Telling Co-Workers: "Get Off My Back"

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Take back control of your time

It's never been easier to be productive. Giant leaps in technology have given us tools and gadgets that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. They keep us on time and on point with laser-like focus on our objectives. Our lives run with enough precision to impress a Swiss watchmaker. 

But you're shaking your head. That's not you? Okay, it's not me either.

That rosy scenario is one of the real ironies of the age we live in. It's true that we have the tools to run things efficiently, but so often if feels like they've overwhelmed us. Technology puts us just one blinking, unread message away from everybody who wants us for something whenever they want it.

And that last part is critical. Too often, our productivity is sabotaged by the needs of others – especially at the office.

"The reason that that memo doesn't get finished or you don't work on the long-term, important project," said Dorie Clark, "is that you're so constantly responding to stimuli that you can't think for the hour or two that you need to get it done." Clark is a business professor at Duke University and author of the Harvard Business Review article, "Stop People from Wasting Your Time."

"We have to try to impose a structure so that they're more respectful of our time," she said, referring to our colleagues. And there are few things we can do to take back control of our day and our productivity.

First, insist on an agenda for all meetings. Too often people schedule meetings without a clear sense of what they want to accomplish. The sessions drift from the original purpose and eat away at our time.

Second, limit the number of times you check email throughout the day. There is nothing as oppressive as an overactive inbox. Clark suggests only checking email in a few discrete blocks of time and dealing with everything at once. 

And finally, remember your own power at work. 

"We don't really recognize that we have agency," said Clark. The habits of our colleagues don't have to be our habits. Take control of your time and manage it to maximize productivity. 

"The most important thing to remember is that it's about prioritization," said Clark. There are times when something truly critical warrants an interruption. "So the reason we limit the trivial stuff is to make room for what's really important and most meaningful in our lives."

Listen to the complete interview with Clark above or subscribe to the podcast by clicking on the button on the right.