How To Manage Constant Interruptions At Work
A recent study discovered that financial services employees lost over 6 hours every day due to interruptions: walk-ins, drop-ins, call-ins, and the inevitable stress that follows. Something tells me they’re not alone.
“Don’t interrupt me while I’m interrupting.”
These distractions are costly – almost $1 trillion to the U.S. economy in wasted hours.
The flip side is sometimes these interactions are necessary. Sometimes a small conversation can keep you informed or make you aware of new opportunities. A little pep talk from a friendly colleague can go a long way when you’re having a hard day.
In my last corporate gig, I would make coffee in the pantry every morning and run into whoever I would run into. There was an unspoken camaraderie in this unofficial coffee club. As luck would have it, I got a chance to collaborate directly with some of them – and knowing them informally made working together that much easier.
The antidote to interruptions is not closing yourself off to the world, but rather making room for kismet moments while still getting your work done. It’s a practice in being aware. The key is to minimize the unnecessary and schedule the rest, so they don’t drag down your productivity.
Let’s unpack some practical techniques on how:
1. Start Logging
Keep a visitor log for a week or two. It can be a simple notepad, or I like to use Google Keep across all my devices. Just write down who interrupts you and how long you spent with them.
You may find that 80% of your time is subtly swept away by 20% of your visitors. Once you know who they are, you can devise a meaningful strategy around them.
2. Embrace Minimalism
I asked a friend with a fabulous guest room how he kept visitors from elongated stays. He said, “Easy. The bed is terrible!”
And there you have it. If you want to keep people from wandering into your space and chatting you up, move the comfy chairs into the community lounge. Put away the candy dish until your deadline has passed. When it’s crunch time, consider hiding out in a conference room where you can close the door.
3. Reverse It
When someone wants to talk, offer to go to their office or desk instead. This gives you more control over how long the interaction takes. Worst case, look at your watch or phone and say, “Oh. I gotta go!” They will understand.
4. Stay Standing
Similarly, standing indicates to the other person that you’re busy and have other places to go. If someone drops by, get up and stand before they get a chance to sit down. Or better yet, suggest walking to the coffee station.
Letting people sit down only increases the probability of them overstaying an interruption.
5. Honor Your Schedule
If a casual conversation is taking too long, just say, “This is great. I have to go, but can we get together this Friday to finish?” Pick a day where you can consolidate informal conversations. Using coffee breaks and lunches to catch up is a great way to multi-task.
6. Be Straightforward
If someone comes by and asks if you’re busy, answer, “Actually, I am…” Or if you only have five minutes before your next meeting, say so – or suggest scheduling time on another day.
Some personalities will simply not listen. Maybe they’re more senior to you or, let’s face it, bored beyond belief in their own job. In this case, try being silent. Nobody likes talking to a brick wall.
Nod your head in understanding and eventually say, “Can I take you out to lunch on Friday?”
Interruptions are as much a part of this world as death and taxes. We should absolutely care and look out for each other. Although this concern should not outweigh the respect you need to have for your own obligations.
“Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others.”
-Airline Flight Safety Guideline