Overworked and Underperforming? Distractions are Killing You

Do you ever feel like you are working more but getting less done? Have you ever ended an eight, nine, or ten hour day scratching your head wondering what you accomplished? Or, as a coaching client of mine admitted he’d experienced, you’ve worked a full day and not eliminated one item from your to-do list?

Overworked and Unproductive

The average worker is interrupted every 11 minutes. No wonder so many feel unproductive. (Tweet That) | Share this Graphic on Pinterest | Share on Facebook

Don’t worry. If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are normal. And that is the problem. You don’t want to be normal. You’re a world changer. You want to get things done.

On our third coaching call, the coaching client of mine I mentioned earlier (we’ll call him Brian) was at his wit’s end. It seemed like his to-do list was only getting longer. He finished the day exhausted and never seemed to accomplish anything. Eight-hour workdays soon became nine, then ten, and last week his wife actually tallied up the hours he spent at work…71 hours!

Now 71 hours may not seem like much if you’re a single, childless entrepreneur. But to Brian, this was overboard. He had vowed to be a family man. He’d vowed to be there for his boy’s baseball games and his daughter’s dance recitals. Now, he was gone before they woke up, often missing dinner, and his family seemed distant to him.

“All I do is work,” he said in exasperation.

“You’re not alone,” I replied. “In fact, you’re very normal.”

“Gee, thanks,” Brian laughed. “Just what I’ve always wanted to be: normal.”

Diagnosing the problem

The first thing I set out to do was to diagnose Brian’s problem. I asked him to spend the next three days charting his every move. Every 15 minutes, he needed to record what he’d done over the past quarter-hour.

This is what one hour looked like (see if you can relate):

10:00 – Checked email. Responded to 3. Read a newsletter.
10:04 – Read headlines on news sites. Got lost and read more than he intended.
10:09 – Checked email. One new reply. Responded to that.
10:10 – Grabbed snack from the fridge. Respond to text message from a friend about a business dinner tomorrow night.
10:14 – Started new marketing project.
10:22 – Responded to email that just came in. Saw another email and checked out the link. Researched a potential company for live chat on his site.
10:34 – Wife reminds him to research kitchen remodeling companies. Spent 10 minutes on that.
10:44 – Back to new marketing project.
10:55 – Email from team member – check and reply. Reminded him to update a task list for them.
10:56 – Updated task list.

That’s just one hour. It’s not even his worst hour. In fact, it’s one of his better ones. Yet, here’s what stands out:

  1. He checked email four times in the hour.
  2. He responds to everyone else’s interruptions immediately.
  3. The marketing project, he admitted, could be completed in two hours at most, if he focused on it. It would be three days and nearly five total hours before he finishes it. That’s a three hour loss, right there.
  4. He chases rabbits from email and news sites rather than bookmarking them for later.

Sound familiar?

Statistically speaking, Brian is very normal. Here are some sobering statistics:

  • On average, according to the American Management Association, the average American spends 107 minutes on email each day, typically in short bursts.
  • The average worker is interrupted every 11 minutes.
  • The average worker checks the news, stocks, and email 4.5 times per hour.

No wonder they finish the day exhausted and yet feel they accomplished nothing.

I know I can relate. Been there, done that. So how to do you fix the problem?

Glad you asked because that is what we are covering tomorrow. So be sure to subscribe to my RSS feed or get posts via email (and get my free book as a bonus) so you don’t miss it. If you are struggling like Brian, set up a one-on-one consultation with me to find out if personal coaching might be right for you.

Question: What is your biggest struggle with overworking or underperforming? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • At this moment having enough people to do the work. I’m so limited when I have the help I need. But what has been helping my mine from not exploding is, letting some things go until I have the volunteers to get the work done. And telling myself that it is okay to do so.

  • Shinny thing syndrome. When I get focused I can work through a list fast. Great post Matt.

  • Stephanie Robbins

    Great post. My greatest challenge is working from home and getting distracted with productive household tasks. I went through the process of documenting my time and came across the same thing! What works best for me is a detailed schedule. If I see it in writing. I commit to it. It is amazing how much more productive I am

    • That is the first step! I know it was crazy when I realized how much time I spent on a “quick check of email” Ugh.

  • Great post. These statistics indicate that getting control of our email could double our productivity. Thanks for sharing Matt.

  • Brian jumps from computerized task to computerized task and I go from building to building. The printer is in the house attached to the desktop; I paint and have supplies in the workshop; I draw and do businessy stuff in the studio. The bathroom is in the house along with my palette and brushes from the previous painting session; the retired husband follows me around; the cat is on the front porch; the car is in the garage; the wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round, the memory is overloaded. I spend too much time making lists and then leave them in the wrong building. Where are my glasses, where is the flash drive now, why did I come here. . . what are we supposed to be discussing? I forget!

    Would a smart phone make me smarter?

    • Literally LOL just now. I get you but at least you have each building for a specified purpose.

      • Oh yeah, all is well at The Compound. Happy to make you laugh!

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  • I tend to over-check my emails and phone messages. Not that I necessarily read them right away but I still look.

    • Stop it :)

      • But.. but.. but… how will I know how important I am at that moment? (-; In all seriousness, I know I need to stop. It creates a sense of urgency in my life that I don’t need.

  • David Mike

    I think reading blogs and commenting is my #1 offender!

  • But multitasking is the productive way to go! (in a sarcastic voice). Ever since I started working in blocks I’m a ton more productive. Unfortunately the mentality at many work places is that everything needs to be done right there and there. We need to re-train our colleagues as well as ourselves.

    • I heard that multitasking is the equivalent of smoking marijuana in terms of effect on focus. Crazy.

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