The Best Way to Handle Interruptions in Business

Most of us working in an office environment understand what it is to be ‘in flow’ – that perfect state of profound thought and deep concentration reserved for doing our most important work. We’re deep in thought, brain completely engaged in getting things done, and then poof! The phone rings, or a colleague stops by, or our email clangs, and our flow vanishes like an ice cube on a hot day.

Interruptions in an office environment may be unavoidable, but they don’t have to consume our workdays. Below are four strategies which, when effectively implemented, can lead to minimizing interruptions in our schedules and maximizing the amount of time spent doing our most important work.

  1. Schedule Interruptions. Although it sounds counter-intuitive to productivity, interruptions can be less disruptive if they occur during less brain-intensive tasks like email. Consider using your electronic calendar to indicate when you’re doing less important work so your team knows when they can pop in without distracting you.
  1. Along these same lines, Make Full Use of Software. Use your e-calendar’s status function to indicate your availability (or unavailability) along with the best time(s) to reach you. Then make sure your team knows when this is, and why.
  1. Be More Visible. Electronic tools are great, but you also want to consider enhancing your use of software to minimize disruptions by being more visible to your team. This might mean placing a sign on your office door indicating that you’d prefer not to be interrupted except in an emergency. Then, define what a true emergency constitutes so that everyone is on the same page. One of my favorite office clients places a neon green sign complete with sparkly silver and blue streamers on her office door to indicate that she absolutely does not want to be interrupted except in a dire emergency. She does this for several hours each day when she’s working on what matters most. Her team see this bright sign and try to avoid interrupting her at all costs. Her success rate using this method is close to 85%, up from 20% when she only marked herself ‘unavailable’ using available software.
  1. Use Clumping. Clumping is my all-time favorite approach to reduce or eliminate unscheduled interruptions. Clumping items like with like decreases the number of interruptions that occur during a workday. Rather than having team members stop by as questions and comments arise, consider asking them to “clump” their questions and comments into batches, and then stop by for to discuss everything at once. A bonus to this tactic? In some cases, Clumping enables the question to answer itself during the workday, reducing time spent for everyone.

Lisa Mark, C.P.O. is a productivity expert and Certified Professional Organizer. Contact Lisa if you would like to find out how she can help you manage your time.

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