Try Chunking for a more productive work day

Pulled in too many directions?  Need more time to get everything done in a day?  Get more done in less time by using this invaluable time management technique called Chunking.

For most of the US office workforce, we are bombarded each day, all day, with multiple tasks and items we have to juggle.  With the amount of communication tools out there such as email, IM, text, phones, and drop-in discussions, it is tough to get anything done!   Just look at e-mail: We spend hours every day reading, addressing, and organizing our e-mail.  Although e-mail has increased productivity by letting us communicate more often with more people, it has decreased productivity by breaking our work concentration when we are in the midst of a project.

How often are you working on a project when you see your email notification pop-up, or hear that ding indicating a new email?  You see who it is from, and then read the email quickly to see if you need to address it, or if it can wait until later.  Even if it is a quick five-minute read, without any action needed, that five-minute email becomes a 15-minute time drain.  It pulls you out of your deep focus on a project, and you have to spend the mental time and energy to shift gears into reading and processing the email (five minutes).  Then, after you determine your action on the email, it takes you at least five to ten minutes to return to the same focus level you were at on your project.  If you only get ten emails throughout the course of the day that you handle this way, that’s 2.5 hours of wasted time!

This same scenario is true of other interruptions we get throughout the day – phone calls, people dropping by to ask a “quick” question, etc. . . . This can make it impossible to manage your time.
In the early 1960s there was a CEO of a major auto manufacturer in Detroit.  He would tell his secretary to take messages for all incoming phone calls and to let the caller know that he would be returning calls around 2PM each day.  This did a few things: 1) It allowed him to get a lot done during his day without interruption, because he set aside a block of time at 2PM to answer and return phone calls. 2) It trained others not to call him until 2PM in the afternoon if they wanted to get a hold of him.  He was using a technique that today is a key Time Management technique called chunking your time.

Chunking is the process of setting blocks of time to address items.  Set aside a certain amount of time to work on a task or project, a certain amount of time for emails or conversations, etc., and do not let anything else interrupt you from that time.  This may seem counter intuitive in our technology-driven reactionary world.  We jump on our cell phones when we get a text, call, or email.   But by putting yourself in charge of your technology, rather than letting it control you, you will get more done and feel less stressed and fragmented.  Try these simple Chunking techniques to get some order in your life:

  • Turn off all email alerts – That desktop alert that pops up and tells you there is a new email is one of the biggest time drainers. Turn it off, and then you decide when you want to check your email.
  • Do not keep your email Inbox open and active on your screen all day. Schedule 30 minute blocks of times throughout the day when you are going to check and reply to emails.  When it is not one of those times, keep your email minimized.
  • If you have an intense project to focus on, let all of your phone calls go to voicemail. Schedule a time in the day that you will listen to VMs, and follow up on calls.
  • Put your cell phone on silent mode. Schedule times to look at your cell phone activity, and ignore it the rest of the day.
  • Schedule times for calls or meetings for habitual interrupters. If there are people that pop in your office, or call you multiple times a day, schedule a daily or weekly meeting with them.  If they know there is a set time they will have your attention, they will be more likely to gather and hold all of their small items to bring to you at that time.

These tips will allow you to spend the focused time on desired tasks and communications so that you can accomplish more in the same amount of time.  Test out the Chunking process by spending one day being reactionary to all incoming stimulus.  If the phone rings, grab it and address it.  If an email comes in, immediately answer it.  You will end your day feeling like you were extremely busy but that you didn’t get anything done.  The next day, try Chunking all of your time and activities.  Schedule times to work on email, times to return phone calls, and times to work on specific tasks or projects.  You will end the day feeling like you accomplished a lot, as well as addressed all needed communications.

To learn more about this and other Time Management techniques, attend one of our Time Management classes.