Job Skills

14 actions to boost your job performance this year

Updated for 2020. Time to close up for the year and start looking at the next one. When I think about the upcoming year, I want to come up with actionable, doable tasks that will help your career and job performance. Blue sky stuff doesn't cut it; only things that lead you to employment security do. Let's take a look at the list:

14 actions to improve your job performance this year


Update your resume. Your resume is a living document based on the work you’ve done over time. It is easy to remember and/or find the information you need to update your resume from the work you’ve done this past year. It’s not easy to find the same information from five years ago when you need to update your resume to apply for that cool job that just became available. Thus, update your resume. Now.


Update your LinkedIn profile. Although LinkedIn is many things, one of the primary purposes of the site is to allow you to present your job skills and experience out there to the world. Recruiters use LinkedIn to find candidates. Help them find you so you can have consideration for that cool new job that you never knew was available.


Learn a new job skill. Job skills are the currency of choice in the job market. If an employer determines you don’t have the skills to do the job, you’ll never get a shot at the interview – or promotion. Having the job skill is no guarantee of landing the job, but not having the job skill is often a reason to not even interview you.


Nail down your business goals. This means both how you will achieve your business goal and how you will measure it to ensure success. Too many people get their goals for the year in corporate American and then drop them into the (electronic) file cabinet. Then get surprised at the end of the year when management rates them poorly because they couldn’t prove they met their goals. Don’t let this happen to you.


Determine your current job satisfaction. Determine what areas of your job you want to track. Your manager, the company culture, your coworkers, your pay, and others. Then determine how satisfied you are with each area, giving it a numerical rating.

Tracked over time, it will help you see your job satisfaction trend. The trend is important and gives you an early indication on if your satisfaction is getting better or worse. It will help you see if you need to be looking for a new position.


Improve your status reporting to your manager. The simple status report can become a powerful way to consistently show your work to your manager and provide the documentation needed for your performance review.


Get all of your personal documents out of the office. Get it off of the work computer (you don’t own anything on your work computer, including your personal stuff; the company does), get it out of your desk. Take your status reports home. Take your performance reviews home. Take any kudo emails, print them, and take them home.

Both times I was laid off, I had to immediately turn in my computer and was walked (nicely) out the door. Don’t lose all the critical career data you need for finding a job by having it at work. That just sucks.


Subscribe to services (like my newsletter) with your personal, not corporate, email address. Same reason. When I send out my newsletter, I always have “out of office” responses that include “Mary Smith is no longer working at…” coming back from corporate email addresses.

Have your career stuff go to your personal email accounts. It's your career resources; don't cut them off when you get laid off or move to a different position at a different company.


Resolve to get the personal contact information for people who leave the company. They are going to work at some other company. Wouldn’t it be nice to know how it is going at that other company if you decide to move on? Or if the company lays you off and you must move on?

Yes, it would.


Resolve to add ten people to your business network this year. Track it. Your business network is critical to finding answers needed for your work – and finding jobs when you decide to leave.


Help someone in your business network every month. Whether it is to answer a question, introduce them to someone they need or want to talk with, or help them navigate your hiring process because they would be a great addition to your company, helping people first is critical to your credibility when your turn comes to seek help.


Consider interviewing for another position. Think about it: interviewing is our least practiced job skill because we so rarely interview for a job. If you feel you are secure in your position – or it has been a long time since you’ve interviewed for a position – consider going through the process. You’ll find out how difficult it is and it will help you gauge the amount of time it will take you to find another position.

I had a coworker who had the objective of landing one job offer a year going for a position he would work in. And, yes, he eventually took one of those offers.


Decide to pay off at least one bill this year. The car payment. The credit card. The highest interest rate loan you have. Get rid of it. It will give you more take-home pay and you won’t be supporting companies with your interest payments.

This is easier done with a method to follow. I suggest You Need a Budget because it is a different approach to spending money.


Max out your 401(k) or IRA plan. Figure out how much it would take per month to do so and then put that amount into the plan. You’ll take a hit in take home pay – but not as much as you might think because of the tax deferment. The earlier you bite the bullet, the bigger the payoff later. Compounding does that.

Even if you can't max out the amount, max your amount you can into the plan. If you don't have any contributions now, minimally put in the amount that maximizes the employer match because you are literally giving away the biggest return on your money you'll ever get.

