Time Management: How to Manage Interruptions (Tip #10)

A certain amount of interruptions is unavoidable in any work environment.  We are, after all, human beings who are easily distracted by shiny, sexier items than what we might be currently working on at our desks.

The other reality is that in today’s typical organization, we are called to intersect, collaborate and access each other at several points in any given work process.  So admittedly, you won’t be able to control all of the interruptions in your work; however, you can take responsibility for managing some interruptions and influencing how long interruptions distract you from getting down to work.

This is where self-discipline comes in.   We are typically socialized to be “nice” and “good team players” and often that involves congenial and friendly connections with our co-workers.

However, for you to manage interruptions effectively, you will need to introduce some assertiveness to your friendly approach.  In the end, you are the only person who can assert your needs around an ability to focus.  It takes self-discipline to be willing to say “No, I am going to ask for what I specifically need”.

Furthermore, it takes self-discipline to institute some of the tips below which can help you minimize interruptions to your work.  For example, from talking to many people, it really takes something to being willing to re-set expectations with people (“I am batch processing email and I will get back to you within 3-4 hours, if it is urgent, please phone me”) or to turn off all of your email notifications and resist looking at each email as it comes in.

By employing self-discipline, you are refusing to let these types of “distractions” thwart your efforts to focus and achieve something.

Here are a handful of ideas to consider when minimizing interruptions:

Visitor Interruptions

– Close your door or post a note (if in a cubicle) then put in ear plugs. Regular quiet time will allow you to concentrate on tasks and accomplish a great deal in a short time.

– Encourage the use of appointments rather than unscheduled visits. Go to the other person’s office if he or she must see you; you’ll have more control of when to leave.

Telephone Interruptions

– Establish quiet hours during which you accept only emergency calls.

– Tell those who call you regularly when you prefer to receive calls.

E-mail Interruptions

– Turn off all your e-mail reminders. In outlook you will find these under the “Tools->Options->E-mail Options->Advanced E-mail Options” tab.

– If you have a PDA such as a Blackberry, turn off all the e-mail notifications there as well, including the vibrate option when receiving e-mail.

Read your e-mail only at set times of the day, or when you have completed a task and are not interrupting anything.  You will need to reset expectations with people who work closest with you when you start batch processing email.  Typically when people know what you are doing, they are fine with it.

In case you hadn’t already heard, Kwela made its Time Management program available in an online video format.  Click here to view the Introduction and a course excerpt from the eCourse.

Joanne Spalton, Senior Consultant