If you’re like most project managers, in addition to the administration of your project, you likely have a multitude of daily activities that distract you from essential tasks. These distractions can impact the overall success of your project. Dr. Gloria Mark, an associate professor at Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, found that the average amount of time people spent on any task before an interruption was about three minutes, with an additional 25 minutes spent dealing with the interruption before they returned to the work at hand. Wow! Interruptions come in external form, where individuals are disrupted by other people. They also occur internally. We’ve all had personal distractions pop up throughout the workday. All these interruptions we, as project managers, experience can lead to higher stress, a negative attitude, and lower productivity—obviously impacting the success of our projects!
Professors at Carnegie Mellon have found that groups that were interrupted were twenty percent less correct in answering questions than groups that were not interrupted. When you become distracted by the activities of the day, your work’s accuracy and performance declines. This is also true for multi-tasking. Multi-tasking in today’s society has become the norm, and most people at work struggle with juggling between e-mail, texting, social media, and managing multiple tasks in a way that is currently identified as rapid toggling between functions. “RTBF” continually shifts the context of the work day, so that alignment within the project is compromised. Another recent article in the Harvard Business Review reported that efficiency at work could drop by as much as forty percent when multi-tasking a plan. Long-term memory also suffers, as does creativity.
But, interruptions are inevitable, aren’t they? The good news is that these studies have also showed that individuals can train to prepare for distractions, even when they don’t know when, or in what form, the interruptions will come. The challenge for a project manager is to keep their focus on those activities that have the most impact on the success of the project. We know that this focus becomes difficult to maintain while managing the distractions and tasks that arise throughout the day, but there are a few activities you can engage in that will help minimize negative impact on your project. Follow the tips below to keep your focus, even amid a work day full of distractions and multi-tasking.
Maintain an Accurate Visual Picture
Individuals have different styles of learning and remembering information. Kinesthetic and visual learning styles are two of the most common forms. A visual chart gives the manager, as well as team members, a way to see the progress of a project and better track milestones. One way to keep individuals involved and focused is to allow them to review and check off activities as they complete their tasks. This provides a sense of completion and connectedness to each one’s part in the process. The PM should set aside time to review projects with their team to make sure that people, activities, and timelines are accurate. You can quickly lose track of management milestones when the focus of the day reverts to distractions. Reviewing a visual tracking chart daily also helps you redirect your attention to the primary goal of the project—which is, of course, to implement the project efficiently to completion.
Communicate and Celebrate the Milestones
Keep team members informed as to the progress of crucial milestones and maintain contact with employees who have time-sensitive material or events that are critical. Take time to celebrate these milestones as this activity helps you become more intentional about the way you communicate a favorable outcome in a chaotic process. Send a quick celebration email or take a break in the process to share a celebratory activity.
These “built in” breaks serve as planned interruptions or distractions, in a way, resulting in less actual interruptions taking place. Remember, also, that communication is only as good as the people communicating. If you have a large team, you may need to find a way to break it down into smaller groups that can communicate and celebrate as units. As Jeff Bezos, founder, and CEO of Amazon suggested in his two-pizza team rule; teams should only be a large as two pizzas can feed.
Work Towards a Human Focused Culture
People are an asset to any organization. When people feel engaged and connected, then they execute the process at a higher level. When this happens, project management takes on a different level of performance. Your project benefits when you take time to define and maintain a culture that supports your human assets. Human elements such as trust, accountability, and balance play a role in increasing the effectiveness of a project. Find ways to work with your team to build this behavioral structure into the plan. Time, money, and efficiency improve when your project reinforces these qualities of human potential.
Project management takes on a new role in business as companies work faster and longer in this technological era. With advancement; however, there is an increase in distractions and a greater need to multi-task. Be intentional to keep your project moving forward and organized as you navigate your day.