Tag Archives: productivity

Time Out On Interruptions: How to get Time Lock Cooperation

shutterstock_72172714 (1)What is Time Locking? It’s nothing less than the perfect antidote to today’s fast-paced, chaotic culture of interruptions. It is how you recover stolen time you never knew you had – stolen by Time Bandits who interrupt you. Time Bandits who leave you desperate for more time to finish your work, do it well, and find some satisfaction in it.

Time Locking is your way of staving off the chaos for a specified period of time while you focus on an important task that requires close concentration. You can do that because someone else has agreed to cover for you by absorbing all those interruptions.

“What,” you say? That’s impossible. Why would somebody else, already plagued by the same culture of interruptions, agree to do that for you?”

Because every Time Bandit has their own Time Bandits, needs their own Time Locks, and will want you to reciprocate. All it takes is a grasp of communication arts and skills so that you can find the right words and way to talk to your Time Bandit without giving offense.

Here’s how you get Time Lock cooperation from your Time Bandit(s).

  1. Explain how you run your business and your frustration with deadlines, and ask them if they have similar concerns. Go as far as asking how they approach their Time Bandits. They may say, “I haven’t figured that out,” or they may tell you what you’re about to tell them, which is to enter into a Mutual Time Lock Agreement which would provide both of you hours of uninterrupted time.Sure, at first it might take a little back-and-forth, or give-and-take. It did for us at my company, but it was well worth it. Now, we understand what kind of work is eligible for Time Locking and what is not. We agree on which periods of time are convenient for Time Locks and which are not. We put Time Locking signs on our doors when we need to, confident that our colleagues will understand and count on us to reciprocate for them.We don’t break anyone’s Time Locks unless it’s an absolute emergency, partly because we respect others’ need for Time Locking, but also because we understand that our best interests will be much better served when they can focus on our needs deliberately, not when we happen to interrupt them. It makes our working lives so much more harmonious and productive!Not to exaggerate: we don’t pretend that we’ve eliminated all interruptions and time pressures. But we do carve out and protect time for what matters. You can be sure our finance department doesn’t get pestered when they Time Lock to run payroll. My CFO Ruben can call me any time he wants, but he doesn’t when I’m in make-up in the studio with camera crews waiting. And no matter how excited I am about a new idea, I will respect the Time Lock of a consultant who is finalizing a new contract proposal.
  1. A stylish presentation includes the right body language. Make and never lose eye contact, keep your arms down and your hands open. Smile, not only physically but mentally as well. When you speak, speak from the heart. That way, your Time Bandit will not be defensive, and will return in kind what you say and what they see.Learn to do this the right way at the right time, so that you don’t suddenly find yourself bursting out in frustration and saying things in a regrettable way.
  1. When I began my career as a teacher in the workplace, the students complained bitterly that just the time they were going to spend with me would increase their frustration, because they already had “too much to do and not enough time to do it in.” Too many clients, too many hand-holding obligations, too many in-bound and out-bound calls. In other words, “Mr. Brown, we realize that training is important, but we just don’t have enough time.” I soon realized that the Cohen Brown rule was once again proving correct: Nobody will ever make the time to listen to or participate in any behavioral-based training if it is not their intention to use what you’re teaching or asking them to do. So make sure your Time Bandits know that what you’re proposing will be as good for them as it is for you!
  1. If all interruptions were eliminated, based on focus groups I’ve recently conducted, the survivors of those interruptions would recapture 3-5 hours a day every day, which equals 40-60% of the standard work day. If recaptured, it could be devoted to significant gains in productivity. In 2005, a Basex research study reported that the cost of interruptions in America was $588 billion and increasing at the rate of 7%. Do the math: in 2015, the cost will be approximately $1 trillion. But what does that mean for you and your Time Bandit. Try to attach a dollar figure to 3–5 wasted hours a day in your world – either in lost pay, lost sales… No matter what metric you chose, the figure you arrive at should be all the incentive you need to learn how to Time Lock and “recover stolen time you never knew you had.”


Who is your greatest Time Bandit? Ask the mirror.

Ask the mirror

Ask the mirror


What is more self-defeating than a command to “Concentrate!”  Even when you say it to yourself.  Concentration has never been a highly cultivated skill, but these days, in our interruption culture, it’s even more difficult.  The National Center for Biotechnology Information finds that our average attention span is down to about 8 seconds (from 12 seconds fifteen years ago.)

Eight seconds!  That’s a problem.  Elsewhere on this blog I’ve written about Time Bandits and the damage they inflict.  But just as big a story about Time Bandits is this:  We are our own worst thieves of our precious time.  We steal from ourselves.  What could be more perverse?

