When Spinning Plates Goes Wrong: A Personal Wake-Up Call

Alright, picture this. Back in the day, I was a manager at one of those big-name Fortune 500 companies – you know, the ones that make you go, “Oh, shit!” at parties. Everything looked impressive on paper: the corner office, the fat paychecks, and the constant flurry of activity. But here’s the dirty little secret – my team’s productivity was in the crapper. Yeah, they were working their asses off, clocking crazy hours, but we weren’t moving the needle.

To put it mildly, I was pissed. Here we were, talented professionals burning the midnight oil, and for what? We were like hamsters on a wheel, running like hell but not getting anywhere.

I had to admit, I was losing sleep over this shit. My team was swamped, drowning in work, and I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t just Get. Shit. Done. So, I rolled up my sleeves, dug a little deeper, and guess what I found? It wasn’t work that was doing us in. It was distractions. The fuckers were everywhere.

Emails pinged all day. Colleagues popped in for ‘just a quick question,’ which of course, turned into 30-minute discussions. And meetings? Let’s not even get started on those pointless time-suckers. We were so busy responding, reacting, and reaching out that we didn’t have time for the real work.

I couldn’t just stand there and watch this shit-show. It was time to get our hands dirty. It was time to make some real changes and get the hell out of distraction purgatory. And that, my friends, is what I’m here to talk about today. We turned this sinking ship around, and I’m going to share the nitty-gritty of how we did it, so you can, too.

Unmasking the Invisible Thief: The Plague of Distractions

Let’s lay down some cold, hard facts here. Over 60% of employees can’t squeeze in two hours of focused work in a day. That’s less than a fucking quarter of their time at the office! Distractions are like termites, nibbling away at your productivity without you even noticing until the whole damn thing comes crashing down.

Stress, inefficiency, disappointment. All these unwanted house guests pile up at your door when your focus gets thrown out the window. And the worst part? We’re not just talking about feeling a bit off your game here. We’re talking about real, tangible hits to your bottom line.

And here’s a truth bomb for you. Being busy doesn’t mean you’re being productive. Yeah, I said it. You might think you’re killing it, juggling all those tasks and ticking off to-dos left and right. But let me ask you this: Are you just scratching the surface of a shit ton of tasks, or are you really digging deep into your work? Are you checking boxes, or are you creating value? If you’re too busy ‘doing’ all the time, you’re probably not ‘achieving’ as much as you think.

And I know, I know. It’s hard to imagine a workplace without the constant pings and dings, the never-ending emails, the incessant chit-chat. It’s become so embedded in our work culture that we don’t even question it anymore. But just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not a colossal pain in the ass. Distractions are productivity’s mortal enemy, and it’s high time we declared war on these f*ckers.

No More Excuses, Here’s How You Fix the Damn Problem

1. Inventorying Tasks and Projects: A To-Do List ain’t just for Christmas

You ever look at a six-year-old’s Christmas list? That thing’s more organized than half your team’s project list, I bet. It’s itemized, it’s prioritized, and it’s revisited with the fervor of a kid who knows exactly what they want from Santa.

So, what’s stopping you from giving your team’s tasks the same treatment? Here’s a newsflash: A well-maintained to-do list ain’t just a handy tool, it’s the goddamn cornerstone of productivity.

But a list isn’t worth a hill of beans if it’s just a jumbled mess of tasks. No, you need to turn that chaotic shit-show into a lean, mean, productivity machine. Here’s how:

  1. List ‘Em All: The first step is simple: put everything on paper. Or Trello. Or Asana. Or whatever the hell you fancy. If it’s a task, it goes on the list. No exceptions.
  2. Review ‘Em: Next, you want to go over the list. Look for anything outdated, anything that’s no longer relevant. Boot those unneeded tasks out.
  3. Prioritize ‘Em: This is where the magic happens. You need to prioritize your tasks based on their impact and urgency. And remember, not every ‘urgent’ thing is important.
  4. Keep ‘Em in Check: Finally, you need to keep this list in check. You don’t make it once and forget about it. Nope, this bad boy needs regular maintenance.

A to-do list isn’t just for Christmas, folks. It’s a year-round commitment. But trust me, it’s worth it.

2. Clarifying and Curating Communication Channels: Because You Aren’t the NSA

Hey, I’ve got a secret for ya: You aren’t the NSA. I know, I know, it’s a tough pill to swallow. But seriously, you can’t (and shouldn’t) monitor every single channel of communication at work. It’s a recipe for distraction and a one-way ticket to burnout city.

Too many communication channels are like too many cooks—they spoil the broth and drive everyone batshit crazy. One minute you’re on Slack, the next you’re on email, and then suddenly there’s a meeting on Teams. It’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out.

