Have A Minute? Managing Interruptions

Interruptions are a part of life. Sometimes they bring a welcome break, especially if we’ve been working on something tedious or boring.

But when we allow the interruptions to run rampant and trod all over our best laid plans, the disruption can set us back further than we realise.

Imagine for a moment your ideal day. What could you accomplish if you forged solidly ahead with sheer focus and concentration? Nothing to interrupt or distract you. Big strides and achievement, right?

The reality is we can’t avoid or eliminate all interference. But the good news is we can take measures in minimising and managing interruptions.

Every time we’re interrupted by something, e.g. an email, a phone call, our brain has to reset and refocus to resume the previous activity. Recovering from interruptions slows us down, delays task completion and even prolongs the actual time it takes to complete the task.

Here are a few of the common offenders and some examples of how to counteract them:

Emails – Be ruthless in your approach. Resolve to process emails at select intervals throughout the day. Of course this will vary by business. But as an example, say 10.00, 14.00 and 17.00 for thirty-minute increments each. Turn off your email alerts and resist with all your might the temptation to keep checking. Give your other activities proper attention. If something is important or urgent enough, the person can find alternate ways to contact you.

Phone calls – A challenge for many. People often feel obliged to answer the phone every time it rings. Of course it’s good business practice. But if you are in the middle of an activity that would really benefit from your attention, let the call go to voicemail. Better yet, consider engaging an answering service and designate times in the day to return the calls.

People¬†– Colleagues, business associates, household members…where you work will dictate the type of people interruptions you encounter. While working around others can be uplifting, or simply unavoidable, don’t let your work-time stray with unnecessary interactions. Try these to avoid de-railing:

  • Stop at ‘Hello’ – By all means greet your co-workers and say hi, but avoid the temptation to ask how their evening was or what they’re doing at the weekend. Save those conversations until after work or during a lunch break.
  • Succinct Breaks – Pausing for tea breaks is fine to give your eyes / mind a rest from the computer. However, if a co-worker decides to join you every time, make it snappy and even say out loud…”OK, back to work!”.
  • Set up a Border Control – When a colleague approaches your desk, immediately ask, “how can I help you?” This will force them to get straight to the work reason and avoid unnecessary small talk. How many times has your day been hi-jacked by a colleague, leaving you working after hours to finish your work. Be polite, but reclaim your time.
  • Home Office Boundaries – If you work from a home office, communicate “working hours” clearly to your household. Just because you’re “at home” doesn’t mean you’re not working. When the boundaries are clear, and everyone knows they’ll have your full attention after you’ve clocked off, it will be easier for all to observe and respect your working time.

Remember, each time we allow an interruption to come in and take over, we relinquish time we had purposefully allocated for important activity. Where will we regain that time once it is gone?

And of course, don’t forget to extend others the same courtesy – they need to manage their time, too.

Bear that in mind the next time you ask someone if they “have a minute”.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Afraid Of Opening Mail? 7 Steps To Dealing With Unopened Post - Cory Cook Professional Organising Services - Thursday 19 Sep 2013

    […] Step 6 – First Things First¬†Review action items and prioritise by urgency. Then schedule a recurring time when you can set to work with minimal interruption. […]

  2. 10 Ways To Stop Wasting Time - Cory Cook Professional Organising Services - Friday 11 Jul 2014

    […] up front. ‘How can I help?’ gets to the point, revealing the the true purpose of the interruption. If information is requested that you have to hand, handle it and move on. If more complex, ask how […]