Are exceptions restricting your productivity?

When designing your approach to personal productivity you’ll need to have an efficient system for actioning and responding to incoming requirements. Your productivity will be far greater if you can minimise or eliminate exceptions to the rule (those oh but things).

The downside of exceptions are they take time to address, make us less productive (it’s harder to automate) and this results in additional costs. You only need to experience how the exceptions list is priced when building a house to understand the financial impact they have.

To maximise your productivity, it’s important to question if exceptions are necessary because they can camouflage:

  • Perfectionism
  • We’ve always done it this way

Let me share a small example to illustrate this. Countless studies conclude interruptions negatively impact productivity (it takes just over 20 minutes to pick up where you left off on a task after an interruption). A key interruption for knowledge workers is the notification of a new email received. This is an option in most email management systems so I’m an advocate of disabling the notification for people in proactive roles (defined as people who can schedule the priority of their tasks to work on).

Someone (who I’ll refer to as Tom) trialled batch processing emails without the email notification for 4 weeks. One email exception wasn’t responded to as quickly as Tom felt he should have so this was enough of a reason for Tom to justify enabling the email notification again. What was lost in the logic was the 1 email wasn’t that big of a deal and everyone survived. The outcome is productivity is reduced for Tom going forward because of 1 email exception.

The irony is the people who demand the need for exceptions are often the most time poor and frustrated because the system they put in place is restricting them from getting everything done in a timely manner. To increase capacity and productivity, look for and rigorously question all exceptions.