at the same time, then everyone's use of it is valued.
Reduce meetings Meetings are often a distraction so reducing the number of them frees up time for focused work. A radical approach is to cancel all recurring meetings (like staff and “update” meetings) for 2 weeks and see which ones are missed, if any. Only bring back those that are genuinely needed.
Model the behavior Managers are “on stage” all the time. This means people watch what they do and often will only buy-in to new strategies if the boss does. Which means, carving out the time and supporting others to engage in focus time but not doing it themselves will backfire. Bosses can’t just support it, they have to do it too.
Making focused time as important as a meeting is a shift that will take time and repetition. If you’re not in a leadership role but like this idea, start talking about it now. Raise the concept in a staff meeting, discuss it individually with others on the team, and talk to you manager about it. Most people welcome the idea, it’s the execution of it that is hard. But, when the time is dedicated and at least some are doing it, others are more likely to follow suit.
Until next time!
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.
Start advancing your performance today! Check out Productivity Training for Professionals or Leadership Training for Professionals from GPC Academy, the online training service of Growth Partners Consulting.