When it comes to removing distractions from the workday, the Netflix engineering team is anything but chill.
In a recent LinkedIn post, Netflix engineer Karen Casella argued that context switching (aka, getting distracted from one task to another) is the leading cause of productivity loss in engineers.
As far as I’m concerned, the lessons apply to anyone whose job requires task prioritization and focused concentration.
Here are Karen’s tips for dealing with distractions and how I personally incorporate each into my own workday – as both a worker and as a manager.
4 Ways to Reduce Distractions as a Worker
1. Practice Inbox Zero principles. Email should be a task — not a disruption. Only look at it when you have time to address it. I usually check email once in the morning, once around lunch, and once after hours. As long as I respond within 24 hours, most people don’t mind.
2. Avoid instant communication channels. Text messaging and online chat help collaboration but they kill productivity. Although there are times when chat may be necessary (like when you’re collaborating on a project), you should spend far more time unplugged and working than waiting for the next ping.
3. Differentiate between important and urgent. Yes, there is a difference. Urgent tasks must be done now. Important tasks must be done right.
Here’s how to prioritize them:
- Tackle urgent, important tasks ASAP.
- Schedule time to focus on important, non-urgent tasks.
- Delegate urgent, unimportant tasks.
- Disregard unimportant, non-urgent tasks.
4. Schedule personal focus time. Once you identify your important, non-urgent tasks, schedule some me time far away from distractions – your kids, your employees, your TV – and get shit done. My biggest distraction is meetings, so I schedule them for the afternoon and keep my mornings free to focus.
4 Ways to Reduce Distractions as a Manager
1. Provide context. If you hire good people and fire bad ones, you don’t need to micromanage. You do, however, need to provide context for how work aligns with company values and goals. Context empowers good people to remove roadblocks without asking for help or simply getting stuck.
2. Avoid interrupting employees. I have no control over whether my employees and partners apply Inbox Zero principles to their work. However, I can help them stay focused by not being a part of the program. In other words, I never (like never, ever, ever) text or IM my team. I’ll call if I must. Otherwise, email it is.
3. Build focus time into their schedules. In a brick-and-mortar environment, an employee can staff the register and slowly chip away at low-priority tasks. For high-priority tasks (see tip 3 above), rotate them away from the register for an hour here and there so they can focus just as you’d like to.
4. Bundle meetings. I work from home or from a coffee shop nearby. If I have to leave my neighborhood for one meeting, I stack additional meetings in that same part of town. By bundling meetings together, I find more large blocks of focus time on my calendar. Your employees will too.