Some of my best work has come when I am focused. For a long time I thought of this as a shortcoming, because everyone around me was able to multitask, so that felt like a required skill. As, I have matured I have come to realize that multi tasking is not as cool as it looks, and that best output only comes from focus.
It becomes even more important as a founder for me to give focus to things that are important, and ignore all the white noise, because the output of the business depends on my decisions.
The book "It Does not have to be crazy at work" gave validation to this idea of mine. I would recommend reading it if you have the time.
Time is Money
You should value your time like you value money. Most of us tend to see time as an infinite resource, when the fact is that you probably have only 8-9 hours of good productive hours in a day. Which means you have to spend them very judiciously.
When you are constantly multi tasking, you are wasting precious time trying to context switch. Time that can be spent at the task at hand without having to context switch. Also, time spent focusing and making a good decision today, can save you a lot of money tomorrow, than making a decision just because you were pulled into a meeting without enough time to think about it.
14 hours days are not sustainable
To be honest I have done my fare share of crazy work hours and sleepless nights. When I introspect, none of them lead to good quality output. I have created some of the worst technical debts working at 2 AM high on caffeine. Now when I look at some code and ask why did I do that, the late night code check-in timestamp is probably the answer.
There is a reason that 7-8 hours of sleep is recommended for humans. Your mind needs rest, for it to make sound logical decisions. When you build a culture that expects people to constantly work long hours, eventually their productive and quality will go down.
You are measuring the wrong output
So, if long hours are not good for productivity and quality, why do a lot organizations still embrace it as a culture ? My simple answer, they are measuring the wrong output.
I have worked with enough managers, who used to measure productivity in terms of number of hours spent in office, and then wonder why the project had delays or so many bugs !! Simple because your measure of productivity does not guarantee efficient and quality output. The goal should be efficiency and quality of the output, than something as subjective as productivity. If someone can deliver the most efficient and quality output with the time/cost constraints, why does it matter if they wrote 10 lines or 1000 lines of code, or if they spent 8 hours or 14 hours in office.
The calendar, emails and chat hell !!
All the technology that has been built around communication, was supposed to make our life better. But, I think all it has done is make it worse. Why? Because people have stopped considering that the person on the other end of the communication might be focused on something else. Everyone expects that they send a message and get a response now.
Calendar invites are a probably the most abused of these technologies. Just because my calendar shows I am free 30 mins from now, does not mean you go ahead and schedule a meeting. For the most part I do no accept meeting invites that are scheduled the same day unless it is something extremely critical. Everything else can wait a few hours.
Do you really need a meeting for this ?
Meetings are another aspect of the modern work environment, which I think force people to lose focus, and try to be part of a discussion at a fixed point in time. A meeting which does not give its participants enough time to think before the discussion, and that ends without a decision is a waste of everyone's time. Also, a decision cannot be having another meeting to discuss the topic further !!!
Think before you schedule a meeting. If your discussion is not world ending, and you want people to think before they provide ideas, maybe give them time to respond to an email when they have bandwidth. You will probably get better output through an email, than the false sense of urgency to make a decision that a meeting forces. And then use a quick meeting to reach a consensus after you have had a thorough discussion about the topic over emails. And always end the meeting with a concrete decision, and next steps.
Todo Lists do not work !!
A list of things to do in the day gives me anxiety. I tried it for sometime to plan my day with lists, and tasks etc. What I realized eventually is that some tasks were either constantly getting pushed from one day to another or I would take shortcuts just because I could strike tasks out of my list. The reason for this is that Todo lists give a false sense of accomplishment by telling you that you have checked off all your tasks, and hence driving the goal to finish the tasks and not quality. It also forces you to meticulously plan each task, which is not practical. So, you plan your day and then realize that some task took more time, and that screws your plan for the day and makes you feel bad about that unfinished list at the end of the day.
So, what do I do now. I divide my into long continuous stretches of time where I just focus on one task at hand. That helps me focus on the task at hand, and make sure it is completed before I move onto the next task. Since I made this switch, I have been getting more done but most of all the quality of my output has increased and stress levels have gone down !!!
Let people get into their zone
There is a reason why most great artists talk about getting into their zone before they produce a masterpiece. It is important for people to focus on the task at hand, without distractions to deliver the highest quality output. So, as as leader one of your primary job should be to let people get into their zone by giving them long stretches of focused work hours. Time when there are no meetings, no emails, no multitasking, just getting the job at hand done.
Once you start doing it, people will get better at planning their work and deliver high quality results efficiently.