Then go above and beyond and take a percentage -- like 15% -- of your income as the next step and keep plowing in your raises/bonuses until annual increases get you to the maximum. 

There will be no pensions left (at least in the US), Social Security is no match for your income, and all you will have to live on is what you save. The earlier you can max out your 401(k), the better.

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Job Performance

3 questions to ask when your new hire sucks

As a manager, it is a great relief to go through the hiring process and, after great deliberation, hire what you think is a great new person to help out your team.

Once in a while, though, that great new hire walks in the door on day one and doesn’t look or sound like the great hire you thought. All of a sudden, your new employee is not meeting expectations. It’s not just buyer’s remorse; it is this sense that the person you interviewed doesn’t resemble the person in front of you that should be doing the work.

It’s crunch time. Either this will turn around quick — or this bad hire will start giving you and your team heartburn. What to do?

My recommendation is to let this person go, sooner than later. But before you do that, here’s three questions that need an answer:

1. Did you give clear goals and expectations?

Within the first week, you should outline what work expectations you have for the employee. That includes turn-around times, goals for the work, and administrivia such as how to do your particular status report and when to give it. Now, you’re not going to get every expectation down. But you’ll get most of them down.

When expectations aren’t met, it’s important to call out the new employee that the expectations are not being met. This does two things: first, it shows the person the manager is paying attention, and, second, it helps calibrate where the employee is in the work so both of you start to do some mind-melding on the level of work required.

Now, managers often suck at providing good expectations and goals — no doubt about that. As a new employee, if your boss isn’t providing these expectations, you need to go ask about them to make sure you don’t get nailed about not meeting expectations even if none were provided (which also sucks…).

2. Do you offer a good on-boarding process?

When you start on a job, there is a huge amount of information to process. It’s better to process this information in smaller chunks and with different people providing the information. One person can explain corporate organization. Another how the work gets done. Another on how your particular method is implemented in this organization.

If you don’t have this sort of support, you need to offer it yourself or your new employee will never get to the rules of the road in your company. But if you do offer a good process and the new employee isn’t getting it, it is further confirmation that this is a bad hire.

3. Do your current employees agree?

If you are in a trusted environment with your team, you can ask your team (individually) about the new hire. I did that today, for example, with an existing person on my project team about a new team member hired last week. Good feedback on the new hire as well. But if you get lots of negative feedback — or the non-verbal reluctance of a person to describe how much your new hire sucks — you should have all sorts of warning signs that this isn’t a good hire. You don’t do this in a group setting, of course, but you need to ask your team how the new person is doing, knowing all the biases your team has about the work.

The 800-pound elephant in the room

Here’s the deal: for a manager to admit a mistake, either through poor interviewing or a job candidate who provided all the “right” answers but fails to translate the answers on the job, is very difficult. People are never wrong. Neither are companies. It requires a strong ego to say the job isn’t going to work out. It requires freedom from fear of showing a mistake made by a manager to the management team. Can you admit a mistake? That’s the 800-pound elephant in the room.

Look, there are great interviewers who lack great execution on the job. Just like there are poor interviewers that are great on the job. If you get a great interview and lousy on the job person, cut your losses or you’ll end up covering up the mistake for a long, long time.

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Job Performance

3 ways to deal with too many bosses

It’s one thing to deal with one manager. It’s worse dealing with another. And another. And all those stakeholders who think they can have a piece of your time to do work for them. Not only can it drive you crazy, but you can end up getting a poor performance review from too many bosses and too little time.

All is not lost in this situation, though.

Have a very tight task management system

Your task management system is what you use to keep track of what you need to do and when you need to do it. You might think this is just a ‘to-do’ list, but a system is more than one part. Your calendar is one part of your task management system. So are your reference files. And so is your to-do list.

When it comes to having too many bosses, your task management system is critical for a particular reason: it is the complete inventory of the work you need to do and when you need to get it done. Without the inventory, all your talk about “too much to do” isn’t very clear to anyone on the outside looking in. Your inventory of work is what shows others how much you have to do. Only then can you have a discussion on what the priorities are for your work — and what you don’t have to do.

Your manager comes first

Let’s be clear here: your manager is your most important customer. Not your customers, not your stakeholders, not your teammates, not your coworkers, no. Your manager is your most important customer. Your manager writes your review. Your manager hired you (or inherited you) to help reach your manager’s goals. Your manager can push back against outsiders asking you to do work and can re-prioritize your work with others.

