Take Responsibility for Interruptions

None of us is entirely free of responsibility for some of the interruptions in our workday. If we can identify those times that we are causing our own interruptions, we can reclaim that time by simply disciplining ourselves and others around us to eliminate the causes of those interruptions. Compare the time that you lose to interruptions to the value you could gain by being productive during that time. Then ask yourself: is it worth it? If the answer is yes and the distraction is serving a purpose that helps you be more effective at work, then by all means, allow for that distraction. But if, as in most cases, the answer is no, then take the steps that you need to take in order to eliminate interruptions that you have a hand in causing.

How many of these situations sound familiar?

• You use interruptions as excuses.

For you, an interruption is an excuse for why you haven’t been able to complete something. If someone or something interrupts you, pay attention to whether or not you use that interruption as a reason to stop what you were working on. You shouldn’t stop your work for an interruption unless you feel that the interruption is more important than what you were working on. If you have to stop what you are doing, be sure to write down or otherwise mark where you were so that you can get right back to where you were once you have handled the interruption.

• You try to work on multiple projects at once.

While ‘multi-tasking’ is a buzz word that tends to convey a sense of competence and high-level performance, the truth is that switching from project to project can be a major interruption. If you are in charge of what you work on from day to day, then make it a goal to complete one project, task, or item fully before moving on to the next one. If you are not in control of your own time, be sure to clarify with your supervisor whether or not they want you to stop working on your current project to start working on the new one.

• You procrastinate.

When you don’t want to do something, you find reasons to avoid doing it. You might tell yourself that these things are important, but are they truly more important than what you are doing? There’s a saying regarding procrastination that can be helpful when you face this self-created time waster. It says ‘you don’t have to want to do something in order to do it.’ If you’ve determined that the task you’re procrastinating about is actually the most important task that you have at the moment, then why not just knock it out and get it done? The sooner you take action to complete the task, the sooner you will be done with it and ready to move on to the next item on your list. See the next chapter for more tips on managing procrastination.

• You are distracted.

Each of us has an environment in which we will do our best work. While the office with the window might be a sign of success, your success won’t last long if the view out of that window is distracting you. Determine what the distractions are in your environment that you can eliminate.
Some other examples of distractions might include responding to the sound of an email arriving, automatically stopping work to answer the phone (when it’s not explicitly your job), or looking up every time someone walks by your office door. Arrange your furniture so that you can avoid distractions. If noise is a problem, close your door or wear headphones that block sounds or play music that won’t distract you.

• You accept non-work calls at work.

Everyone has an emergency from time to time that means you need to take a call at work. But in many cases, we have started accepting calls at work that are not emergencies. It’s important to realize that we have trained those people in our lives to believe that they can call us at work whenever they want or need to. But if it’s affecting our productivity, these calls become an interruption and a nuisance. You may need to tell your friends and family that you can no longer accept calls at work unless they are an emergency – and then stick to it the next time your best friend calls to tell you about her new boss. You can do this in a way that lets the person know that they and what they have to say are important to you. Just ask if you can call them back on your next break or when you leave work.

• You often have co-workers stopping by to chat.

Everyone wants to have friends at work. They can make some of the hard days bearable and the good days better. But when the stopping by occasionally becomes habitual, the friendly chats can become true interruptions. Treat these interruptions as you would the phone calls from family and friends – let the person know that you have an important project that you are working on and you’d like to get back to them later on that day. Pick a day to have lunch together or meet up for your coffee break. Just don’t let chatting keep you from getting done what you need to accomplish.

• You answer every email as it is received.

Email has had a major impact on the way that we work, but not all of the changes have been for the good. Many of us have the tendency to jump every time that we receive an email. We hear the ‘ping’ of the email arriving and we immediately stop what we are doing in order to see who it was from and what it was about. In most cases, this is a waste of time and simply interrupts what you were doing. Sure, there are times when you need to be alert to arriving email, but ideally you should have set times that you check your email during the day, say first thing in the morning, around 10:30 a.m., after lunch, and an hour before leaving for the day. You may even be able to check less than this – it just depends on your job and the expectations of your workplace.


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