Have you ever had a day at work where you felt, “I really didn’t get anything done today?   I did things, but didn’t accomplish anything.”  So has Jason Fried, co-founder and president of 37signals, as Chicago based company for web-based productivity tools.  “I was at work, I sat at my desk, and I used my expensive computer.  I used the software they told me to use.  I went to these meetings I was asked to go to.  I did these conference calls.  I did all this stuff, but I didn’t actually do anything. I just did tasks; I didn’t actually get any meaningful work done.”

Fried attributes this to distractions and interruptions in the workplace.  He compares work to sleep, in the sense that you can’t sleep very well if you are constantly interrupted every 30 minutes.  Work is the same way.  If you are distracted by other employees, meetings, phone calls, or various other interruptions, it can be difficult to concentrate.  For creativity to blossom, it takes most people several hours of uninterrupted focus.  And although the typical work day is 8 hours, can you think of the last time you were able to work at the office for 8 hours without interruption? How about 6 hours?  4?  Maybe 2 if you are lucky?  This is why so many choose to come in early in the morning, stay after hours, or even come in on weekends to actually get work done.

Distractions are a broad topic though.  Most managers feel things like Twitter or Facebook are the problem, but Fried says they really aren’t.  The real problem he says, are too many meetings that last too long.  An hour long meeting with 10 people doesn’t waste 1 hour, it wastes 10 hours of productivity, because each of those people could be working.  In many cases, he suggests that these meetings could have been handled by 2 or 3 people in a matter of minutes.

Don’t stress just yet.  He offers some solutions to help with these distractions, and make the office a better place to work for your employees.

  • No Talk Thursdays – Take one day a month (doesn’t have to be a Thursday) and order complete silence around the office.  No one is allowed to speak to anyone else, so that everyone can focus on their work.  “4 hours of uninterrupted time is the best gift you can give someone at work.”
  • Use Passive Communication – Use communication methods like Email or Instant Messaging as opposed to in person communication.  Although some may still see these as distracting, they are distracting at your own choosing. You can close Outlook and focus on your work.  You can logout of your IM client.  You can’t do that to someone standing in front of you.
  • Thin Out Your Meetings – All those meetings you felt you had to have, rethink them.  Take a serious look and determine whether they are absolutely necessary.  You will most likely find that many of them aren’t.