16 Tips to Minimize the Most Troubling Disruptions Hurting Your Research Efforts
You have two flights to choose from, one is non-stop and the other has a 2-hour layover. If they’re both the same price, which one do you choose? Assuming the layover doesn’t allow for a quick sightseeing jaunt in a city of interest, it’s a no-brainer to buy the non-stop. And yet, I would contend the majority of equity research analysts are choosing the equivalent of one “layover” trip versus a non-stop almost every day of the week.
A study by Microsoft shows that it takes up to 15 minutes to refocus on a task after you’ve been distracted, which is what potentially occurs every time you click a pop-up alert on your computer or answer your phone. According to Basex, an IT consulting firm, the typical desk employee loses 2.1 hours of productivity each day due to these distractions (the equivalent to a layover each day).
Periodic distractions are deceptive because they provide the mind a desired break, but they rob us from the dedicated time required for generating alpha
With the help of best practices from other analysts, as well as my personal experience and inspiration from Lisa J. Downs, of DevelopmentWise Consulting, here are some of the best ways to avoid distractions:
Play Offense, Not Defense
- Achieve your agenda daily by not being a slave to computer pop-up boxes/alerts of any type (e.g. email, news alerts, instant messaging, etc.). Turn them all off. If these alerts are a required part of your job, your role is more trader than analyst.
- Don’t make the false conclusion “multi-tasking” (doing more than one complex task at a time) is productive because countless studies show it’s not
- Be deliberate about removing yourself from all unwanted email and voicemail lists
- Pre-screen all in-bound phone calls
Treat Your Research Time Preciously
When conducting research:
- Isolate yourself—close the door, put up a sign, wear ear buds/headset, or work in a conference room or at home
- Send all calls to voicemail (or screen calls if awaiting an inbound call)
- Close email program
- If interrupted, bookmark your place so it will be easier to return to the task (use the “comment” feature when in Word and PowerPoint, a sticky note, etc.)
Covet Your Space
- If your desk faces office traffic, change its location
- Move materials or files used by others away from your work area
- When others enter your workspace, stand up; it prevents them from getting comfortable
- Place items on visitors’ chairs in your workspace or remove the chairs altogether
Manage Internal Colleagues
- If being asked to help others, determine if it helps to meet your professional goals as set explicitly by your manager:
- If not, politely tell the person you don’t have the time due to other higher-priority tasks set by your manager (give them examples if it will ease the rejection)
- If the task is critical in the way your manager evaluates your performance:
- Speed things up by asking the person for the solution they propose
- If follow-up is required, suggest a specific time later in the day or week to speak rather than interrupt your current workflow
- If they suggest it’s urgent (to them), ask how many minutes they need and stick to it
- If a colleague is telling a story, ask for a summary and what they need from you
- If you speak with others frequently (including an associate or assistant), you should both create “agenda” lists (in Outlook, Word, etc.) for topics to be discussed so as to avoid having multiple conversations on topics throughout the day that can be covered in one conversation
- If you have an associate or assistant:
- Set a regularly-scheduled meeting (daily or weekly) if interruptions (face-to-face or via email) are more than 2-3 times a day
- Establish guidelines of when interruptions are acceptable
The reality is you’re not going to eliminate every single disruption, just like you’re not likely to get non-stop flights everywhere you travel. But the more layovers you remove from your schedule, the more time you’ll have for producing world-class research.
This Best Practice Bulletin™ targets #6. Productivity, of GAMMA PI™, within our Pathway to Success Framework. The list above is also found in our Quick Reference Card: Best Practices for Preventing and Minimizing Disruptions.
Let me know if this Best Practice Bulletin™ helps and how I can improve upon this best practice. If you’re interested in exploring this topic further, AnalystSolutions provides equity research training with a specialized workshop to help improve productivity, Maximize Your Time for Alpha Generation.
Improve you or your team’s stock picking and communication skills with our equity research analyst training tools, which includes workshops such as the one above, as well as our GAMMA PI™ assessment and one-on-one coaching. Also, consider ordering the book that inspired the founding of AnalystSolutions and the Best Practices Bulletin: Best Practices for Equity Research Analysts
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©AnalystSolutions LLP All rights reserved. James J. Valentine, CFA is author of Best Practices for Equity Research Analysts, founder of AnalystSolutions and was a top-ranked equity research analyst for ten consecutive years