Productivity is as Productivity Does

Work differs. The other day somebody told me about the problem of getting into some kinds of work. It went something like this (paraphrasing):

With computer programming it takes more time to get in and out of it. You can’t just stop to talk, or answer an instant message, and then continue. Interruptions make a huge difference. With regular management it doesn’t matter as much.

And that strikes me as true for several kinds of work. Writing a book, designing websites, and creating an original business plan are some things I’ve done that suffer the same need.

And management, on the other hand, is a hodgepodge collection of quick tasks and constant interruption. Distraction can be a problem sometimes, but it’s much more the rule than the exception. Emails and instant messages and quick conversations are the bricks and mortar of the management job.

In the concentrated content-creation work, interruptions are death to productivity. In management work, interruptions are the essence of productivity. I think I know: I’ve done both for decades.

A lot of us have the interesting problem of doing both. Is that you? Do you manage and create, as part of the same job? Lots of expert businesses, the bloggers, coaches, or consultants, are in that boat. Do you think you need to set aside separate blocks of time for writing, or other content work? Would it work to divide your day into pieces?


  • Natalie says:

    As an entrepreneur I am in that boat of creating and managing. And handling this is, oddly enough, also a huge coaching topic with many of my clients. I use a time blocking strategy where I lay out my week with certain tasks (of similar effort) being grouped together in blocks of time on certain days. For the times I set aside to create, I turn off the phone’s ringer and set a timer for the amount of time I want to allocate to creating. Some days are more productive during that time than others, depending on my “creative flow”.

    I also agree with John E Smith’s comments, having worked for and consulted in corporate environments, I have found that coming in with changes to the way “it’s always been done” is met with opposition and takes lots of encouragement but the results speak louder than words. We should all have systems in place to head off the interruptions that can occur at our most productive times of the day, whether managing or creating in our work.

  • Gordon says:

    I work in the healthcare industry and I have interruptions all day long?!@%$. Every day I’ll have great ideas (at least I think they are) about a new topic I want to write on and wouldn’t you know, someone in the office thinks their problem needs my attention. Just like that, my great thought is gone. (Oh,well, I didn’t really need the million dollars that idea was going to create.)

  • Nathalie says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the nose. If a writer is to write, there needs to be an understanding within an organization that a creative space is needed. And that space is without interruption. It’s amazing how quickly ideas flow in and out of my thoughts. Inspiration comes when I am permitted to delve deep into the topic- which is why I tend to do most of my content/copy writing at night. I’ve elected to work 3 out of 5 days at home, my most productive days. I use time in the office as buffer days- days to handle the interruptions. Thanks for a great post.

  • John E. Smith says:

    Hi, all – interesting topic.

    “Just because this is the way it is does not mean this is the way it should be.”

    Your comments about interruptions being part of the daily deal has a familiar ring to me. I once had the unenviable task of convincing employees to give up their personal organization systems in favor of a standardized work flow and document organization system, which included some standards for workplace interactions.

    Chief among these was the idea of “Quiet Time” – a period each day when interruptions of any type were to be minimized so everyone could focus on uninterrupted work. A simple and classic approach to actually getting things done.

    This experience was one of the more challenging of my work career, but I learned several important things:

    1) People will resist and sabotage things that are ultimately beneficial to them . . . A lot . . . For a long time . . . In creative ways.

    2) Supporting and encouraging are better than forcing and arguing – takes longer, but sticks better.

    3) Results drive engaged adoption. Once people experience the difference, they become disciples.

    Work does not have to be this way. I don’t care how long people have accepted interruptions and interrupted each other or how they justify doing so. We can change and this particular change is worth doing.


  • Charles Robinson says:

    I don’t think Paul Graham started this idea because I’ve been reading articles about it going as far back ask the 1960’s.

    I am the Senior Programmer at work (I’m the only one currently) and the IT Manager. I also work in a completely open space, so I hear every little noise from anywhere in the office. It’s a tremendous productivity killer for me. I try to block off time to get things done but nobody else seems to care that I need to focus. They go right on having their loud conversations and walking up and interrupting me.

  • Janet Bailey says:

    Interruptions get a bad rap, but you’re right, for some kinds of work, interruptions ARE productivity. Two takes on this that I like are Pierre Khawand’s Results Curve and Charlie Gilkey’s distinction between creating, connecting and consuming. Another point: Setting aside blocks of time is a smart thing to do, but for a lot of entrepreneurs the most insidious interruptions are the internal ones. It takes a lot of practice to avoid our own tendencies to self-distract during challenging tasks.

  • Berislav Lopac says:

    I believe this was best described by Paul Graham in his essay Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Berislav thank you for that, I’m glad I wrote here somebody told me rather than taking credit myself, because I’m sure that it started with Paul Graham. Great link, his piece is excellent.

      And Janet, thank you, glad to see you here and thanks for the links. I love your “time management without punishment” tag line on your profile.

  • stu says:

    duh yeah, any interuption when you are in the middle of something important and intense, it can take up to 15 minutes to get your mind back to the genius level where you were at before you were interupted.

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