Work interruptions can cost you 6 hours a day.

Work interruptions can cost you 6 hours a day.

An efficiency expert explains how to avoid themInterruptions cause 28 billion wasted hours a year, at a loss of almost $1 trillion to the U.S. economy. Edward G. Brown said a big source of these interruptions are “Time Bandits” – people who steal your time. The answer? Create what he calls “Time Locks.”

It’s easy for someone to walk by and ask, ‘Got a minute?’ right when you’re about to finish writing up a big project. And you both know that that minute is never just a minute. And we are our own worst Time Bandits because of the Internet. It’s just about destroyed our ability to concentrate.

Time Locks can provide dedicated quiet time to concentrate, and the Time Bandits should agree in writing not to interrupt during those periods. Brown said at companies using Time Locks, personal productivity shot up 40 to 60 percent. A good starting point could be to talk to your Time Bandits and ask if they suffer from interruptions, too. Discuss how to help each other create more quiet time, and end up with a mutual Time Lock agreement, say for two hours every day to do your most important work.

Brown says sometimes we are our own most stubborn and uncooperative Time Bandits. Checking email, or interrupting ourselves with other distractions. But there are mental hygiene techniques you can learn, psychological martial arts, if you will, to get psychological control of your urge to interrupt yourself. And once you have time and concentration, focus on the harder work when your energy is at its peak, and “batch” easy work for greatest efficiency. Strive to allocate 80 percent of your time to 20 percent of tasks that deliver greatest return on effort. Don’t just work smart, work smart on the right things.

 

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I write for FortuneMagazine and TIME about business and tech. Columbia Journalism grad.

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