Fail your manager and it doesn’t matter how many people you have asking for your time; you’ll fail.

(And, of course, the huge range of effectiveness managers have in helping you makes a difference).

Push back with priorities and force managers and teammates to talk

If you have your inventory of work and your manager comes first, the rest is prioritizing by managers. Your manager has first dibs on your time and effort. Point out the inventory, point out the conflicts and ask your manager to help with what you should be working on to meet his or her business goals. And, by the way, if your manager starts you working on something that is not in your goals, then you need to talk about the impact this work will have on meeting your goals.

But, let’s just say your manager sucks and does a lousy job at pushing back on the workload and doesn’t want to engage others about prioritizing work. Now you’ll have to point out your priorities and workload to other managers who ask you to do work. While keeping focus on your manager’s goals and knowing your inventory of work, others will get that you are working overtime to get stuff done and will (usually) move stuff around for you.

Without having your own house in order, though, all that push-back will be for nothing.

How do you keep track of all the work you do? How do you handle this situation?

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Job Performance

Why you should strive for excellence at work, not perfection

People — and managers — have perceptions about our work. These perceptions influence how people work with you and also how they help you in your work and career. When trying to present yourself to others at work, I would suggest striving for excellence, not perfection. Here’s why.

Perfection has pitfalls

Perfection means you never finish

Today’s business moves too fast to achieve perfection. While you are working on ensuring there are no mistakes, nothing that will cause issues and imposing order on your work, your customers of your work become more impatient — “can’t you give me something?” — and eventually leave.

As Psychology Today notes:

What turns life into the punishing pursuit of perfection is the extent to which people are worried about mistakes. Concern with mistakes and doubts about actions are absolute prerequisites for perfectionism. Perfectionists fear that a mistake will lead others to think badly of them; the performance aspect is intrinsic to their view of themselves. They are haunted by uncertainty whenever they complete a task, which makes them reluctant to consider something finished.

Perfection takes too long

Perfectionists tend to not finish tasks because they are so afraid of making mistakes or not completely looking at all aspects of the work. This takes an inordinate amount of time, compounded by constantly reviewing work to look for mistakes.

If you needed quality work done quickly, would you give the work to a perfectionist?

Perfection reduces your performance

Because people are worried about making mistakes, they get anxiety over the work they do, reducing their performance levels — even causing failure. Again, from Psychology Today:

The incessant worry about mistakes actually undermines performance. Canadian psychologists Gordon L. Flett and Paul L. Hewitt studied the debilitating effects on athletes of anxiety over perfect performance. They uncovered “the perfection paradox.” “Even though certain sports require athletes to achieve perfect performance outcomes, the tendency to be cognitively preoccupied with the attainment of perfection often undermines performance.” Over-concern about mistakes orients them to failure.

strive for excellence at work

Instead, strive for excellence

Excellence in the workplace delivers quality

Quality work meets the standards needed for your deliverable. Excellence also means that you’ve identified the areas that are OK for this go-around, but could be improved for the next iteration of the work.

Excellence is about doing outstanding work, not perfect work

This is a difference in perspective. Think of a baseball hitting average of .300 — outstanding compared to the competition. Yet, a perfectionist would think of themselves as an utter failure for getting an out 7 of 10 times at bat.

“There’s a difference between excellence and perfection,” explains Miriam Adderholdt, a psychology instructor at Davidson Community College in Lexington, North Carolina, and author of Perfectionism: What’s Bad About Being Too Good? Excellence involves enjoying what you’re doing, feeling good about what you’ve learned, and developing confidence. Perfection involves feeling bad about a 98 and always finding mistakes no matter how well you’re doing.

Are you a perfectionist in your work?

We always strive for accuracy in our work — think of a nurse or a doctor administering medication to a patient, for example. But accuracy is different than perfection. Someone who focuses on excellence is proud of their 100% accuracy in delivering medication to patients. Someone who focuses on perfectionism delivers the same 100% accuracy in delivering medications — but wonders if they really did it right.

You build confidence from excellence; you will cover mistakes if you are a perfectionist.

Wouldn’t you rather strive to achieve excellence?

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Job Skills

5 tips for talking to a CEO

There are lots of articles about how to talk to people in higher levels of management. Most of them start with the wrong premise. For example, many writers consider an opportunity to speak to upper management more on the level of meeting royalty. One article put it this way: “If you are granted an audience.” Yeah, an audience… And given income levels, perhaps that isn’t so far off the mark.

