Why you can't work at work

This is a great video that I came across on workalicious… It’s from a website called bigthink.com. I think most of use who work or have worked in the corporate world can relate to this.

“We sit right across from each other…and don’t talk to each other all day.”

Sounds pretty depressing to me.

watching that video…why don’t all those people just work from home if everything happens on their open chat sessions and they don’t talk to each other…really that video just described a place I wouldn’t want to work or be interrupted.

here’s some alternative ideas:

not sure they got it right either, but some alternatives, sure there’s a balance in there somewhere.

These guys are taking the thought process from “The 4-Hour Workweek” to the Nth degree!


I hate that sudden realisation encountered at approx. 4.39pm that my work is in pretty much the same state as it was yesterday.
but … I’m not sure that what feels like unproductive chat is actually all that unproductive : chat helps oil the wheels of the business and it’s where a lot of decisions and viewpoints and relationships are made.

Boss never bought that though :slight_smile:

I could never work at work, infact I keep getting given projects from people who can’t work at work either and have run out of time to develop a range!

I’m alot more productive now I’m freelance. I tend to start really, really early, like 6am or 5am if I’ve alot on. By 9am by the time my clients are at their desks, I reckon I’ve done as much as the average employee has in an eight hour day.

Starting early means that theres no one around to hassle you. If I’m really busy and need to concentrate, at any other time of the day, headphones on, office door closed, phone off.

I’ve always had trouble with the typical work week. I’m not a morning person by any means so I’m sure that has something to do with it.

I think most days I’d have trouble getting a good 2-3 hours of actual work in because of all of the distractions.

Distractions include:
-Having 4-5 different supervisors need something that was “priority #1” at any given point during the day.
-People feeling the need to ask questions that could have easily just been looked up or googled themselves.
-Pointless unproductive meetings
-Writing emails back and forth to clients that could have been taken care of in a simple 5-min phone call.
-The person I refer to as “the wanderer” who never seems to have any actual work to do but likes to talk to as many people as possible.
-Lunch break: I’m more of a grazer when it comes to eating… I would rather eat 5-6 small snacks/meals a day. I typically don’t need an hour lunch break which actually ends up being an hour and a half lunch break by the time you get ready to leave and then get back into the swing of work.
-A few of my jobs have not allowed headphones. This has been huge. I might seem strange here… but I like to wear headphones without listening to music. This helps me to stay focused but still be able to tell when someone needs my attention.

The most productive times I have at work are when I come in on my own free time in order to get stuff taken care of. Twice a week I would come in from 8pm-2am so I could get a lot of my stuff done distraction free. I’m a night owl and find the second shift to be the best time of the day for me. I’m not a fan of working on the weekends so I try to get everything taken care of during the week.

One of the best ways I’ve found to focus is to bring in my laptop and listen to movies or tv shows that I know well. Since I know what’s going to happen I don’t need to watch it, plus the fact that movies are usually in the 1.5-2.5 hour range that helps give me a good range of focus… when the movie ends I’ll get up and stretch, pop in another movie and then get back to work.

… but I like to wear headphones without listening to music. This helps me to stay focused but still be able to tell when someone needs my attention.

headphones are a great way of indicating to everyone else that they need a good reason to disturb you.

so true :laughing:

“You can quit a program, but you can’t ignore someone calling your name”

I find you can just as easily tell that person to come back in 30 minutes, or the end of the day, or tomorrow. Sometimes I just put a sign up that says I’m busy… also, many people do have an issue with quitting their email app, or ignoring an IM. I don’t think this is a universal solution… and when someone IM’s me from across the hall, I yell “Dude, just get over here if you want to ask me something”

That said, working at work is super difficult. I try to work from home one or two days a week, and those days are so unbelievably productive. All you have to do is work out a situation with your boss.

I have pretty much turned off my email. Even my Blackberry I have turned off all notifications. I fell like an addict for the first week…needing to click on my Outlook every 15 mins…but now…it is liberating. People learn that if they really want to get a hold of me, call me.

My statement above about the 4-hour workweek is true…he’s read that book and is implementing it 100%. I have taken several items out of that book and applied it to my work day. Letting people know that work, and efficiency is priority never gets taken the wrong way. When someone stops by to chat and you tell them nicely to go away, or when a boss asks for something urgent but you tell them that it won’t happen until next week…9 times out of 10 that is ok.

Totally I agree. I think it is more about discipline than a piece of software, because you will have to have discipline to use that software in an efficient way.

Wow…I feel so lucky at my job hehe.

Sometimes, I get a new “#1 priority” dropped off, but not often. As the sole designer, I guess I have more autonomy than others. I just ask my boss every few weeks to give me priorities with my projects, then I handle the time management of how to get those projects advanced.

IMs/Email/etc. Total waste of time. Instead of companies shutting down “facebook”, they should shut off Outlook for two days a work. I bet productivity skyrockets.

