How to Be Productive in an All-Access World

I recently got a great email from a client named Colin. We’ve done extensive work with his company over the last five years, and Colin will occasionally reach out and give me a great idea for a blog post or a podcast.

Colin listed for me the ways that his colleagues can reach him: work email (which he can access at his desk or via mobile device); desk phone; mobile phone; voice mail at either number; text message; internal company messenger system; internal company social network; two company Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tools; and, for the nostalgia fans, there’s even regular posted mail or fax.

Everything on this list is not optional. These are the standard tools within his company, that everyone uses. In addition to this list, Colin also chooses to participate in things like LinkedIn, where most of his colleagues could also reach him.

Someone could also walk down the hall and speak to him directly, and of course we can’t forget to include the multitude of meetings that most people get yanked into, many of which seem to lack a clear purpose.

Colin posed a critical question and asked me to give it a think. His simple question was, “When does accessibility begin to negatively impact productivity?” I’ve been thinking about it all weekend, and when I think about that line that separates access and production, I think we all need to look behind us… we crossed the line a long time ago.

Everyone has anecdotes about the invasion of their professional (or even personal) space and how constant access from others limits productivity. I think most reasonable professionals will agree that access is good, but too much access will get in the way of productivity. At some point, we all need to just be able to do some work. If we are constantly answering email, phone calls, instant messages, etc, when will we actually do the work that people are expecting from us?

This is a chronic problem, and one that everyone has to deal with, large or small companies alike. So, how do we deal? I think there are some clear and simple strategies:

  1. Choose the channels that you are going to be available on. Just because your company (or society) provides a channel, does not mean you HAVE to use it. Do you really need to have your instant messenger open all day long, with windows open for all ten of your team members? Unless it provides clear value to you, then consider the choice not to use it.
  2. Schedule time when you are NOT available, and just working. If you use an inter-office calendar, put down some time when you are not to be disturbed.
  3. During those periods when you are not available, take your email offline, and put your phone on “do not disturb” so that calls go straight to voice mail. Other people are not likely to know when you are in “do not disturb” mode, so you can’t fault them if they reach out to you. If you answer, the fault is actually yours. So, turn things off, put the mobile phone on silent, etc.
  4. If people visit you all the time, find a quiet place away from your desk where you can get some work done. For some people, a closed door is a good sign. Others ignore that signal, and walk in anyway. So, you may need to move.

I don’t think there are any magic answers here… just common sense. Society gives us “all access passes” to each other. But for each of us, it is a personal choice when we will honor that all access pass. Don’t be afraid to turn the channels off when you need to.

Thanks for the note, Colin. Great topic.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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2 responses to “How to Be Productive in an All-Access World”

  1. John Burnham says:

    Great column about one of the most important topics we face in our desk-working lives. I think about this almost every day. Scheduling in time to “single focus” on one task is Step One. Hiding desktop email and all notifications via phone is Step Two. Then all that’s needed is to remind ourselves how to keep our minds on a single track, which is not necessarily easy but after the first two steps, at least we have a fighting chance. Thank you.

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.