exploring possibilities for an engaging and productive workplace

Thank you Christopher Allen of Life with Alacrity for connecting me to Imran Ali's  blogpost. The post discusses Jason Fried's TEDxMidwest talk, Why Work Doesn't Happen at Work. 

This is the first time I've watched a TED talk and thought to myself, oh-no!, this is all wrong. I'd love to hear what you think, here's Jason Fried:

In short, Jason Fried says people don't go to work to get things done. In fact, work is one of the worst places to get things done. Mostly because work is full of unnecessary distractions and interruptions like chit-chat, conversation, and meetings. He describes meetings as toxic, and explains that if there were no managers, employees would never have meetings. Jason compares a disruptive workplace to a disruptive night's sleep. He argues that work, especially creative work, requires long stretches of uninterrupted time. He concludes with three recomendations:

  1. No-talk Thursdays. A period of “quiet time” prohibiting coworkers from talking to each other thus limiting distraction.
  2. Replacing active communication, like conversation, with passive forms such as email, IM and collaboration tools.
  3. Cancel your meetings. Things will still get done!
While Jason's words make sense, I noticed myself disagreeing with most everything he says, especially the recommendations. For those who know me, you know this is unusual, I'm generally agreeable.

What's missing from his talk is balance.  As we're taught at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Yes, and... 

While distractions are distracting, they can be incredibly valuable too. I can think of several times when a distraction has resulted in an epiphany, jump starting my work. 

As I discussed in Take Lunch and Talk About Nothing it's important to converse and chit-chat with co-workers. While distracting, workplace conversation facilitates relationships and enhances teamwork. While meetings might be over kill at times, I believe they can be fun and productive. To me, meetings represent time and space for collaboration, which is key to success in the workplace.

What's interesting is every time Jason said, you (fill in the blank)... I found myself saying, no I don't. Maybe I'm the anomaly? When I think of work that requires long periods of uninterrupted time, I think of the work I enjoy least, the stuff that's easy to put off like responding to emails and voicemails in a timely manner. For me, my inbox and desire to respond quickly is more a distraction than any face to face interactions. I am most creative and tend to get the most done when others are around. Having people to share ideas with, challenge my thinking, and give other forms of input is a necessity. This sharing works both ways, listening to my colleagues, I learn what they're up to and often find opportunities for collaboration or support. 

What are your thoughts on distractions and interruptions at work? What enables you to do your best work?

2 responses to "Interuptions at Work"

  1. Distractions and interruptions are relative terms. As you describe, they are often the drivers for creativity and collaboration. I like them. I need them. I also work alone at home. I produce distractions virtually because I do not have them physically. When I have worked at offices, I loved when a co-worker stopped by. I suspect many people should or do have the discipline to politely exchange a few words and excuse themselves back to their urgent work, if that is the case. Otherwise, we need breaks. Our brains do well with 5 minutes every 45 minutes (learned from Brian Weller). So enjoy those quick interruptions as rest.

    Deadlines help me do my best work. I am extremely productive in my procrastination until that deadline as well.

    Suzanne Pinckney

  2. I just watched this video and had much the same thought as you, 'too far, he's taking it too far!'. While agree with what you said about the value of interaction, another point I thought of was different jobs require different amounts of interaction. If you have an independent, creative job, where your work doesn't depend on other peoples work, you are Mr. Fried's target office. If one the other hand your work is highly interdependent with other team members, without enough interaction everybody would go in different directions, or the dynamic in good teams which creates value far in excess of the sum off the parts.

    I think what he says has value because many people work at the extreme which he is deriding, but like you said it is about balance. Fleeing from one extreme to another is just as dysfunctional. It is not a black or white issue.


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