Why We Don’t Work at Work -And How We Can Do Better

>> Thursday, January 6, 2011

Have you ever had this experience? You are busy at work all day, and by closing time you’re wrung out and ready to head home, but you realize that – despite all the energy you put out – you didn’t actually get much of anything done.

It happens to me all the time, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. It makes me mad. I like my job, but I hate days when I go home feeling like I just blew nine hours I could have been spending with my kids, and I didn’t even get any good work done.

So I was thrilled when I stumbled on Jason Fried’s talk at TED. Fried is the cofounder of 37signals, and he’s spent years thinking about why it is that we don’t get work done when we are actually at work.
Fried says work is like sleep. When you sleep, you actually progress through three different stages -- and it’s the last stage of really deep sleep when all of the healing and recovery happens that gives you energy for the next day. If your sleep is interrupted before you get to that last stage, then you have to start all over from the beginning. People with infants will tell you that short bursts of sleep here and there, even if it adds up to 6 or 7 hours, wiare not refreshing.

Work is the same way. We progress through stages of focus, and it’s only in that last deep stage when you are in the “flow” that you get your best work done. If you get interrupted, you have to start over from the beginning.

Which makes the modern office pretty much the worst place ever to get work done. Between people wanting to chat, your boss checking in on you, and the endless meetings, solid blocks of uninterrupted time to get work done are few and far between.

Since watching Jason's talk, I stated paying attention to how many times people wander into my office while I’m in the middle of trying to get something done. It happens a lot. And half the time it doesn’t even have anything to do with work. A ten minute talk about your weekend here, fifteen minutes to talk about something cute your kids did there, and before I know it the time I had staked out to get something done has evaporated.

Fried has some pretty out there suggestions to fix the problem – my favorite one is that every Thursday afternoon no one is allowed to talk to anyone else.

I took a simpler approach: I close my door. I have to say, it’s awesome. Sure, sometimes people will knock, but I can choose to answer, or to keep working. It has been so satisfying to go home everyday knowing I produced something, that I find myself closing the door more and more.
If you’re like me, and you get pleasure and a sense of self worth from actually making stuff, I urge you to try the door. If you don’t have a door, then leave. Go to a coffee shop, put your ear buds in, and just focus for 90 minutes. It is a fantastic feeling.

Now if I can just get rid of those dang meetings.

Hope this finds you well,

Jacob Braude
VP, Strategic Planner


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