Before opening a new message, I always ask myself, “what do I really want to know?” and “when do I need this?”. Half the time, I end up calling the person, 1/4 of the time I find the info myself.

Meetings: We don’t have enough here.

Headphones: I’ve taken to talk radio myself. I find it sort of hypnotic. I get into a trance where I feel like I am more focused on my work.

Yeah the thing about that link - he makes some great points but I don’t think adding more software /another IM client is the answer. I don’t think you can train people to use that instead of some other way of hassling each other.

I often feel overwhelmed by social networking/email/IM white noise and am going to get rid of alot of it. I work on 3g internet only (coz I’m on a boat). To stop the white noise it’s not only phone off, but dongle unplugged and put in a drawer.

I found some of GTD useful - for instance I read most of my emails on my phone in the ‘dead time’ I get on the bus, but like all of these ‘systems’ some of it can over complicate things.

I read a quote from Ronald Reagan who said something like “an overworked executive is a bad executive”.

I work with people who can’t prioritise, so they do everything that passes over their desks. As a result they work all hours all the time- it is so sad to get emails sent at midnight and later on public holidays and the weekend, where is your work-life balance?

The result is moot, most of it is busy work, creating a messy email chain pages long where every man and his dog is cc’d because people won’t make an autonomous decision without involving everyone else in the business.

I manage my inbox by putting emails that I haven’t got around to in a folder called “old emails” and guess what- very rarely do they need to be addressed.

The Blackberry/ IM/ new-fancy-softwares-that-will-save -your-life don’t do that. It is Ihde’s ‘designer fallacy’ and ‘co-shaping’- you don’t get less emails/ messages, you get more because they become so easy to send (see, I do pay attention in theory class).

I’ve been in bad working environments (boss is wandering around everyones desk, chatting every 5 min) and not-so conductive ones (nobody responds to an email in time, making what is my priority to get done impossible) … at the moment however, I work for myself so have found a good balance (i think).

For me, the key is I work on my time. Especially for creative work, I find that if I can do what I need to when I feel it, it is for the positive. You can’t turn creativity on and off at 9am, 5pm. I ofetn will work from 11am - 1am. Or take a day or two off and work weekends or evenings. For myself, I find that if I am on email constantly I can be more productive, for the most part. If i’m deep in work, no I’d don’t reply immediately. However, most of the time I find I am between jobs, researching, contacting, etc. so reply to emails minutes after I receive them. That way I don’t have a big inbox of intimidating amounts of email to process, normally only 1-5 at a time (since I’m checking and replying instantly). I however am not on IM, Skype, or twitter to get distracted, though random web surfing and blog checking gets in the way between tasks.

The biggest thing I think I can offer is that I think that most office environments would be way more productive if they allowed employees to work to get a task done, no by hours. If I have things to do, I don’t think that I need to clock in and out at a certain time. Some days, I may prefer to take a walk and think. Or sleep. If I get everything done by deadlines to a proper standard, what does it matter how many hours or days it takes? I guarantee you that if more offices worked this way productivity would be higher. Some employees are not morning people, fine, let them come in at noon. Some employees are faster, fine, let them work 4 days a week… you are paying employees to get a set amount of work done. How and when they doe that should be their choice for a more productive and happier environment for all.


That video from Jason Fried is pretty thought-provoking. I agree about managers just looking for excuses to have meetings. Although I understand how weird it might be to come into that place as the new guy and nobody’s talking to each other, just sending texts. I’d like to try Basecamp–sounds interesting.

I’m also all about flex hours provided the work gets done. I think the time is passed when we can look at work as a 9-to-5 thing. When I was working in an office, most of my work got done after 5pm because the phone and e-mail stopped.

But now, working out of the house, I do miss some of that socializing and opportunities for face-to-face collaboration. The day does go by fast, though. But my big thing now is shutting off the e-mail. I’m trying to check it only once every 2 hours or so. Unfortunately, there’s a certain expectation of the client that you should be online all the time and when you’re a consultant you don’t want to seem like you’re not available.


Looking at the thread it might be more revealing if it was broken out into different work scenarios:

  1. The Corporate or in-house designer: Some freedom with respect to how, when and where you get work done. Driven by self fulfillment, self esteem project deadlines and performance expectations. Salaried but predictable?

  2. Consultancy: Faster paced, project by project, accounting for very hour, working within budget. Non stop, often fast burn-out. But varied projects, perhaps interesting clients?

  3. Self employed: Your livelihood depends on bringing home the bacon. Repeat business, building reputation. Stresses of riding the economic roller coaster balanced by personal recognition & fulfillment?

All the above involve parallel work strategies, email, but rather different levels of social interaction over the day.

Headphones included.


After turning off email…this is my next detox program…

however am not on IM, Skype, or twitter to get distracted, though random web surfing and blog checking gets in the way between tasks.