Keys to Managing Interruptions
I am often asked in my training classes to address the challenge of interruptions. Regardless of whether you are working out of your home or in a cubicled corporate office, all of us are dealing with the trials of interruptions.
Interruptions come in every shape and size. They are a huge drain on productivity. The average worker is interrupted 73 times during the course of a typical day (Cubesmart, Inc.). Scarier still is that the average recovery time for an interruption is 20 minutes!! That is the time it takes you to get back to the same level of concentration before you were interrupted.
Knowing when and how to manage interruptions is a key element in getting done what you need to get done.
Awareness is the first step in change. It is important to know that many interruptions are self-imposed. Meaning we are sometimes our own worst enemies when it comes to interruptions. Constantly checking email, aimless office wondering (due to boredom), and lacking a planned focus for your day all lend themselves to unproductive distractions. So in this newsletter, I am going to address some of those self made interruptions.
Step one: Set a time to check Email
Don’t check email the first moment you arrive at your desk. I suggest that you take the first 15 - 20 minutes of your work day to visit your calendar, review upcoming meetings and appointments, check your To-Do list, THEN check your email. Immediately get rid of low level emails then scan high priority ones. Set a time limit for this first morning sweep, otherwise you will look up at noon and realize all you have “done” all morning is Email.
Step Two: Setup auto alerts for your manager’s incoming Emails
The habit of constantly checking email in lieu of getting “real” work done is a perfect example of self-imposed distractions. So, instead of constantly being pulled away from focused work, identify one or two people to whom you need to be highly responsive. Depending on your email program, an envelope may appear on screen regardless of what program you are working in. This allows you to glance at the incoming email alert, preview the first line or two, return to what you were doing or THOUGHTFULLY deal with that message.
Step Three: Create a mechanism for uninterrupted time
I once had clients who were a team that worked in a very open office setting. This created challenges for finding appropriate ways to create time to perform concentrated tasks. We came up with the red, yellow, green “Light” system. Here's how it worked - Small colored disks would be placed on a team member desk surfaces: The red disk indicated STOP, “I am working on a deadline"; yellow indicated CAUTION, “If it can wait, I would appreciate it”; green indicate OK TO INTERRUPT, “I am available if you need me”. This design worked because everyone agreed to the expectations it set.
This particular system may not necessarily work for your team, but having a conversation with colleagues about interruptions is worth the time and effort. THEY too are struggling with this challenge.
Working from home presents its challenges as well. Just because you are home during the day does not mean you are available for watching the kids or running errands. Post your schedule on your office door indicating conference calls, appointments, and project time. Have a family discussion about setting expectations for managing interruptions.
Step Four: Manage Boredom
This seems almost laughable in a day and age when we are so incredibly busy, but being busy doesn’t always equate to being interested. All of us have aspects of our jobs that have to be done, but are not particularly stimulating.
Manage these tasks by scheduling them, building in breaks and staying social. Schedule routine tasks during naturally high energy times of the week/day. Friday afternoon is a great motivator for getting things done. Build a coffee break “reward” into large or tedious task. Get away from your desk during the day, not to interrupt someone else, but to have lunch or take a walk with a friend. The social interaction will renew your momentum. The key here is to find ways to manage your low energy threshold.
For the home office worker, this challenge may be particularly trying. There are so many interesting distractions available by being at home. My personal favorites are two Labrador Retrieves named Luna and Monty who need to go out, need to be petted, or need to regularly demonstrate their adorableness.
Here too, it is necessary to build appropriate breaks into your day and week. Enjoy some “kid” time by taking them to school or meeting them at the bus, plan a lunch with your partner, or use your “lunch hour” to take the dog for a walk. Stay connected professionally by attending networking events or getting involved with an association in your field.
Step Five: Stay Clear of the Drama
Nothing creates the perfect storm of interruptions like office drama. The more interesting the office gossip is, the larger the distraction it provides. Staying out of this theater, not only helps to limit its life cycle, but it lets colleagues know that you are not interested in this kind of social interaction – thus reducing the stream of intrusions which typically accompany it.
Being aware of what interruptions you may be influencing, planning techniques to limit them, and creating the dialog around setting expectations all help to make your day more productive.
I wish each of you an UNINTERRUPTED day!
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