I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year working on optimizing my own time. Yea, it’s a little meta, but I have. In the world we live in with Slack, SMS, Twitter, Email, and all the other dings and pings and notifications of all sounds, how can anyone get anything done?
Here’s a phrase I hear all the time, and I’m surely guilty of it too.
“Why doesn’t anyone respect my time?”
The simple answer is why should they? It’s not their time, it’s yours. The real question is why don’t you respect your own time? Why do you let people interrupt your deep work? Why do you answer questions outside work hours?
Sure, it’d be nice if everyone considered whether you’re busy before every message they sent, but then no one would ever communicate. I’ve been working fully remote for 6 months and have been a part of a partial-remote company for 5 years now. I’ve tried everything from always responding immediately to literally checking my email once a week. Here’s what I learned…
Interruptions Prevent Work
You’ve been working for 45 minutes without interruption: coding, writing that blog post, writing that business saving email, talking down the customer that's about to leave…. DING!
Everything is gone. You have no idea the next line of code you were writing, the next paragraph in the blog post, the next point in the email, or even why the customer was mad.
That one little notification was enough to topple over and throw away 45 minutes worth of context and momentum.
Interruptions prevent work from happening. Even if you don’t respond to the notification, the simple act of noticing it can completely kill the flow of work. If this keeps happening then you just keep starting over and really don’t ever get much done.
Stress comes when you don’t want it
Just one last message to my co-worker, then this conversation will be done. Wait, they said what? I can’t believe…. Hey Dad, do you like my Lego thing? I don’t have time right now!
When you feel like you “have” to work, when you feel like it’s not your choice to work, that’s when it gets stressful. You need to respond to ridiculous questions, deal with bad jokes, and consume all the distracting, frustrating things your co-workers might do during business hours. The second you have to do this on “your time” it won’t end well.
Don’t worry, it’s fixable
Remember when I said that no one should respect your time? Well, the truth is some people will. However, if you change your assumption that no one will, then you can put systems in place to handle that. These are some of the systems I’ve put in place…
DND. I have do-not-disturb configured to turn on automatically on any service that supports it (especially Slack) any time outside of 9 am to 5 pm in my local timezone. Even though most of my company is in Pacific Time, my do-not-disturb starts at 2 pm their time, because that’s when my day ends.
Log out of apps. Any apps that I use for work communication and don’t have to be on my phone aren’t. I have Slack on my phone, but I’m logged out of my work account. Never again can someone click that link that breaks through my do-not-disturb settings to reach me. I go to the communication, I don’t let it come to me.
Stop being so nice. Ok, do be nice, just stop answering those questions late at night because “it’s urgent” or “I’m blocked”. Something that might surprise you is how good people are at finding the answer when it’s not been given to them on a silver platter. Trust me, they will find the answer, or you can answer them tomorrow. If it’s really urgent, you’ll know. It won’t normally be because one person told you, but because the whole company is scrambling.
I hope this helps someone out there to get a little more sanity in their life and maybe a little better work done. Also, remember that you are now not responding to everything immediately, so don’t make that expectation of others. Share this and your whole company can get just a little happier.
Many of these ideas are inspired by many sources on the internet, but none quite so impactful as “It doesn’t have to be crazy at work”. If any of this clicks with you, I urge you to go read it. https://amzn.to/2W06k0e
- Enable DND on all your services automatically outside work hours.
- Log out of work communication accounts on your phone.
- Stop answering questions when you aren’t working, it can wait or it’ll resolve itself.