Sean O’Rourke is the president of Syzygy 3, Inc., a technology consulting and services firm headquartered in New York City. Working in various elements of technology for almost 20 years, Sean has developed a keen appreciation for the costs and benefits of emerging IT solutions, and how both impact small and mid-sized businesses. In this interview, The Distracted Executive speaks with O'Rourke about efficiency, priorities and what he considers to be a "productive distraction."
The Distracted Executive: What would you say is your biggest distraction when you are working these days, and what are you doing to address it?
Sean O'Rourke: Client calls/emails and the Internet! Given the nature of our business – technology consulting, services, and support – client calls/emails requesting support or to discuss their IT are rarely scheduled. Every one of our clients’ businesses runs on their installed technology, which means an IT hiccup becomes a disruptive event for their business. So when the email or call comes, it has to be addressed (and resolved) as quickly as possible. Whatever else I may have planned for the day or want to do – except for scheduled meetings – takes a backseat when a client requires immediate attention. While client contacts are an unplanned disruption, I’ve turned the Internet into a planned distraction. There’s a lot going on in our industry and the world in general, so staying informed is an important requirement. Plus, I like to read and learn new things as often as possible. Starting about 18 months ago, I developed a schedule by which every workday, while I’m in the office, I work straight through for 90-120 minutes and then taken a 10-minute break to read something online. Doesn’t matter what it’s about; this is a mental break to do something that refreshes my brain. Plus, that reading turns into Tweets, a Facebook post (on our corporate page), or fodder for our next blog posting. It’s a productive distraction.
TDE: What has become your greatest challenge around managing time? What is your very best practice for being as efficient as you are?
SO: Saying no is and has always been the biggest time management obstacle. As a small business owner, you get this niggling voice in the back of your head that says if you decline a networking event, or a 1-on-1 meeting, or some other opportunity to meet people, then you’re passing up your next big prospect/opportunity. It’s the paranoia of the “what if”. No matter how successful your business, I think the ability to say no has the greatest impact on how you manage your schedule. To me, the calendar – electronic or paper – is the key to time management. My business and personal time revolves around what I put in my calendar. There has been many a time where I’ve told people, “If it’s not in my calendar, then it doesn’t exist.” (Sounds tongue-in-cheek, but it’s not.) Primarily, the calendar keeps me on point in terms of what I need to accomplish each day, which includes all in-person meetings/events. It also helps folks in my company and family to keep track of what I’m doing, where I’ll be, and what is available to squeeze into my schedule.
TDE: Prioritizing. Everything seems important or urgent these days. How do you efficiently navigate your to-do list without hindering your success?
SO: Strictly from a work perspective, whatever generates revenue gets prioritized. From there, it’s broken into work that requires my immediate attention (support/project work) vs. those that have a little more lead time (prospect calls/emails, writing proposals/quotes). Everything else is secondary and gets scheduled based on due date or when there are openings in my calendar.
TDE: How are you impacted by interruptions during the day? What is your #1 tip for dealing with them?
SO: Distractions are inevitable, and in some cases, necessary. That said, unless you have the discipline to work with virtual blinders on, I would suggest figuring out your distraction triggers and minimizing those. Silence your cell phone, and turn it over so you can’t see the display. Turn off email notifications (sounds, icons, etc.) on your computer. Put your office phone on "do not disturb." Don’t open your Internet browser(s). These are the most common we see, but whatever yours might be, there are ways to minimize them, and maximize your attention span.
TDE: As an entrepreneur and very successful business owner, what is the greatest challenge in your business today and what are you doing to address it?
SO: Consistent growth of the business, which includes revenue, employees, efficiencies, new offerings and a myriad of other elements. We started the company in 2004, so we’re a mature small business. And while we take pride in our laurels, we don’t think they’re enough. There’s more we want to accomplish, so finding ways to further the business so as to accomplish these new goals is the primary challenge we face on a day-to-day basis.
A special thanks to Sean for a great interview and his ability to be open and “tell it like it is.”
I know for a fact that he does terrific work and hope that my readers will check Syzygy 3, Inc. out when it comes to their IT needs. They are an amazing resource.
In the meantime, as always, have a productive day!