Are you chained to your desk?

With all the advances in mobility for today’s knowledge worker, how can it be that people still feel chained to their desk at work? In a recent meeting with our senior leadership team, I posed the question “Do you feel chained to your desk?” and the resounding answer was “yes!”. Upon inquiring further about why they felt this way the reasoning ranged from the standard “it has always been that way” to feeling obligated to be at your desk because of job function. With the myriad of tools out there to connect people and make it easy to communicate, I thought the requirement of working in a single physical location would be a thing of the past. For companies that have successfully implemented remote workforces, that very well may be true, but for our company, having a space to work still remains the reality.

So how do we change the way we work to be less tied to a location and more tied to productivity and results through uninterrupted focus time?

Use systems to set expectations.

Currently we use Slack for our internal communications. The best thing about Slack and the worst thing about Slack is the pace of communication. If you need assistance from someone on our CoreIntegrator team, simply head to our #0ps-ci channel and you will get immediate feedback directly from the developers. That is great, but can be dangerous. Since we are pushing forward with a new version of the product, focus time is critical for our senior developers working on new features. Now that our team has gotten used to the immediate responses, we must carefully inspect how we use the tool to communicate. If left to its own devices, it can become a distraction rather than a benefit. It is essential that the team agrees on ground rules for a system like Slack. Utilize the system when you want to engage the group or send a private message that does not need an immediate response. Users should set their status to away if they are working on something where they are not checking Slack actively. If you are in a focused Do Not Disturb mode, close the application. Through these simple tweaks you can set the expectations and not fall into the trap of constantly checking the system for new messages.

Another system that nearly everyone uses is a calendar system. There are a number of ways that people use their calendar’s at CSSI. Some use it as a scheduling system showing them their meetings, appointments, and large blocks of time for focus. Others use it as a task reminder system putting little reminders on the calendar to keep them on track. What is critical with our calendar system is having it up to date so that others can see what you are doing. If you would like a block of uninterrupted time, you should set that on your calendar and stick to it! The challenge with these types of appointments is that we tend to allow other things to bump them too easily. Let’s say you have blocked two hours to work on a high priority deliverable that you need to have next week. Inevitably something (or someone) comes up that seems more urgent in the moment. A co-worker needs help, a customer is having an issue, or your boss asks for something new. You simply have to fight that temptation and hold yourself accountable to work on this important deliverable like you set out to do. Set the plan and stick with it!

Email, Email, Email. Who can live without it these days? We are wired to constantly check our email inside working hours and out. When we disconnect from email there is that constant nagging that we are missing something, falling behind, or failing to meet the expectations of the customer or the boss. The solution that I am presenting here is not unique; simply close your email and let people know when you will be checking and responding to email. Does the world fall apart when you are out on vacation disconnected from email? No, everything is waiting there for you when you get back. If you must, set an “out of office” message that clearly sets the expectation for when you will respond to email. In Outlook these days you can set separate internal and external sender responses. Use them!

Don’t Be Afraid To Change Your Routine

There is nothing like a new view to help stimulate your productivity. Start off small by working a few hours a week from a location other than your desk. Make sure you clearly set the expectations (see above) about how and when you can respond to requests from co-workers and customers. See how it goes! Then ask for feedback. Look back and determine if you missed anything while you were away. You will likely be surprised that things moved along fine without you there. Focus on what you are able to accomplish and get done and report back on the results. Once you have established a routine that works for you, stick to it. Being consistent will help you accomplish more and help those around you know what to expect from you.

Don’t be afraid to say “no”

The hardest approach is just to say no to requests that come up. In our culture where immediate feedback and gratification are the norm, it may be hard to delay giving a response or agreeing to change your priority. Stick fast and make your case. You have spent considerable time and effort in determining what your top priority is and then focusing your mind and energy to complete the task. When you are interrupted mid stream, you not only lose productivity but you also get less satisfaction out of your work.

Go Topless

More and more people are tethered to their devices. Access to information on the fly requires at the very least your phone, but if you are inputting data, you will likely need your laptop. While not having to rekey or transcribe notes is a noble intention, I often seen the people taking a peek at their email when they have a moment. They actively disengage from the purpose at hand to take care of something else. This disruption can throw off your flow and make it much more difficult to achieve your intended goal. Unfortunately this is how we have conditioned ourselves to be. If you have a device in hand, you are going to check it! Leave your phone and laptop at your desk when you are really trying to focus and get things done. Having your device with you is a gaurantee to throw yourself off track. By allowing the interruptions, you will get less done. Get your list of big items to tackle and don’t go back to your device until you finish the task at hand. Getting free of your desk is not the only thing you have to free yourself from to maintain focus, free yourself from all sources of distraction.

Each person is different in their approach to getting things done at work, but it is universal that nobody likes being chained to a desk. With the technology available to us, there should be no reason that you are unable to work from a space where you will be the most productive. Use the tools at your disposal to set the expectations about your status. It is not rude or greedy to let people know that would not like to be interrupted. If you can get things done, nobody will care if you work from your desk or not!

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