How to minimise the impact of disruptions in Digital Agencies

IGNITE® Digital Agency - 14 May 2020

Everyone knows that disruptions are non-productive and cost businesses money. But how much time do disruptions really cost? And is there ever a good reason to allow a disruption?

Various internet articles and scientific studies try to quantify exactly how much time is wasted due to a single disruption, but generally, it varies between 10 minutes and 30 minutes to refocus (depending on the type of task you were performing).

For complex creative or technical tasks, such as creative direction and concept roll-out, intricate code writing or complex project mapping, it is likely to take the full 30 minutes to completely refocus – tasks that in agencies make up most of the time in our days.

Types of disruptions

  1. Verbal complex interruption “Hey can we chat quickly about this feature I need some answers on?”
  2. Verbal simple interruption “Are you coming to the pub for lunch today?”
  3. Email – includes client emails, internal emails, Jira ticket updates etc.
  4. Online messenger – Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype
  5. Personal – social media notifications, texts, calls etc.

How TO minimise verbal DISRUPTIONS

Scheduling in disruptions

Assigning specific times of the day where interruptions are not only allowed, but encouraged, means you’re time boxing disruptions and not letting their effects leak into productive time. This works best when everyone within a team, or ideally within the company, has their disruptive time together.

With the introduction of flexible work time, this can be challenging, but is worthwhile in the end to find a common time when everyone agrees they can be interrupted.

For example, 8am – 12pm and 2pm – 6pm may be deemed solid work times, with no interruptions allowed.

This splits the day nicely into 2x 4 hour windows that allow for maximum productivity for those who work better in either the morning or the afternoon. In doing so, it opens up a 2 hour window during the middle part of the day for disruptions.

What is the benefit of this?

Not only does this schedule allow for time boxing interruptions and encourages large portions of productive time, but it also gives Account and Project Managers 2 times throughout the day to get an update. Once in the morning during a stand up or WIP meeting, and again during the middle of the day. This means clients and stakeholders are never waiting more than 4-5 business hours for an update!

Having a 2 hour portion of the day dedicated to disruptions also means that team members are forced to get all their disruptions done quickly. It encourages the use of quick stand ups over lengthy bloated conversations.


How to minimise emails and online message DISRUPTIONS

A simple solution is to just turn off the notifications between certain times. To be EXTRA productive, these times should ideally align with your team/company wide disruption vs productive times (aka notifications off between 8am – 12pm and 2pm and 6pm).

Understandably this doesn’t work for every type of role, so a “once an hour” check is also reasonable. Ensure when you are turning notifications back on or deliberately checking in on your inbox and DM’s, that you time box it. Ideally 45 minutes of uninterrupted productive time and 15 minutes of disruptions per hour.

With the rise of online messaging systems taking over email, we’re routinely being sent multiple small messages in more conversational style rather than fully formed emails.

Rules for Slack and Teams Apps

Implementing some cultural protocol around Slack or Microsoft Teams can have a significant impact:

  1. @channel and @here can only be used during disruptive times
  2. @name can be used anytime, but it is understood that it may not be addressed until the end of the hour, the completion of a large task, or ultimately, until a disruptive time period begins.
  3. Wherever possible utilising threads stops the Slack notifications and thread counts from increasing (which can be an enticing disruption for many).


Changing a culture to discourage disruptions sounds easy, but it involves the commitment of everyone in the company, including correctly onboarding new employees as to when they’re allowed to interrupt, for what reasons, and why sticking to this is so important.




Includes a list of useful online tools