But consider this: I was talking about vacations with a friend who goes “up north” to the lake every year. Every year, a big-time CEO comes for the weekend. He comes in his private plane, goes to his home on the lake, hires the same fishing guide and then spends two days fishing on the lake. At the end of the two days, gets back on his private plane and goes back to work.

I’m thinking all that is pretty extravagant — seriously, fly in on private plane to a house barely used, spend two days and fly back? My friend counseled me this way: it’s not about the money, nor the extravagance. Instead, it’s the only time the CEO gets to spend talking about every day stuff — how the fish are biting, how the kids are doing in school, how the relationship is with the wife (in this case).

The only time, as the rest of the time is all about figuring out who is trying to impress him versus who and what the agenda is all about.

The guide, you see, doesn’t care if you are a CEO. The fishing guide wants to make sure you catch some fish and enjoy your time.

Much can be learned from that simple story. Here’s how to talk to a CEO — for real.

1. State your conclusion or request for a decision up front

CEO’s and other managers are in meeting after meeting after meeting. They have limited time (although, with their position, they actually have unlimited time to work something). And since everyone has an agenda, the first thing higher level managers try to figure out is what you really want. So tell them. Within the first paragraph of talking to them.

Once you tell them what you are asking them to do (“looking for approval to spend $100,000 on improving our system to increase inventory turn…”), the CEO will then understand where you are going and will listen to your logic on how you got to the request. Rather than spending your limited time trying to figure out what you want until the end and missing all the data points in between.

In my case, I usually provide all the logic and reasoning up front and then ask — at the end — what I really want. It’s a mistake and I had to rearrange my conversation (in email as well…) to state what is being asked for up front. Make it clear and obvious what you want out of the conversation.

Once you ask for what you want, your CEO may not agree with you, but now you’ve put that person in a position to listen to what your reasons are for the request.

CEO’s and other high managers are paid to make decisions. Tell them the decision you want them to make.

2. Use results to support your case

Opinions are a dime a dozen (including this one!). Better to support your argument with actual results, real numbers and rigor in the analysis. You don’t need to explain how you did the study — but what the study found as a result (“we found that ten products contributed more than eighty percent of the slow inventory turn…”).

If the CEO wants details on how the study was conducted, he or she will ask. You don’t think you got the “audience” with the CEO without getting vetted, do you?

You can also provide other options that were considered before making the recommendation and why those options were removed from consideration. The reasoning needs to be there, though.

Bullet points with each reason also force you to get organized given the minimal time most of us get when talking with a CEO or other executives.

3. Give your opinion if asked

Data is great as far as it goes. But your business judgment counts for something — that’s why you do the job you do. You understand how things work at your end.

In the beginning of my career, I thought executives knew how things work. To a degree, they do. But unless you’re talking something strategic for the direction of your company, most executives don’t really know how things work. They sense the process issues, the inherent problems with a department, but they need people who really know how things work so a problem gets solved or an opportunity can be made.

You know how those work — or don’t. The company is paying you for your business judgement on how things work and that is something we tend to forget – I know I did.

No set of data is complete — far from it. The skill of a CEO comes from making decisions with incomplete data and conflicting facts. Opinions, in the end, count. While you want facts to show your position, your facts inform your opinion.

And don’t be wishy-washy in your opinion. If asked, give it, and if not everyone agrees with you, say so.

4. If you advocate a position, know where the group stands on the position

I have no love for people who say one thing to me in the hall and then say something different because of the way the political winds blow in a meeting. If you know the position and that blowing in the wind starts to happen, you can politely call them on it by talking about your conversation with them. Bloody their brown nose in a polite way.

That being said, if you are presenting and there are legitimate differences in how something could be done, it’s worthwhile presenting the options and why people believe in the option.

If you’re leading the presentation and you’ve come to a conclusion, don’t bury the conclusion in all the other options discussed — start with the preferred position, the reasons, and then talk the other options and the reasons for rejecting them.

That way you keep your group together and include their final ideas in the discussion.

5. Don’t expect an answer or direct response to your request

Since everyone has an agenda, everyone is looking for the slightest sign of anything from the CEO about the meeting (which is why the CEO needs to go fishing on a weekend to get back to reality).

You asked for what you wanted, you made your case, you showed the work you did. That’s what you went in to do. You don’t directly report to the CEO as a Cubicle Warrior, so the CEO won’t say much to you directly because the CEO needs to work through your manager.

