Interruptions are a part of any working day, and in many cases, what we deem as interruptions are actually an important part of our work. The key to working productively is recognising which interruptions require an immediate response and which are simply distractions. Regardless of your role, finding the balance between people-focus and task-focus can be a constant juggle.
If unnecessary interruptions are controlling your time and disrupting your workflow, it can be helpful to set in place one or two boundaries for managing your time. Try using some of the following strategies to manage interruptions and create more focus in your day.
Do Not Disturb
Have one hour each day when you operate under a ‘Do Not Disturb’ policy. To get the most out of that time, schedule it for when you have the most energy and try to use the same time-slot each day. Your team will come to know that you are unavailable at this time and plan accordingly.
Recently I worked with a company that has a team ‘Do Not Disturb’ policy from 8am-9am each day. This means that everyone spends the first hour of their day uninterrupted and once they are in-the-zone, it often lasts a little longer by default.
Turn Off Notifications
Unless your key responsibility is to respond to email queries or online messages, turn off all your notifications. Instead, check and clear messages at a few set-times each day.
While this might feel unnatural to begin with, it’s important to remember that online messaging (including email) is not an urgent form of communication. If you are worried that you might miss something important or keep people waiting, set up an auto-response that explains how often you check your messages. Invite people to call if their email requires genuine attention before your next check-in.
If you don’t like constant interruptions, it’s important that you lead by example and avoid constantly interrupting others. Instead, jot down questions and ideas as they spring to mind, then chat to people about 2-3 things at once. Encourage your team mates to do the same thing with you. As people start to batch questions and ideas, one interruption can go two ways. You’ll find yourself and your team saying, “While you’re here…”
Be Honest About Your Time
Most people genuinely don’t want to interrupt, so when someone asks, “Do you have a minute?”, be honest. If you are in the middle of something, simply reply with, “I’m in the middle of something right now. I’m happy to have a chat in half an hour if that’s okay.” If you are happy to stop for a brief chat, be specific about how much time you can spare e.g. “I have three minutes now, or you can come back in half an hour if you need more time.” Once you have given a time frame, stick to it. Otherwise, it won’t mean much next time around.
No Sitting Allowed
Stand-up meetings are always more time efficient, so remove the visitors seat from your office. That way, when people pop in to ask questions or share ideas, they do so standing-up. If the conversation warrants more time, or you want to invite the person to stay longer, you can pull in a chair from outside the room.
Redirect Your Calls
If your role allows you to have a receptionist or assistant, re-direct your calls to them and instruct them to ask: “Is there something I can help you with?” rather than “Can I take a message?”. Often, the caller doesn’t need to talk to you at all.
If you do choose to pick up a call, decide how long you have available before you answer. Having a clear timeframe helps keep the discussion focussed and on track.
We are all distracted by different things, so identify the trigger distractions for you, and remove them from your physical environment. If your triggers can’t be removed, then remove yourself instead. Be honest about what’s tripping you up and start counting the cost of the distraction.
Managing your time means being intentional about how you spend it. While some interruptions are necessary and unavoidable, many interruptions only happen because we allow them. If you really need uninterrupted time, you need to be pro-active in creating it.