How Can We Get Work Done At Work?

I recently listened to a Ted Talk Jason Fried gave in 2010 titled Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.  Fried talks about the workplace as a series of distractions where real, nose-to-the-grindstone work doesn’t often occur.  Maybe this quote says it best:

“When I ask people — and I’ve been asking people this question for about 10 years — I ask them, “Where do you go when you really need to get something done?” I’ll hear things like, the porch, the deck, the kitchen. I’ll hear things like an extra room in the house, the basement, the coffee shop, the library. And then you’ll hear things like the train, a plane, a car — so, the commute. And then you’ll hear people say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter where I am, as long as it’s really early in the morning or really late at night or on the weekends.” You almost never hear someone say the office. But businesses are spending all this money on this place called the office, and they’re making people go to it all the time, yet people don’t do work in the office.”unproductivecat

His idea: we don’t need these physical offices to do our work and that  they are even restricting, filled with meeting, managers, and useless interruptions that cause you to feel busy all day without getting the substantial work done.  A little cynical sounding? Yes.  Ring of truth? Also, yes.  But it is  radical to suggest throwing away offices all together, and most of us aren’t ready to consider that kind of drastic step.  After all, offices are great venues for collaboration, face-to-face communication, and fostering a healthy company culture.  For now, most offices are here to stay.

But, Fried brings up a very good point.  For most of us, our desk isn’t the place where we are most productive.  There are distractions – noise, coworkers, meetings – that prevent us from having uninterrupted time to devote to a task.  For example, I can often get more done at 7pm on my couch than I might in the office at 10am (when my mind is still waking up).  Think of the times and places where you are most productive and focused … how do they align with your workday?

Let's have ... another meeting!
Let’s have … another meeting!

Okay, we are still going to go to the office.  So how can we re-allocate our time so we are getting our work done at work?  Well, Jason Fried gives us a good starting point:

“We’ve all heard of the casual Friday thing. I don’t know if people still do that. But how about “no-talk Thursdays?” How about — pick one Thursday once a month and cut that day in half and just say the afternoon — I’ll make it really easy for you. So just the afternoon, one Thursday. The first Thursday of the month — just the afternoon — nobody in the office can talk to each other. Just silence, that’s it. And what you’ll find is that a tremendous amount of work actually gets done when no one talks to each other.”

Do you think your office could do it?  Even for a few hours?  If that’s too much to begin with, here are a few other ideas:

  • Block off your calendar for tasks you need to accomplish and stick to it; don’t accept meeting invitations or calls during that time.
  • Block your calendar for follow-up tasks/meetings immediately, so that what’s important doesn’t get missed.  
  • Find an empty office or a conference room that can provide some isolation if you don’t have your own office.  Close the door and get to it.  
  • If you do work better at different times of the day, talk to your company about creating a flexible work schedule if your job positions allows it.  If you never get anything done before 10am and work every night until 7pm, maybe it’s worth making that schedule more official.
  • Stop multitasking. Work on something until it’s completed
  • Cancel meetings that interfere with important work and don’t reschedule.  This is from Fried’s talk, as well.  He assures us we’ll be alright.  
  • Stop Planning, Start Doing.  Yes, sometimes we need to spend months in meetings to rollout a new initiative.  But sometimes all that planning is just spinning tires and it’s time to shift into drive.  

What do you think?  Do you agree with Fried?  Are your more productive at or outside of the office?

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