One of the biggest challenges I see in the world of productivity is being interrupted at work. While I don’t believe in the Canadian stereotype of politeness, I do believe that we have all been trained in the workplace to be instantly responsive if we want to be considered a “good” coworker. So, if someone comes to the door or to your cubical you will stop whatever (possibly very important and complicated thing) you are doing and waste 5-10 or even 30 minutes helping them with their issue.
There are a lot of complicated factors coming into play during this quick interchange. Some people want to look good, others have a fear of being impolite, and others may have been taught that you must defer to authority at all times. In addition, if what you are working on isn’t really engaging, then there can be a procrastination factor involved as well as you subconsciously ‘welcome’ the interruption.
While it is difficult to control your own internal emotions, a lot of what you need to do has to happen long before people start interrupting you.
You see, YOU are the one who trains others and sets their expectations. If you have honest and upfront conversations with those who interrupt you then you develop a system in order to be able to focus and get work done well in advance. Set up ‘office’ hours for interruptions. If people know that you are available 24/7 then they will bug you whenever they get the sudden urge to. If you tell them that you are available for interruptions between 10 and 3pm only then you will have the beginning of the day and the end of the day to yourself.
And don’t worry about missing out on emergencies or time dependent interruptions either. 80% of your interruptions aren’t really these anyway. Instead when you get an interrupting phone call, knock or subtle cough you will know that it is truly important. And if it isn’t? Then you will need to politely remind them to return during your previously discussed hours.
I strongly believe that an honest and upfront discussion is the best way to deal with interruptions at work. That said, I have been known on occasion to feign a need to pee in order to get any particularly intractable interrupters to leave me alone…Not the best approach but sometimes, socially awkward people may not be responsive to the ‘best’ approach and you have to do whatever you can to be able to get back to work.
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