Even (especially?) when we most want to concentrate on the job at hand, we experience what I call Mental Leakage.  The mind goes elsewhere, to some other subject.  Maybe something more entertaining.  More distressing.  More visible or audible.  If we are unaccustomed to concentrating, that means we are accustomed to mind-wandering, so we give in to a habit honed by years of accidental “practice.”

I said “we,” not “you” for a good reason.  Even though I invented the term and created the solutions for Time Banditry, I have not entirely immunized myself against the pull of old habits.  I am as prone to fragmented focus as you.  That’s why over the years I have developed and perfected a series of techniques to permit Focal Locking, which is the solution to Mental Leakage.

It was a harrowing personal situation that prompted me to do so.  I tell the whole story in my book, but let me sketch it for you briefly here.

I’d been scuba diving and got a dangerous case of “the bends.”  While I was experienced and knew better than to rise to the surface too quickly, I was aiding an inexperienced diver who didn’t know the danger.  I was taken to the emergency room where the doctor told me what I already guessed – the condition was potentially fatal, but a stint in a decompression chamber would cure me.

I knew the chamber was barely big enough for me to fit inside, so I didn’t relish such claustrophobic treatment, but I was okay until the doctor told me how long I’d be confined:  Nine hours.  From my book:

If you have ever received frightening news, maybe you recognize my first emotion.  It was simple.  “I cannot do this.”  No more claustrophobic than the ordinary person, I still couldn’t imagine being confined to a barely see-through coffin for much longer than I could hold my breath.  Nine hours!!!  That is a whole working day, with nothing to do but think, in a situation where all thoughts are terrifying.  I would panic.  I would suffocate.  If I screamed would they hear me?  Help me?  All those thoughts raced through my mind as if it had joined my body in torturing me.

Obviously I survived, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog.  I survived because I drew on almost everything I had ever learned in my whole life about making my mind do what I wanted it to:  not think about my confinement and instead carry me to blissful places where panic couldn’t intrude.  Yoga, breathing techniques, mantras, psychotherapeutic techniques – I used them all.

My point is, you can exercise control of your mind.  You can prevent Mental Leakage when you must.  You just have to develop new techniques to replace your old habits, and they are all there in my book.  Different techniques work better for some people.  You have to choose the ones that suit your challenges, your personality.

But let me offer you one of the most powerful solutions here – actually a series of steps.  It is called meditative relaxation, wherein you focus on your breath, both inhalations and exhalations, keeping your eyes closed. Focus deeply on a mantra that enables you to escape to a seascape, landscape, or the cosmos, just for ten seconds. On the exhalation of your breath, to yourself, utter the word, “Calm.”

Do this three times.  As you begin to feel Calm take effect, return to the task that requires your focused attention and say to yourself, “If I can Time Lock, I can Focal Lock.”  I can bear down on the task at hand.  I can enter into my Time Lock for its full length, complete this task, and then undo the Focal Lock and focus on other matters.

Happy Focal Locking.  And if it’s a little rocky at first, don’t worry – you’re learning a new skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life – at work and in other parts of your life.  And here’s the really good news: I bet you don’t have to do it for nine hours!




CB Tips:  Batch Processing – A Quick Lesson in Productivity

Five ducklingstips, cohen brownThe term Batch Processing originated in the days when users entered programs on bunches of punch cards then handed them to a system operator who would feed them into a computer, thereby executing a series of non-interactive jobs all at one time.

Today, the term Batch Processing has slightly evolved and is used as a human time management technique whereby similar tasks such as writing reports or processing email, are performed as a group, rather than being performed randomly as they occur.

Think about your own to do list.  How many items can be completed as a group rather than wasting time switching from one task to the next to the next all day long, interrupting your focused thought and task flow?

time locking, interruptions, time bandit solution, STWM



CB Tips: An Hour Without Distraction

tips, cohen brownTime Locking:

Setting aside a block of time in which employees are not to be distracted.

Related article Distractable Me: How to get more done in an interruption culture

This isn’t an individual strategy. It’s an agreed upon office practice where everyone sets up how it will be implemented. Minimum rules of thumb for successful time locking policies are:

• Every worker has to time lock for at least one hour a day.
• Supervisors cannot interrupt workers during time lock, and indeed, must pledge to limit their interactions with subordinates in general.
• Everyone gets time lock training, including how to respect it and how to cover for employees while they are in time lock.
• And last, employees receive bonuses for increasing their productivity in time lock.

logo-w-bookWork without distractions or interruptions every day.  Read The Time Bandit Solution. 

Do You Have The Symptoms?

