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My Life as an Efficiency Squirrel

I was interrupted seven times while writing this paragraph. First by a co-worker who asked what I was working on. Second by an editor who wanted to know when I could turn it in. My work phone rang. Someone texted me. I checked my e-mail … twice. Another co-worker asked if I had any gum. Now I’m debating between writing the next paragraph and going to get a snack. Probably Oreos. What? They’re delicious.

A Microsoft (MSFT) study on office interruptions found that workers experienced an average of four interruptions per hour. For every 30-second distraction, the research firm Basex estimates it takes 5 minutes for workers to return to work. That’s 22 minutes wasted every hour, which, according to Basex, adds up to almost $1 trillion in productivity losses each year. “Right now we have millions of workers that are trying to get through the day,” says Jonathan Spira, chief executive officer and chief analyst at Basex, “and we just keep interrupting them.”

At the same time, growing workloads make us feel we just can’t get everything done. “Technology is the biggest culprit,” says Tony Schwartz, founder of the work-life balance program The Energy Project. Ironically, “being tethered to our phones and computers drains us of the energy to be constantly responsive.”

So how do we change this? Right now there are more than 1,000 books on Amazon about increasing your productivity, including a book called NutJob that appears to have been written by an overly efficient squirrel. (“Tip One: Find a nut.”) I spent one week sampling several different productivity-enhancing techniques, and I’ll tell you about them. Right after I dunk this Oreo.

Illustrations by Serge Seidlitz
Suddath is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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