Since you don’t report to the CEO, your CEO will speak with your manager — or your manager’s manager — about what was said and decide from there. You talk with the CEO to influence a decision; that’s the accomplishment.

CEO’s are people

This is obvious, so people should get off the notion that a meeting with the CEO is some sort of “audience” with royalty. Yeah, some CEO’s and executives are, unfortunately, assholes with power issues. No one can help you with that situation.

But if you have a meeting with senior managers, it is important to remember they are people — they have families, they have hobbies, they have social activities they do and they take part in the areas outside of work that interest them.

And you have something valuable to contribute: your business judgment on how something should be done because of the work you do. The CEO doesn’t have that perspective: you do. That means you can offer value to the conversation if you present your information in a way that helps solve problems.

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Job Performance

How to do a performance review of your manager

It is coming to the year-end performance review time. We’re all concerned about our performance review, of course, but now is also a good time to review the performance of your manager in terms of how effective the manager is with you and your work. Most people evaluate their manager every day — based on their emotional reactions to what is happening around them that day. They miss the bigger picture of a manager’s performance.

So how should you evaluate your manager? Let me suggest five great questions to ask yourself.

1. Did your manager follow the career processes in place at your company?

There is a reason companies have career processes in place — the ones relating to setting your goals, writing your reviews and having communication with employees about their performance. The reason is they want to have consistent feedback between managers and their employees so everyone can achieve the business goals.

You may disagree with the process or not agree with the outcomes of the process, but the very first thing to ask is if the processes were followed. If you are supposed to get a written review, did you? Many people don’t even though it is a requirement of the company. Did you get goals to work on? I’ve had managers tell me to not worry about the goals until later. And later never comes.

Consequently, the first question to ask is if the manager followed the company career processes for employees.

Now if your company doesn’t have any processes around your career, the better question is if the manager provided goals, performance reviews and communications plans. That means your manager is going above and beyond your company’s policies to tie your work with performance and goals.

2. Did you have well built goals that were also modified over the year?

Not all goals are built the same. And even if a SMART Goal is built correctly, it doesn’t mean the goal is right for you. In the process of building your goals, did your manager take your information into account? Did your manager tweak the goal to match what you can control about the goal? There’s a reason I offer a SMART Goal product; too many employees don’t understand how goals should be built and managers don’t modify them the right way to get the right performance from the employee.

In addition, business changes over the course of the year — and most goals don’t. What started off as really important to the business starts to change mid-year and by the end of the year the priority is different. Yet, when it comes time for your performance review, you’re stuck with the same old goals that are no longer relevant to your work. Yet neither you nor your manager changed the goals — and that effects your performance review rating.

Some companies are now modifying their goals from yearly to something shorter in time — quarterly or something defined by you and your manager. That’s great, but the principle still applies — you and your work change based on the changes in need from your customers, internal or external.

When the game changes, the rules change and your manager should help you close out goals that no longer have the priority and create ones that do. That’s a good manager.

3. Do you know what will be in your performance review before you get it?

If you don’t know your big hitters in your review, it means there wasn’t enough one-on-one communication about your work performance over the year. There should be no surprises in the review, save a higher bonus than you were expecting!

But both managers and employees are reluctant to have performance discussions, whether the performance is good, OK, or needs improvement. Yet, without this ongoing review of your work, you will have no ability to improve your work to help your performance.

Take your goals plus the competencies that are in your performance review. Write down the three things about each one that your manager will talk about. Then get the review and see how close you came. The more divergent the outcome, the more one-on-one time you need with your manager to get on the same page about performance and the less effective the manager.

4. Did your manager clear roadblocks to help your performance?

No employee can do it all, especially all the time. People, processes and technology inevitably get in the way of what you need to do to get the job done. It’s your job, then, to escalate the issue to your manager. Now comes the big question. Did your manager help you clarify what needed doing or intervene on your behalf to clear the issue?

If your manager helped you clear a roadblock or helped you get around it so you can continue to work, you’ve got a good manager.

5. Did your manager succeed with his or her manager?

Managers have managers as well. Part of being an effective manager — just like an effective employee — is accomplishing goals for the manager’s team. Did the manager make the business goals through you and your coworkers? Did your manager manage the goals so they were possible to make? Did your manager get his or her manager to clear roadblocks to your group accomplishing their work?

