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  • Writer's picturePam Prior

This will just take a minute…

“Excuse me, this will just take a minute…”  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this – or, to be honest, every time I’ve said it myself – I’d be comfortably retired.

Today, interruptions are the norm, and can quickly become the habit of on entire organization.  And looking in the mirror recently, in my place of work, I realized: I am part of the problem.

So what is the impact of this interruption culture?

Lost productivity; pure and simple. Significant, costly, lost productivity.

Some statistics that seem consistent across a few publications:

  1. The average time a worker stays focused on a single task uninterrupted: 3 minutes

  2. The average manager is interrupted every 8 minutes

  3. The average employee spends 28% of their time dealing with unnecessary interruptions followed by “recovery time” to get back on track

  4. It takes an average of twenty minutes for someone to get back to a pre-interruption level of concentration (coupled with the interruption every 8 minutes, we have an exponential downward spiral)

  5. Lost productivity per day per person: 2.1 hours

  6. Cost of managing interruptions at work costs the U.S. economy $588 billion annually

Now I’m not professing that all interruptions are bad or unnecessary; some are critical, and others are even “really important”.  But think about how much value we could add to our organizations if each of us cut the number of times we reach out to interrupt someone else in half.  What a significant impact we would make if just 50% of the time we stopped to realize that what we “need right now” may actually be able to wait just a little bit.

For an organization of 200 people, that 50% adjustment would equate to:

  1. Over 200 man hours per day

  2. 1,000 man hours per week

  3. 50,000 man hours per year!

  4. THAT is almost 25 “Full-Time Equivalent” employees worth of time!

So what’s the cure? 

50% of the time, when I need something from someone else, I can probably send an email or call … if they don’t answer, I can leave a voicemail.  That way my co-worker can get to my question or issue at a time when they are focused on email or voice mail, instead of losing focus on their own important tasks to address my request in the moment.

So I caught myself today coming up to someone (as she was focused on her computer) to say, “Excuse me, this will just take a minute; it’s important.”  I realized what I was really about to imply was, “Look at me! What I need in this very moment trumps what you (a professional hired for your good judgment) have determined is your top priority at the moment.”

So I paused, and instead thought, “I’ll come back or reach out later.”  Sure enough, I survived. And I didn’t throw someone else’s focus off, and saved some valuable minutes of their productivity. They stopped by later and I got what I needed in plenty of time.

Sometimes there truly are crises that need everyone’s immediate attention.  But our challenge as leaders is to not over-inflate our assessment of how important our “immediate need” is.  So – my suggestion to self is to really think hard before I interrupt a co-worker.  And just count the hours of value we would add to the organization if we all did the same thing.

Author, Virtual CFO, and Finance Coach

"Your First CFO: The Accounting Cure for Small Business Owners" on AMAZON

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