Nine years ago we decided to leave our normal jobs to start our own business venture. Having worked for companies such as IBM, Motorola, and HP, we benefitted from excellent experiences but also from consistent errors that we saw which we did not want to repeat in the future: interruptions.
Interruptions are those things which destroy your concentration while you are carrying out your tasks. In this article by the Washington Post, they show how interruptions can cause someone to lose up to 6 hours per day at work.
After meticulously analyzing all of the interactions that take place during the work day we were able to distinguish that there are essentially 4 key interruptions which must be eliminated if you want to increase your productivity and consequently improve your company’s results:
1) No Emails.
It all starts with the most basic thing you use for communication: email.
On average, you need between 3 to 4 continuous hours in order to reach your optimal level of work.
If you are in the middle of a project and you receive an email, you will most likely read it and give a response, which creates an interruption that according to you will cost 5 minutes but in reality it is a lot more because the time it takes for you to regain concentration and return to your optimal level of work can be up to 30 minutes.
Intel carried out a study where they estimated that emails could cost big companies up to 1 billion Dollars as it decreases the productivity of the employees.
Adding to this is the inconvenience of email, where everything communicated remains behind closed doors between those who sent it and received it.
After trying out various options in order to solve this problem in our company, we ended up developing our own internal work platform which basically lists all of the projects that we are currently working on and who is collaborating on each one.
In this way, whoever that might have a question or need to contact someone must do it through this medium and the one who answers must be logged into the platform to do so. Therefore, if you are working you will not receive any email or notification, once you are done with your 4 hours of continual work you will be able to log in and not until this time will you be able to give an answer.
Additionally, all this information is open to whoever wants to access it within the company and if someone wants to come on board of a project in the future, just by giving them access they will be able to so as everything is published in just one place, organized and up to date.
Today, several platforms exist like this for administering projects, which allow you to begin eliminating the use of emails in your company such as Jira, Asana, Todoist, Trello, etc.
2) No meetings.
The second greatest obstacle are meetings. A survey done by the Centre for Economics & Business Research, showed that for employees working in an office, half of the time spent in meetings is wasted.
The best way to eliminate this factor for interruptions is by directly prohibiting meetings in your company. However, for many, this is a difficult hurdle to jump.
It was the same for us, and the road that we took was the following: to start, we decided to limit meetings to a maximum of 15 minutes with no more than 5 participants. Over time, we lowered these limits to 10 minutes and 3 participants and kept doing so successively until we were able to eliminate them completely.
The problem with meetings is that they do not just take 1 hour away from your company, but if you multiply it by say 8 people that attended, we are talking about 8 hours lost. In other words, in order to make up this time you will have to hire another person full time.
With the current technology and with a good project management system as we saw in the previous point, today, everything that can be solved in a meeting can be achieved through these mediums without the inefficiency created by going to a meeting.
Lastly, another thing that helped us to completely eliminate meetings was to do 2 group retreats per year where we all meet in one place such as Bariloche Argentina, Palma de Mallorca Spain or Playa del Carmen Mexico, and it is there where we decide as a team our mid and long term plans, along with those who are responsible for them.
3) No bosses.
The topic of managers is very closely related to that just discussed, meetings. In general terms, the schedule of a boss is mainly filled up with meetings. This means that one more meeting for them (bosses) doesn’t change things too much. However, for someone who effectively carries out the work, a meeting can result in losing an entire morning or afternoon. To get a better grasp on this point, I recommend this excellent story which was written by the famous entrepreneur Paul Graham.
If you would like to achieve maximal productivity at work, the best thing is to work 4 continuous hours in the morning, then take a lunch break and finally go home after another 4 hours with no interruptions in the afternoon. This is the ideal situation which will generate the best results.
However, if in the middle of these 4 hours of work you are called into a meeting that lasts just 30 minutes, for this you will have to cut your level of concentration 15 minutes beforehand in order to prepare for the meeting, attend the meeting itself which generally tends to go longer than desired and lastly go back to you work station where you will lose on average another 30 minutes in order to regain your highest level of concentration, at which time you realize that it is almost time to go to lunch if it was scheduled in the morning or home if in the afternoon.
You must understand that for creative people like engineers, programmers, writers, designers, and many other professions, each interruption such as these is your worst enemy in generating results for your company.
For this reason, we decided to work without bosses. As the mid and long term goals (along with those responsible) are determined by the team during retreats every 6 months and also the fact that all of us have access to the platform for projects, where everyone can see what each person is working on, then the function of follow up and control by a boss becomes unnecessary.
Important: in order for this work method to be viable for your company, it is essential that you work only with proactive people, therefore focus your efforts on finding people that have this quality. We are all adults and we do not need someone behind us like a babysitter in order for each to do their job.
4) No offices.
After having offices for over 2 years we decided that the best office was not to have one.
It doesn’t matter how nice your office is, such as that which Google has , the interruptions there will end up having a negative impact on your company.
If you do a test and take a survey in your own business, you will see that when your employees are asked: “Where do you go when you need to finish a job on time and in form?”, they will hardly say the office. The places most used are: an empty room in their home, on the train, or at a café.
The truth is that in the open office spaces which are common in today’s work places, avoiding any interruption such as a personal greeting, some commentaries by a co-worker, or being asked a question at the last minute is impossible. While if you work from your home, all of these interactions are made digitally which you can put off till later, when you finish your current tasks.
As can be seen in this article published by CNN , today’s modern office has become a factory of interruptions and working there is not viable.
5) Work 4 days per week.
Lastly, if you can implement the 4 work methods mentioned above, you will note how the company’s productivity level definitely produces results.
All of this improvement will give your company the possibility of offering a 4-day work week instead of 5. The number of tasks that your employees can carry out will be the same or even more than before.
This concept came to fruition upon understanding that it is impossible to achieve a proper balance between work and life if you work 5 days and are only left with 2 for activities such as house chores, family events, hobbies, sports, etc.
At the beginning, we decided to implement this method with just taking off 1 Friday per month. After a few months went by, we decided to take off every other Friday. Now, every Friday is a day off.
The advantages were surprising. To begin, every Monday we are completely recharged and ready to get to work. Especially in creative jobs where more time working or in front of the computer does not necessarily mean bigger and better results.
Another advantage point is the possibility of hiring and retaining top-notch professionals. Today, those who are extremely talented have job offers from all over the world and being attractive enough for them to choose you and stay with you is an important competitive edge.
Being able to dedicate 50% more of their time to family is a key factor (going from a weekend of 2 to 3 days). Furthermore, we are noticing that the employees request less days for doctor’s appointments. As Doctor John Ashton shares, 4 days a week significantly reduces the level of stress. 44% of female doctors work 4 days or less per week and this figure is increasing yearly by 29%.
Recommendation: Don’t implement these 5 changes all at once in your business, start with one, observe the results, make the proper adjustments in order to improve and then go on to the next step. This is a process that can take several months and even years, but the results will justify it: a better work method for you, for your employees, and consequently better results for your company.
This story and its experiences were shared by programmer Cristian Rennella, founder of CréditosOnline for Argentina. In his latest pursuits is the goal of improving the influx of artificial intelligence in Latin American countries.