So, here’s what you do:

  1. Streamline Your Channels: Start by cutting the crap. You don’t need six different platforms for communication. Hell, you probably don’t even need three. Find a platform that suits your team’s needs, and stick with it.
  2. Define Their Purpose: Once you’ve trimmed the fat, it’s time to define the purpose of each channel. For instance, maybe you decide that Slack is for immediate, short-form communication, while email is for more in-depth, less urgent stuff.
  3. Establish Response Times: This one’s crucial. You need to establish response times for each platform. This ain’t ‘Nam, there are rules. Set expectations about when and how quickly team members should respond on different channels.

By clarifying and curating your communication channels, you’ll cut down on a huge amount of noise and distraction. Plus, you won’t need to feel like Big Brother, constantly keeping tabs on every platform. Remember, less is more. And that’s especially true when it comes to getting shit done.

3. Normalizing ‘No’: Yeah, it’s a Full Sentence

Alright, let’s talk about ‘No.’ Yes, you heard me right. The two-letter word that most of us treat like it’s a four-letter one. Look, I get it. Nobody wants to be the negative Nancy or the party-pooper, but guess what? ‘No’ is a full sentence and it’s about damn time we start normalizing it in the workplace.

See, when you’re caught in the crossfire of requests, tasks, and ‘just-one-more-thing’ bullshit, it’s okay to say no. In fact, it’s necessary. But here’s where most people, and by people, I mean managers, screw up: they treat ‘no’ like it’s a personal affront or a sign of incompetence. It’s neither.

So, how do you turn this around?

  1. Foster an environment where ‘no’ is accepted: This starts from the top, from you. When an employee tells you they can’t take on another task, don’t treat it as an act of insubordination. Instead, thank them for their honesty.
  2. Encourage transparency about workloads: It’s not a pissing contest of who can do more. Encourage your team members to be open about their workloads.
  3. Cultivate respect for individual capacities: We’re not robots. People have different capacities and tolerances. As a manager, you need to respect that.
  4. Empower your team with the ability to prioritize: Saying ‘no’ to one thing means saying ‘yes’ to something more important. Teach your team this valuable skill.

Bottom line? It’s okay to say no. In fact, it’s more than okay—it’s a crucial part of ensuring that your team doesn’t get overwhelmed. So, let’s cut the bullshit, shall we? Normalize ‘no,’ and watch how it transforms your work environment.

4. Making Meetings Meaningful: Stop Wasting My Damn Time!

Okay, here’s the tea: most meetings are a colossal waste of time. Yeah, I said it. You’ve got a bunch of people crammed in a room (or, god forbid, a Zoom call), half of ’em are zoned out, the other half are checking their emails, and nothing substantial is getting done. You know it, I know it, the office dog knows it. So, what are we going to do about it? Let’s make meetings meaningful again.

First up, agenda or bust. No agenda, no meeting. It’s as simple as that. An agenda outlines the meeting’s objectives and ensures everyone knows what’s up. If someone sends out a meeting invite without an agenda, empower your team members to ask for it.

Next, invite only who’s necessary. Just because Carla from accounting likes the donuts in the meeting room doesn’t mean she needs to be there. The more people in a meeting, the longer it takes, and the less gets done. Keep it tight, keep it right.

Third, stick to the damn schedule. If you’ve set aside 30 minutes, then wrap up in 30 minutes. Show respect for other people’s time and they’ll show respect for yours. And for Pete’s sake, don’t be that jackass who schedules a meeting right before lunch or at the end of the day.

Finally, actionable outcomes. Every meeting should end with a clear list of action items, assigned responsibilities, and deadlines. That way, you’re not just talking about the work, you’re actually planning the work.

So, here’s the long and short of it: Stop wasting people’s time with meetings that could’ve been emails or quick chats. Because if you don’t respect your team’s time, why the hell should they respect yours?

5. Enabling Purposeful Productivity: Don’t be Busy, Be Effective

Let’s face it, being “busy” has become some sort of twisted badge of honor in the business world. Well, I’m calling bullshit on that. It’s not about being busy, it’s about being effective.

I remember this boss I had back in my early days, always running around like a chicken with its head cut off, juggling a million things at once, and constantly complaining about how “busy” he was. Spoiler alert: his department was the least productive in the whole company. Why? Because being busy doesn’t mean you’re getting the important stuff done. It just means you’re…well, busy.

So, how do we move from busyness to actual, meaningful productivity?

Step one: Weekly 1:1s. No, not those dreadful, forced chit-chats where you ask about their weekend and then zone out. I’m talking about a real, meaningful dialogue. Ask your team members about their progress, their blockers, their ideas. And for god’s sake, listen when they speak. You might be surprised at what you learn.

Step two: Close the gaps. If there’s a disconnect between what a team member is doing and what they should be doing, that’s a problem. It’s your job as a manager to identify and close those gaps. That might mean providing additional training, reassigning tasks, or even rearranging the team structure. Whatever it takes to align everyone’s work with the company’s objectives.

Step three: Remove fringe tasks. You know what I’m talking about – those pointless, time-consuming tasks that don’t contribute to the big picture. If a task doesn’t support your team’s key objectives, then why the hell are they doing it? Cut the crap, focus on what matters.

