Go Dark To Shine Bright


I have to say that being a nice person can be a real productivity killer at times! Saying No to people seems to be just so rude sometimes that I find it almost impossible to do.

Sadly, for lots of people, this means that their workload can end up being inflated, with only a certain percentage of it taken up with that they will get the direct benefit from. 

Well, I used to be in a situation very similar to this. I hate letting people down and love the sense of well-being that comes from helping others as much as I can. That’s where the problem lies though. We tend to have a distorted view of how much time we are actually able to give across to others. 

Look at the amount of time you spend reacting to inputs from other people that disrupt the flow of your work. You get notifications via many different mediums on your phone or computer. I know this used to be the case for myself, with several messaging applications open, email, as well as the occasional phone call (shock horror…phones receive calls too!). Sitting in an open plan office also meant that people would always chat when passing, or across the desk. Sometimes, even wearing the largest pair of headphones known to man wouldn’t get the point across that you really don’t want to be disturbed right now! 

I decided I couldn’t keep trudging down this productivity cul-de-sac any longer and so came up with a list of potential actions I would employ to prevent those issues from affecting me.

Phone Notifications OFF

The biggest culprit for these mental shoulder taps was definitely my phone. Well, I say my phone, let’s be honest, it’s me, as my phone doesn’t self-configure itself to disturb me whenever it likes. During my working day or periods where I need my concentration levels to be at their highest, I turn off all notifications except for those from any VIPs. In my case, this is my wife, as a lack of productivity is a small price to pay for missing an alert from Mrs Garrett. 

This approach works really well for me. When I install new apps, notifications are off by default however it’s the SMS messages, iMessages and emails that can be the killer. I hold the view that if there is an emergency, someone will call. If they call and it isn’t an emergency, then they know in no uncertain terms that next time, it had better be an emergency.

Use Your Calendar

Your calendar can be a really useful tool for letting people know you cannot be disturbed. When I am not in meetings, I schedule myself project time so that those who can view my Calendar see me as busy. It could very well be that I’m not needing that whole block of time to concentrate on one thing in particular however it’s far easier to take away from a Calendar than it is to find time in one.

Fake meetings can be very handy as well. Obviously, you need to be in some form of high ranking superiority in the job you are in to use this approach! 

If you schedule your peak focus periods into your Calendar in this manner then you will go a long way to minimising the distractions other people present. 

Use Your Email

You have to be strict with yourself and simply stay away from your email during your busiest times. If you reply to emails within several minutes of receiving them, people will expect this to be the norm. You will then set a precedent that you could really do with avoiding. Conversely, if people know that you only check your email at pre-designated times of the day then people will not badger you for information. In fact, the number of emails you receive could very well reduce. 

By using an Out Of Office assistant wisely, you could help yourself immensely too. Let people know automatically that you will not be able to reply to any new emails until a given date, or explain that you are currently unavailable, however, if it is an emergency, provide details for a medium that you can be communicated via. 

Use Your Colleagues

Let the people around you know you cannot be disturbed. This will not only prevent them from mindlessly distracting you but will also enable them to act as gate-keepers, stopping others from disturbing you, taking messages etc. Maybe have a pre-designated signal to identify that you are in Do Not Disturb mode. My headphones work the majority of the time but there will always be an exception to this rule!

Offer Alternative Appointments

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to just tell people you don’t have the time to listen to them. However, explaining that you are in the middle of something at the moment and offering an alternative time to chat shows them that you do want to know what they have to say, it just needs to wait. If it’s important, then you won’t miss out on something you should know, whereas if it isn’t, then you have successfully avoided this time-drain without offending someone. 

Also, offer alternative methods of communication when you don’t have the time to talk. If it’s something that will need attention, then ask for an email on the subject which also acts as a nice digital reminder that you have something that needs processing. 

In Summary

Nobody likes letting people down or appearing as though you haven’t got time for them, however, it is a necessary evil when it comes to maximising the time you have available for the actions that matter. Remember that every time you say No to someone, you are actually saying Yes to something that is more important. 

It’s a tough balancing act to pull off, being a decent human being and a productivity demon, however with some careful planning, subtle changes to your workflow applied and diplomacy, it can be done.

Sometimes you need to go dark in order to shine bright.