9 to 5 Culture, Self Employment

Disappearing Act: How To Make Yourself Less Available at Work

If only I could just focus.
If only the phone would stop ringing I could finish this project.
If only I could turn my e-mail off and tune my clients out.

Have you been repeating mantras like the ones above recently? Are you tired of never getting any “me” time while at work so you can get the truly important work done? Sick of interruptions?

Here is a perfect guide for you, whether you are self-employed or an office rat!

Why Focus is Disappearing

What your grandfather told you is true. Back in his day things were simpler. There were no e-mail clients, no text-messages, no social networking and certainly no expectation to check twenty avenues of communication a day.

It must have been nice to sit down at work and focus on the task at hand all day. Accountants could expect to just tally up their columns and come to their totals. Farmers could wake up early, get out in the open air and tend to their crops. Shoe shiners could… shine shoes.

It isn’t that the technology that allows for lightning-fast communication is bad. This stuff has enhanced our lives in countless ways. But it has robbed us of a certain focus and peace of mind while at work. I guarantee people did not get interrupted nearly as often in 1980 as they do in 2013.

The problem is that while you are at work it has become the norm to be interrupted. It is expected that you need to take a call if the phone rings, even if you are in the middle of a project. Mono-tasking has been replaced by multi-tasking. So how can you escape this world and get a chance to focus? Your boss/clients wouldn’t like it if you were not available. How can you take some precious time to turn everything off?

Set Some New Hours and Turn Everything Off

If you are running your own business this is much easier.

You don’t need to change your company or store hours. What you need to change is your availability during those hours. You need to pick a slot of time during the day where you are unreachable. Period. I usually recommend four hour chunk during a time that you are the most naturally productive.

For me, this is the mornings. For you it might be the afternoon. You need to tell your clients that you only answer e-mails and phone calls at a specific period of time during the day.

If you own a store, head to the back room, put someone you trust out front and disappear during this time. Get caught up on the things you need to finish and turn off your phone e-mail. Tell your coworkers that you are not to be bothered during this time unless it is an emergency, like the building being on fire.

If you work from home you can just tell your clients that you will not respond to e-mails until the afternoon, and that you schedule all your phone calls. Turn off your e-mail client in the morning and do not turn it back on until your focus time has passed. Turn off your phone. If you have a cell turn it to silent, turn it off or put it in the oven or something. Just get rid of it.

If you work a full-time job this may not be as easy, but try brainstorming some ideas. In a customer-service position obviously there isn’t much you can do. The nature of these positions is that you are available when your business needs you to be available to answer questions. However, here are some options for those employed in more white-collar settings for unplugging:

  • Close the door to your office from time to time and tell your co-workers that you have some important work to catch up on, and that you will not be answering calls or e-mails during this time. Do this regularly and they will get the idea that you need your time to focus.
  • Talk to your supervisor and tell her the same as the above. If it isn’t a very common occurrance she might start taking you more seriously and treating you with more respect, as this shows that you value the contribution you are making to your team and you need your focus time.
  • Only check your office e-mail 3 times per day. Once at the beginning of the day, once after lunch and once near the end. This assures that you aren’t distracted by a constant barrage of e-mail

Don’t Look Like a Slacker

Doing the steps above will help you become more productive if you choose to make use of your newfound time.

If instead you use the time to become a Facebook stalker or to set a new Minesweeper record you are likely to be unsuccessful both in your attempts to stay invisible and to keep your job/business running!

It actually can take a fair amount of time and practice to learn how to focus and not get distracted by the stimuli around you. In a white-collar job or business, the computer is your way of doing a lot of your work. Ironically it is the most distracting item on the face of the earth. This presents some obvious challenges!

Practicing some ideas rooted in Buddhism like mindfulness and learning to deal with what is in front of you rather than “what could be” will help. So will learning to stop anticipating the constant stream of interruptions that you got so used to tolerating for so long. You have set up a nice, quiet period for you to get the work done that is truly important. Taking that opportunity can be harder than it looks!

Finally, once you have learned to effectively take advantage of this increase in focus time your increased productivity and better mood will likely make your work life a lot better. If you are an employee your (hopefully sane) boss will certainly be ok letting you take more of this “me” time – after all, you are getting more done, aren’t you?

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