Learning to Say No to Interruptions to Foster Creativity in Business What if Galileo or other great thinkers had tried to develop their ideas amid a barrage of email and calls? Set boundaries to inspire innovation at work.
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What if Galileo, Newton, Einstein or any of the other great thinkers of the past had lived in today's interruption culture? Would hastily called departmental meetings have discouraged Newton from discovering why what goes up must come down? Would society still be wondering what E equals if Einstein had to endure "reply all"?
And then there's the amazing Greek who somehow managed to calculate the circumference of the Earth by studying the angle of sunlight at the bottom of a well. It's unlikely he had colleagues constantly strolling out to the well going, "Got a minute, Erastosthenes?"
There's no denying that Americans come by our interruption culture honestly. People love their cell phones, the Internet, their ready access to everybody and everything. But it has its dark side: Great discoveries rarely happen in email exchanges, teleconferences or on conference calls. Certainly, teamwork is a wonderful thing. But when a lightbulb goes off, it's often because people have figured out how to concentrate without interruption.
That why, unlike the greats in societies of the past, people today have to deliberately strive to work uninterrupted. After all the successful investments aimed at bringing people closer together, putting everyone in constant contact and letting individuals track one another down no matter when or where, now entrepreneurs have to carve out uninterrupted time when they know they need it.
And it's not a classic time management challenge but more of a psychological challenge. Because today's interruption culture isn't entirely the fault of the devices. They do ask if a person has that minute. The emails and texts don't disturb anyone who simply turns off the cellphone or leaves it in the car when arriving home. This is a way to close the office door deterring intrusion. It's been done, and nobody died.
So why don't people do it more often? Fear and uncertainty. People fear telling their interrupters there's no time for them. Also entrepreneurs are uncertain about how others will perceive them and what they'll will miss if their interruptors are deflected. After all, the main interrupters aren't telemarketers or pop-up ads. They are the entrepreneurs have chosen to be in relationships with -- co-workers, bosses, family, friends, and customers.
It's not an easy decision to tell someone that uninterrupted time is needed. It sounds selfish. It might even sound weird in today's team-player workplace. When people say "quality time" these days, they usually mean quality time with somebody.
But if a person is developing great things of a creative or difficult nature, they may not emerge if the individual does not learn how to reserve uninterrupted time. If "execution is the chariot of genius," as William Blake said, then the genius needs an environment where he or she can execute with excellence. Here's how:
1. Banish the fear of expressing a need for what I call "time locking." This is when time is set aside time for someone to work alone on a task that will profit from concentrated attention. Entrepreneurs are less less daunted to try many things than other people and even thrive on a little risk. See a risk, size it up and take it on.
2. Create certainty out of uncertainty. Fine, it's impossible to know what co-workers and clients will think when telling them, "I'm time locking until 3 p.m. unless there's an emergency." So think through how to emphasize that giving the leader time concentrate on a task is in their best interest. How this message is said it is just as important as what's said -- the language, etiquette, tone and posture. Then try it out and improve on
3. Use a time lock wisely. An entrepreur starts a business after having a vision, a dream or at least a darned good idea. Use a time lock to advance that idea with the best thinking. It might take a little practice; after all, there's an addictive quality about today's interruption culture. But stay with it until becoming energized, not anxious, about being able to work uninterrupted.