By Cindy Griffith

My Kitty

Meet my cat Brodie who sits on my desk most of the day listening to me talk on the telephone and watching as I type on the computer.  He keeps me on track.  If the clock hits 6:00, he cries while pawing at my leg and if I work on the computer while watching television, he sits on the keyboard.  One day I had just hung up the telephone and started mumbling to myself. There were papers spread all over my desk I looked over and found him in this position.  “I know…a disaster right?  I feel like covering my eyes too!”  I was stressed, distressed.

“Interruptions create distress, and it shows in many ways” noted by Success Magazine summary that is based on the book The Time Bandit Solution authored by Edward G. Brown, President, Co-Chairman & Co-Founder at Cohen Brown Management Group. The link to Take Back Your Time: What to Do When You’re Stretched Too Thin is below.  The article continues to say that distress manifestations “do exist, and they are harmful.” The symptoms include “mental fatigue, irritability, loss of concentration, reduced efficiency, reduced productivity”…talking to one’s self??

When was the last time you exhibited one of the symptoms?

Take Back Your Time: What To Do When You’re Stretched Too Thin



When Plans Fly out the Window

concentration is paramountBy Cindy Leverich


Earlier this year my frustration level reached an all-time high.

I have aggressive goals and project deadlines to meet, and to ensure I do just that I created a detailed plan.

The plan was good. Tasks were prioritized. Mornings are when I’m at my best, so that time was dedicated to completing the most difficult tasks. Rote administrative tasks were set for late in the day or the end of the week. I knew this plan was a winner.

I tacked my plan to the wall and started my first task on a Monday morning, and I allocated 90 minutes. I worked for 15 minutes on my project before the phone rang. Twenty minutes later I returned to my project, and got started again. I had 60 minutes left before my regular morning conference call with the team.

Ten minutes later the email beeps started up, and they all had that annoying red exclamation mark indicating they were urgent. So I stopped again to review email. Finance needed an updated pipeline report by noon; a colleague wanted to brainstorm the best approach for a prospect meeting; two new meetings had just populated my calendar and would take 3 hours out of my well-planned day.

The first 90 minutes of my day were done, but the project I hoped to complete was barely started. I put it aside for my first scheduled meeting.

During the meeting I received 15 emails and 4 voicemail messages. I looked at my plan, I looked at my emails, I looked at my calendar, and I looked at the clock. It was 8:30 a.m., and I was totally defeated, totally stressed, and couldn’t see any way to make my plan work.

I tore it off the wall, ripped it into tiny pieces, threw it in the trash, and took a coffee break.

Time Bandit Solution bookSound familiar? I’m sure it does. I spent years having Mondays like this until I learned I am responsible for stopping the interruptions! I must take more control of my time and stop letting the day “just happen.” I wish I could say I came upon the solution after much thought and reflection, but that’s not the case. I found the answer in the new book by Edward G. Brown— The Time Bandit Solution.

I’ve recaptured my time and reduced my stress, and I am meeting deadlines and goals, using deceptively simple, straightforward techniques like Time Locking and Focal Locking, and negotiating with colleagues. You can too.


We Live in an Interruption Culture

Focus, interruptions, distress, productivityYour office phone rings nonstop with sales pitches while Girl Scouts interrupt you at home to sell those delicious cookies that are only available once a year.

Emails clutter your inboxes, and you send them to the trash while the FedEx package on your desk screams, “Open Me!”

Interruption repeats. Distress manifests. Productivity diminishes.

It’s easy to interrupt people. You’ve been doing it for years. Given the trend over the past two decades, Basex research predicts interruptions will increase at a rate of 5% per year and suggests if the problem is left unchecked, interruptions will occupy the entire workday by 2031.

Don’t think for a minute that other people account for all of our interruptions. If we are honest with ourselves, we would acknowledge that we too are Time Bandits. It’s true. Our minds wander and we actually welcome interruptions.

This much is clear—despite living in an interruption culture, work must go on. But how? You know the problem, but what’s the solution? You invest in time-management tools, but do they show you how to eliminate interruptions or do they simply teach you how to organize your task list?

One effective solution is Focal Locking, which requires you to focus on the task at hand and resist the temptation of distractions. In order to successfully Focal Lock, you must commit to not interrupt yourself. After all, we are our worse interrupter. Consider the financial and productivity benefits of eliminating interruptions from your life. What would you do with 3–5 extra hours per day? Accomplish more at work? Spend more time with family? Or maybe some “me” time?

I promise you, Focal Locking is doable. Learn more about interruptions and Focal Locking at www.stwm.com.

Rhonda Nelson is Senior Vice President of Marketing for Cohen Brown Management Group.