If this is what you observe, then you have a good manager. If your group didn’t make their goals or your manager didn’t make the effort to change what needed changing with their manager, it isn’t effective management.

Good managers are rare – that’s why performance reviews of managers are important

Business is supposed to be about working to achieve results, whether it is supporting customers or supporting employees. Your relationship with your manager is the single biggest influence on your satisfaction with the job. It makes sense, then, to do the evaluation of your manager in a way that supports what you want done on the job and for your career. These five questions will get you pointed in the right direction.

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Job Performance

The subtle – and not subtle – actions that ruin your productivity

Even when you know multi-tasking doesn’t work — we do it anyway. We can’t seem to help it. There are ways that we sabotage ourselves, though. We allow out software programs to default ways to interrupt us. Our physical location supports being interrupted. We don’t take a hard enough look at these situations to help make them better.

We need to make our productivity better by default.

Multi-tasking is not really possible anyway. The way our brain works is that we focus on one task, then quickly switch to another, then switch back to what we were doing. We are working on a report, the meeting notice for the meeting comes up 15-minutes before the meeting, we see that notice – breaking what we were working on — and then go back to what we were working on.

That little thing is “multi-tasking” but what really happens is we focus on one thing, switch focus to the invite popping up, then switch back to what we were originally working on.

That simple move costs us dearly in terms of our ability to perform. As Cynthia Kubu, PhD, and Andre Machado, MD note:

Repeatedly switching back and forth from project to project, like a hummingbird darting from flower to flower and then back to the original flower, can impair our ability to function at our finest.

Having those interruptions — or seriously trying to do two things at once — ends up being ineffective:

…a respected Stanford University study actually showed that those who consider themselves to be great multitaskers made more mistakes, remembered fewer details and actually took longer to complete tasks than those who did not consider themselves to be frequent multitaskers.

Okay, so multi-tasking is bad. Perhaps we can all agree that, at a minimum, trying to multi-task is not optimum.

The interesting thing is that even if we agree that we shouldn’t be multi-tasking, we end up sabotaging ourselves simply in the way we’ve set up our environment to work. Let’s take a look:

Kill your notifications

Every app does one of two things to interrupt your life: set default notifications or ask to push notifications to you.

Microsoft Outlook — email

Outlook has a default to notify you every single time you get a new email. Every single one. In one of my larger companies I worked for, millions of emails are received every month. The default setting means employees will be interrupted millions of times a month.

Even being inside Mail for Outlook means that as you are writing emails, a new email pops into your inbox and you quickly glance at it to see what the subject line is — and it breaks what you are trying to finish right now.

The way to solve this is to go into the settings and change the default notification to none. Don’t let that message slide in from the lower corner — it will interrupt you dozens of times a day.

And when you are writing an email, minimize the email window while you are writing your email so you don’t see the email coming into your inbox, breaking your concentration.

Pro benefit: turning off those notifications means you won’t have your email notification interrupt your presentation. Based on some emails flying around, that could render a big benefit…

Microsoft Outlook — meetings

Outlook defaults to a notification of 15-minutes before your next meeting. Somewhere on your screen – even behind some open Windows — that meeting notice pops up.

What do you normally do with it? Most used options:

  • You leave the notification open. This distracts you even more because now you look at the notification often to see how much time is left before the meeting. Every time you look at it, it breaks your concentration.
  • Or, you look down at the notification and see the Snooze button and you click that with the reminder of 5-minutes before the meeting. That results in giving you two notifications before the meeting, disrupting your 15-minutes twice.

I solve this two ways. First, I go into the Calendar settings and set MY default notification for meetings to five-minutes before the meeting. No one does this; I just do it to run counter to the default interruption.

Second, when I invariably get the default 15-minute meeting notice from everyone else, I, yes, go to the snooze button — but I pick zero minutes before the meeting and snooze the notice until the meeting starts.

There is a small decision on five minutes versus zero minutes: five minutes if I need to walk to a faraway conference room. Otherwise, since the vast majority of my meetings are calls, I set it to zero minutes before the start.

Skype Teams Slack etc.

These types of applications just hit you after the other person hits “enter” on the message. It’s an electronic “walk up to your cube and start talking” moment. It breaks whatever you’re doing.

