Olympic Medalist’s Work Tip: Hate Interruptions? Get in “The Zone”
We are happy to welcome VANTAGE Worldwide 2019 conference keynote speaker Bonnie St. John as a guest blogger for Legal Current. Here’s a life hack that Bonnie —Olympic medalist, author, and Fortune 500 leadership coach— shares to help reduce the mental exhaustion we face in today’s fast paced world:
In my best-selling book, Micro-Resilience, we talk about “zones.” It came about because the research on multitasking says that we really can’t multitask as well as we’d like to think. If you need any kind of accuracy, quality, or creativity, multitasking degrades that. Some organizational gurus say, “Only answer your email twice a day, so you’re not being interrupted all the time.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t live in a world where I can answer my email only twice a day!
Instead, we teach people to carve out “zones.” You have people walking into your office, you have texts, you have emails—you’re bombarded with this river of information. Creating a zone is like making an island in that flow. For example, it can be placed at a certain time of day. Share with your team, “Don’t interrupt me at this time.” Alternatively, it could be a place: you shut your office door or go to a conference room.
It’s debilitating to have constant interruptions while trying to do quality work. When you start adding more zones to your schedule, your productivity shoots up, and you feel better, too.
Part of the success of zones is communicating with the people you work with about your zones and how you use them. At what point should people interrupt you? Give people guidelines for that, and also give them the reasons why.
I was working with a group of nurse leaders, who are so caring that, as leaders, they always wanted to have an open door for their people. They hated shutting the door. Part of making zones work for them was communicating why you’re shutting the door. One woman decided she would put a sign on her door that said, “I’m hard at work for you.”
You can communicate, “I need some focus time to make sure you get what you need,” And if you’re doing that, people are going to appreciate it. You’re not just shutting the door to lock them out.
Something that another woman did was to put a notepad on her door so that if you came to her door and it was closed, you could leave a note. And when she was done with her focus period, she could come out and see, “Oh I’ve got to go get in touch with George.” So communication about zones is absolutely critical.
And then recognize that other people need focus times, too. It becomes a two-way street. A lot of people say to me, “I’ve got to be constantly available to my boss.” Try communicating to your boss, “Look, I want to do quality work for you. This is how I need to do it, and here’s how you can support me to get what you need.” You’ve got to sell that this is a better way to work.
Try facilitating a discussion with your team about agreeing on new norms of communication so everyone can get what they need with less interruptions. Small changes can yield big payoffs!
Bonnie St. John is a leadership consultant, Olympic medalist, and best-selling author.