There are two primary ways we experience interruptions. The first is externally, when we are interrupted by somebody or something else. For example, someone walks into our office, calls, or sends an email. The second way we experience interruptions is internally, when we interrupt ourselves. Examples include constantly checking our email, getting up to refill the coffee cup, and browsing the Internet. Self-interruptions occur especially when we are procrastinating.
Whether you welcome them or not, such interruptions will disrupt your productivity. Become more aware of interruptions, and you will begin to see just how much they affect your work.
There are a few ways you can cut down or eliminate external interruptions or minimize the time spent with other people who are interrupting you:
1) Close the door.
If you have an office, close the door when you need focused, productive work time.
2) Create clear signals.
If your workspace doesn’t have a door (especially as more and more workspaces are designed to be completely open to foster communication and team building), then create clear signals of when you are open to being interrupted and when you’re not. Use whatever method works for you. For example, you could wear headphones as a signal that tells other people, “When I have headphones on, I don’t want to be interrupted.” You can either have a companywide rule or create your own rule that everybody is aware of.
3) Post a sign.
Hang up a sign somewhere on your cubicle that says, “Please don’t interrupt me now.”
4) Walk a person out.
If somebody comes into your office and tries to talk to you, you can very quickly and nicely end the conversation by saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m working on a project now. I’ll stop by your desk later and we can chat,” or “How about we do lunch together?” If someone walks in and sits down to talk to you, often standing up and moving toward the door gives the other person a signal to leave. Walk the person out with you as you go to the restroom.
If you are self-interrupting and find yourself stopping your work too often and at unscheduled times to check email, Facebook, your fitness app, or to make phone calls, that is a problem that’s harder to overcome. Set times during the day when you check your email and return or make important calls. If you are checking email four times a day, then you could tie in checking voice mail during the same scheduled time frame. When you schedule your phone calls outside of your highly productive times, you build logic around your day and avoid unnecessary interruptions. You’re making choices, purposeful decisions about how you’re going to break out your day and schedule your time.
Do not let others hijack your most valuable, non-renewable resource. If other people are interrupting you, or if you are self-interrupting, you are giving away or letting others steal time from you. You can avoid that by becoming aware of interruptions and minimizing them.