Too many interruptions?

What to do about Interruptions

Our reaction to interruptions is a bigger problem than interruptions themselves. But even once you’ve developed skills to manage your response, interruptions remain a common part of any work day and can consistently pull you away from your intended tasks.

If you feel that you are being interrupted too frequently and/or unnecessarily, your first step is to gather data. This can feel almost more onerous and time-consuming than being interrupted, but to fix a problem you have to identify and understand it. Choose a span of three days that is somewhat typical and make a note every time you get interrupted. Your “Interruption Log” should record:

  • Time of the interruption & how long it lasted
  • Who interrupted you (even if it was yourself)
  • What the interruption was about

After the three-day data collection period, schedule 30 minutes for yourself to review it and look for patterns. Sometimes the data will reveal that while it felt disruptive to your flow, the interruptions were appropriate and reasonable and really just a natural part of a dynamic, collaborative work day. These types of interruptions you can normalize and accept, so your brain reframes them as healthy interactions rather than “interruptions.” Other times the data will show you ways you are undermining your own performance with multitasking or untrained focus. This you can resolve with better list and calendar use and renewed commitment to mindfulness.

Address the remaining interruptions by planning them IN or planning them out.

PLAN IN to your day interruptions that were appropriate but which could have been anticipated and scheduled at your convenience. For example, if people routinely deliver reports or data to you that you have to consolidate or work with, instead of having them come into your office and hand to you or drop on your desk, create a specific labeled upright file holder near your door where they can drop it for you to grab when you’re ready. It seems a small thing, but creating a focus for that material and having it at the periphery of your work space will minimize frequent intrusion. The virtual version of this is creating a rule so that those items go directly to a specific email folder that you can access when you’re ready to do the task. PLAN IN to your day is like a funnel: you’re capturing the incoming but funneling it so that you can take action at a specific time on your calendar.

PLAN OUT of your day interruptions that can be entirely avoided with better organization or communication/planning. For example, you may identify that providing training, resources, or support to key individuals would reduce or eliminate their need to seek frequent guidance or approval from you. Another example would be creating consistent procedures to streamline tasks. PLAN OUT means that you explore the root of the interruption and schedule time to establish a solution that will eradicate that interruption in the future.

How can you PLAN IN or PLAN OUT interruptions you identify in your work day?

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