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Workus Interruptus

A whimsical graphic illustration showing tips to maximize productivity


A personal rant. Not for the faint of heart or politically correct.

Endless texts, tweets, emails, calls, chats, IMs, Facebook updates… What do all these things have in common? They’re all uncontrolled by you and let others control your time. All buzzing and vibrating and stealing your attention from what you should be doing. Not to mention co-workers at your door. “Got a minute?” “What are you doing for lunch?” “You did hear about Nancy and Bob…?”

This issue is about peak productivity. So turn off your smartphone, ignore your email, and dive in. There’s good stuff in here.

Work Interruptions Cost Us 6 Hours a Day

It’s amazing how many ways we can find to thwart productivity. We have excuses for every intrusion. Did you know that each interruption costs you 5-15 minutes to refocus? For IT folks, it’s worse. The phone rings and gets more attention than a car alarm. Even at home people run dripping out of the shower, jump up from the dinner table and interrupt sex (a disturbing disorder we call “coitus interruptus”) just to answer the phone.

I used to be stuck in this inferno (except for the last one). Here is how I resolved to maximize productivity and fix my situation of endless interruptions:

  • Begin work early. Very few reach me at this hour.
  • Ditch the office. Sometimes I do not come in to the office at all and instead work from a “secret” location. One of my favorites is the coffee shop in the lobby of Sheraton Valley Forge. (There goes my secret.)
  • Shut off all electronic notifications. I just periodically check messages. (As an exercise, count the number of times electronic beeps and buzzes interrupt you in one day.)
  • Ignore “disasters.” Nothing is as bad or as good as it initially appears. Not even love at first sight. The simple act of waiting resolves many so-called disasters.
  • Avoid meetingitis. Do you really need that next meeting? Can it be done standing up? Can you skip the refreshments? Perhaps start at 4:45. Everyone just wants to go home so they’ll think twice before launching into an endless discussion. Besides, the people who will stay late are the ones you need.
  • Tame colleagues. Is someone interrupting you every hour with an “idea” or “concern”? Ask him to gather notes and meet you at 4:45 PM the next day. You may find he doesn’t have much to share and has solved or forgotten his problems already.
  • Cut close ties with socialites. You have a career to build. To move up the ladder of success, you need to tame socialization at work—especially with subordinates.
  • Create deliberate quiet time. Quiet means quiet. Absolutely quiet. No interruptions whatsoever. This is not as easy as I want it to be. It takes effort but is totally worth it.

It’s Amazing How Little Value People Place on Their Time

Everyone’s heard the expression “time is money.” But how many really get it? Look at the long line of people squandering their lunch break to get their daily Venti-Soy-Quadruple-Shot-Latte-Half-Sweet-Non-Fat-Caramel-Macchiato-With-No-Foam. It is amazing how Starbucks, like our healthcare system, has trained the masses to stand like sheep in a long line made longer by the comatose kid behind the counter we call a Barista and the ordering of abstruse drinks even a chemist couldn’t decipher by people who eventually reach the front of the line and somehow after 20 minutes of waiting still do not know what to order and rummage for their credit card buried in a two-gallon purse.


Ranting makes me tired. I need a latte.

Peak Productivity Enemy Number One

You know where I’m going here. Yes, I’m going to say it.

Your smartphone is enemy numero uno.

Listen to these words of hope: Not answering your phone, ignoring a text, or not looking at who is calling, will not end your career.

As an aside, did you know that Americans have spent over $24 billion in smartphone repairs over the past 7 years?* To put that in perspective, America currently allocates $3.1 billion in foreign aid to Israel and $2.3 billion to Afghanistan. If your smartphone was really smart, it would deploy a parachute as it fell out of your pocket so it doesn’t shatter when it lands on the floor while you’re waiting at Starbucks for your latte.

Lately I’ve begun noticing men talking on the phone at urinals or conducting a conference call from the stall next to me. (Do women do this, too? Those of you who frequent female restrooms: I would like to hear from you.) Do they really think they’re saving time? How about the time spent cleaning up after an accident? And the repair or replacement cost you’re your phone falls in the crapper? Sorry, I need to pee in peace.

And how about the Too Loud Cell Phone Talkers? I much prefer to be sitting next to a quiet smoker. Six quiet smokers even! Airports should have special glass rooms for obnoxious cellphone users like they do for smokers. Smoking may be a hazard, but it’s also a hazard when you can’t hear your flight being called over the gabbers and have to hurdle over people to catch it.

Okay, rant over. Thanks for hanging with me. If you read this far without reacting to an alert of some kind, congratulations! You’re doing better than most.

Now, let’s produce! Close your computer, turn off your smartphone notifications, and dive into this issue on productivity.

For more tips on maximizing your productivity and jumpstarting your career, check out my new project, mikaelian.com!

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