Step four: Adjust work hours if needed. This one might be a bit controversial, but hear me out. If you’ve got a team member who’s a night owl and does their best work at midnight, why force them to stick to a 9-to-5 schedule? As long as they’re meeting their objectives and collaborating effectively with the team, let them work when they’re most productive.

At the end of the day, it’s about getting the right shit done, not just any shit. That’s the difference between being busy and being effective. So, get out there and start making a difference, dammit!

6. Formalizing Focus: Because ‘Deep Work’ isn’t Just a Buzzword

Alright, my productivity-loving pals, let’s chat about focus. Not that “oh look, I spent five minutes without checking my email” kind of focus. I’m talking deep, intense, uninterrupted focus. The kind that lets you dive into a task and knock it out of the park.

First things first, protected work time. If it’s not in your calendar, it doesn’t exist. Simple as that. So, put that focus time in your calendar, and guard it like a mama bear guards her cubs. No, you can’t squeeze in a “quick” meeting. No, you can’t just “take a peek” at that email. This is focus time, remember? Nothing gets in its way.

Okay, got your focus time blocked off? Great. Now comes the second part: respecting the calendar. You know that guy who always schedules meetings over your focus time, because he thinks his thing is more important? Don’t be that guy. If you’ve got a meeting request that conflicts with someone’s focus time, reschedule it. Or better yet, ask yourself if that meeting is really necessary. Spoiler alert: it’s probably not.

“Deep work” might sound like some trendy buzzword, but it’s not. It’s a way of working that’s designed to maximize your productivity and output. It’s about shutting out the noise, zoning in on the task at hand, and producing high-quality work in less time.

And if you’re still thinking, “Oh, but I’m too busy for focus time,” then buddy, you’ve missed the whole damn point. If you’re too busy to focus, you’re too busy to be effective. And if you’re not effective, then what the hell are you doing?

7. Respecting Boundaries: No, Your Shit Isn’t More Important

Well, well, well. We’re on the home stretch, folks, and this might be the most important part. It’s time to talk about respecting boundaries.

Picture this: your teammate’s got their headphones in, they’re hunched over their desk, deep in thought. You have a burning question, something you just need to know. What do you do? If your answer was “interrupt them,” then I need you to take a step back and reconsider.

You see, when it comes to focusing, every interruption is a big deal. It’s not just a “quick question.” It’s a complete derailment of your teammate’s train of thought. It’s a brick wall in the middle of their productivity highway. It’s a giant, flashing neon sign saying “Hey, forget about what you were doing. Pay attention to me instead.”

So, next time you’re tempted to interrupt someone’s focus time with your “quick question,” remember this: No, your shit isn’t more important. Respect the focus time. Wait until it’s over. Send an email. Leave a note. There are a hundred other ways to get your question answered that don’t involve screwing up someone else’s productivity.

By respecting boundaries, you’re setting a precedent for your whole team. You’re saying, “I value your focus. I respect your time. Your productivity is important.” And guess what? They’ll start to believe it. And they’ll start to act on it. And before you know it, you’ll have a team that’s not only productive, but also deeply respectful of each other’s time and focus.

Becoming the Boss Your Team Needs: A Focus-Supporting Superstar

Ladies and gents, we’ve reached the end of our little journey here. Let’s take a step back, take a breather, and look at the bigger picture.

You might’ve started this read as a frustrated boss, drowning in a sea of low productivity, feeling like your team is always busy but never actually getting shit done. But here’s the kicker, my friends: You’ve got the power to change all that.

You see, becoming the boss your team needs isn’t about being a dictator or a slave driver. It’s not about micro-managing or dictating every second of your team’s day. It’s about setting the stage for productivity, for deep, focused work. It’s about being a focus-supporting superstar.

That means creating a culture where focus is valued. Where distractions are minimized and deep work is protected. Where boundaries are respected and productivity is prioritized over mere busyness. Where “no” is a full sentence and crap meetings don’t exist. This, my friends, is how you amp up your team’s focus.

Sure, it won’t be easy. It’ll require changes, both from you and your team. It might feel uncomfortable, challenging the status quo. But let me tell you, the payoff? Totally worth it.

Imagine a team that’s focused, productive, and efficient. A team that gets shit done, feels accomplished, and leaves work each day feeling good about what they’ve achieved. A team that’s not just busy, but actually moving the needle, achieving goals, and smashing targets.

That, my friends, is what you’re working towards. That’s the goal. And with the strategies we’ve discussed today, you’ve got the tools to make it happen.

So, buckle up, boss. It’s gonna be a wild ride. But trust me, you’ve got this. You’re about to become the boss your team needs, the focus-supporting superstar they deserve. Let’s get out there and get shit done, together.

About the Author: Geoffrey Byers
Geoffrey is one of the world's foremost Designers. He is also a Serial Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, and Mad Scientist. Hypothesis-Driven experimentation is his love language.