How to deal with interruptions
In a distracting environment, there’s no chance of hitting your “flow” and completing your most important daily tasks on a regular basis.
What could be going on?
- You’re choosing to get distracted by things under your control (like email).
- Others don’t know you are busy.
- Others think you are OK with being interrupted for non-emergencies.
Ways to handle it:
When you really need to focus:
1. Tell your colleagues you’re off-limits, until a certain time.
2. Turn off all communication, including your phone.
True emergencies are rare in most jobs. The overall increase in productivity will be well-worth taking the small risk that you’ll learn about an emergency an hour or two later.
3. Go to a location with minimal distractions.
Usually that’s somewhere hard to find, like an obscure conference room or nearby coffee shop. If you have an office with a door, close it.
Suggestions for any situation:
4. Turn off all interruptions you can control.
Start by turning off your email notifications, instant messenger services and calendar notifications.
5. Process email and voicemails at specific times rather than continuously.
Let messages gather quietly and then tackle them at specific times each day (maybe 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.). Process them all at once, quickly, instead of responding to each interruption as it comes.
6. Discourage interruptions passively.
You can pre-empt a lot of interruptions without even speaking. People notice body language. Wear headphones. Hang up a sign that says, “If it’s not an emergency, email me.” Let phone calls go to voicemail.
7. Learn how to say, “I’m busy” and “No.”
When someone asks for your time or attention, you can say, “Is it an emergency? If not, could you email me? I’m in the middle of something.” If someone asks if you “have a few minutes,” simply say, “No.”
8. Decide if each interruption can be handled later.
Before starting work on an interruption request, step back and decide if you really need to do it now, or if it can be delayed until later.
9. Schedule important work when you are less likely to be distracted.
Early in the morning is usually the best time for this. What if you shifted your work day from 10 – 7 to 7 – 4? You’ll probably get two to three hours of blissful peace at the beginning of each day to knock off a few of your most important tasks.
10. Reset your team’s expectations.
Tell colleagues not to interrupt you unless it is an emergency.