Not only that, but, again, if you are presenting to an audience in a meeting, everyone gets to see whatever message whoever is sending to you. (To be fair, Skype for Business puts you into Do Not Disturb mode while you are presenting to prevent this very thing). Think about some of the IM’s you receive and figure out how much you’d like others to see those messages. After all, they just randomly show up based on what hundreds of your coworkers are doing at the time that might involve you providing an answer.

Just because it is an Instant Message doesn’t mean you need to do an Instant Answer. Turn the notifications off. They will be there when you are ready to see them. Just because someone else is looking for an instant answer (and I am very guilty of doing this as well, so no awesomeness here…) doesn’t mean you need to break your productivity and provide them with an Instant Answer.

That special case: I chat with my wife — not on corporate assets — as many of us do in order to handle home stuff. Almost all of us with family do so. But here’s the deal: even if the interruption is from family, it’s still an interruption. Think of yourself being in the middle of trying to reconcile a spreadsheet and you start getting IM’s from your significant other. Just like I am now trying to write this article! It’s an interruption and it breaks your train of thought.

If what you are doing requires concentration, put yourself in Do Not Disturb mode and let whoever know beforehand you’re doing it. Then notify them when you’re off Do Not Disturb mode.

Pro Tip: Take 30-minutes right now and go through all of your notification settings. The ones at work. The ones you use for your personal devices. The default position should be OFF. Do not allow some mindless application to decide for you that you should have interruptions that have a Sound, a Banner, and a persistent banner even in lock mode.

Remember, you’re supposed to be the one in charge of how you want notifications and when you’ll allow an application to interrupt you. Don’t give that right away.

Your work environment

Unfortunately, almost all of us work in an open cubicle type of environment. And while management thinks that the open environment offers up great collaboration benefits, actual studies show open environments are terrible for getting things done.

…review of more than 100 studies on open offices found that the layout consistently led to lower rates of concentration and focus, and a third paper, which analyzed more than 50 surveys on open offices, found consistent complaints about noise and interruptions

Another survey of 38,000 knowledge workers “found that one of the biggest losses of productive time during the day stemmed from interruptions by colleagues.”

Ah, yes, the interruptions from our colleagues.

I really like my coworkers. I just don’t like them interrupting me when I’m trying to get stuff done. Which, to be fair, is almost all the time. I don’t like working 50-hours a week or more, so I try really hard to get stuff done during normal working hours. Because I do that, I like to think I’m a lot more productive than most. (I also totally fail to get stuff done all the time, but I keep trying).

After all, when you walk into work and the first thing you do is chat about what happened yesterday for 45-minutes with your coworkers – at least for me – you’re ruining my time to get caught up on the overnight email from other continents and prep time for my first meetings.

Even Outlook is suggesting that you block some time on your calendar for “focus time” – time to get things done. But putting it on your calendar may prevent meeting invites (and even then, not all the time), but it doesn’t prevent the vast assortment of interruptions from notifications and people doing drive-by’s and interrupting your work. And the interruptions add up:

A recent study conducted at the University of California, Irvine indicated that most people take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from an interruption. That’s actually a pretty long time, and it can really add up over the course of a day.

Even with the ubiquitous headphones on signaling you’re working on something, people will interrupt you. They may apologize for interrupting you, but interrupt you nonetheless.

There is only one answer: to get things done, you can’t really do it in your cubicle. You have to go somewhere else. (queue: irony for having a dedicated space for work)

I’ve gone to common areas; it helps, but doesn’t work. I’ve gone to hotel-type cubes out of my area and that doesn’t help. I’ve even gone to hotel-type cubes in a different building and I still get interrupted.

Again, I like my colleagues, but the interruptions are just killer to getting things done.

The only answer

One can’t be totally isolated all the time and expect to be a good coworker. There is some level at which you need to be in your cube, available to your coworkers, working on things where it would be okay to pay the interruption price.

But if you’re going to work on something that takes concentration — my classic example in my own job is reconciling financials with project plans — it’s best if you set yourself up for no interruptions so you can get the task done.

It means: putting yourself into a Do Not Disturb mode on all your apps or devices and literally going somewhere where you won’t be interrupted. Personally, I work from home on those days where I have a lot of concentrated work to do. A coffee shop might also work — you have the white noise going on, of course, but if you are in a place where people don’t know you, it can be effective.

In the end, I just want to get work done during the business day and leave it there. It’s surprisingly difficult to set those boundaries.

What have you done to help minimize interruptions? Let me know in the comments.

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