Saj Jetha Q&A: “Stop interrupting people at work”

The economist and author on how we could all be more productive if only we cut to the chase

Saj Jetha Q&A: Stop interrupting people at work

Work is becoming too frenetic for traditional skills to pass muster, says Saj Jetha, economist and founder of training and talent advisory The Smarty Train. Ahead of the publication of his new book The Smarts: Big Little Hacks to Take you a Long Way at Work, he explained the strategies that will help employees survive.


Your new book identifies so-called ‘work hacks’. What are they?
The basic premise is that work today is requiring us to do more with less – either less time or less resource. But while the inputs into our human systems are growing, our capacity to deal with them is not. The only answer is for employees to increase their processing power and take a new and different approach to it.


What does this mean in reality?
It requires both a new way of thinking and a new way of acting. For instance, one of my hacks is the ‘3 Ps’ – plans, progress and problems. To me, these are the only three things managers need to ask their team members about. Yet too often, they want chapter and verse about everything, including stuff that isn’t actually important. Not only does this waste time, it doesn’t really improve employer-employee relations because it just irritates and angers people. In a business environment where time is short, there’s no point taking the country roads to get to a destination – you have to take the motorway. Some might think it’s succinctness to the point of being rude, but my guess is ask any manager if they need to know anything else, and few will say yes.


Are work hacks about saving time, or being more resilient?
There’s probably a bit of both, but when you look at it, we all need to take time back to do the work we actually have, rather than worry about the process of doing it. It’s also about how we achieve ‘growth’ from work. The holy grail from work is that if you’re happy, you’re growing, and that if you’re growing you’re happy. But you can’t grow if you’re being bogged down all the time. We need a new way of working that allows us to cut to the chase. Sometimes it’s the smallest of changes that can make the most disproportionately good results. I have one hack called eliminating our ‘ants’ – our automatic negative thoughts. If we only trained our brains not to think negatively, we could do so much more.


So do you agree the activity of ‘work’ isn’t functioning as it should?
Absolutely. Our productivity levels have been going down for years. Just think about how often we are interrupted at work – often to be asked whether we’ve got things done that we’re responsible for. Talk about the irony… Experts argue it takes 15 minutes after being interrupted to get back to the place where we once were. Think how much time we could gain back simply by regulating how we are interacted with, leaving people autonomous to get on with their work. The problem is we’ve spent so long engineering management and workflow processes that we no longer think about the things that actually matter – how we all interact with each other and work in a way that gets things done. We need to humanise our at-work, one-to-one experiences, but at the same time need to ensure we have brevity to allow work to actually get done.


Do we just need to think more reasonably about work now?
Yes. We’re in a totally different environment to what we were even 10 years ago. More organisations need to be investing in ‘how’ knowledge is transferred rather than ‘what’ is being transferred. I think ultimately we all need to have more fun at work – and hacks are definitely one way to achieve it.



Get involved:

The CIPD’s Festival of Work (12-13 June 2019, Olympia London, promises to be a landmark event for both people professionals and business leaders. By focusing on the most innovative strategies in management, technology and learning, the festival will help you, and 7,000 of your colleagues, to harness the latest transformations and drive a human future of work. With 7,000+ attendees, 130+ inspiring speakers, filled with inspirational live experiences and challenging ideas, it’s the ultimate celebration of people in the workplace.


Register for your free exhibition pass or book a conference pass.

To submit a blog for consideration please email

For more information on sponsorship, exhibition or partnership opportunities contact +44 (0)208 267 3201 or email

Leave a Reply