How to manage constant interruptions

As we saw in the last post, constant interruptions are a fact of life in matrix organization structures. The pattern of attention when we are interrupted at work looks like this.

Pattern of attention when we are interrupted at work

Remember that the impact of this is as bad as a 10 IQ point reduction – and some of us don’t have that much IQ to spare!

To deal with this, here are six top tips focused on the three major ‘interrupters’: email, people and phone calls

  1. Prevent interruptions. We can prevent the interruption in the first place by not checking emails so regularly, by working from home or putting on voicemail to screen calls. For many of us this will be difficult because being accessible is part of our jobs. However this may be the best way to organize ourselves for tasks that require sustained concentration and focus.
  2. Limit interruptions to specific times. Some research shows that checking emails 2 to 4 times per day is optimal to prevent interruptions and allow you to focus – other reports have shown people checking emails obsessively – over 150 times per day! If you have an audio alert for incoming emails – turn it off now! Book “me time” in your calendar at specific times of the day of week to ensure you have some uninterrupted time on your key activities. Close the door, or agree some signal with your colleagues on when you do not want to be interrupted – a post-it note on the door or a special hat you wear whilst thinking 🙂
  3. Be tough about how you deal with interruptions– make a quick decision about whether to deal with it immediately or park it and return to your original task. Write it down to free your mind to let go of it.
  4. Have a strategy for fast re-engagement with your original task. Leaving a document open with cursor at thte right place, writing a quick post-it of where you were up to before responding to the interruption etc.. can help you quickly pick up the task again.
  5. Don’t get distracted– when an interruption happens, don’t allow this to distract you into 2 or 3 other tasks (which is what usually happens), if the original task was important – get straight back to it and complete it. That way it is off your action list and not there to distract you in the future.
  6. Have a plan– a clear plan or prioritised action list prominently displayed at your workspace can help stop you bouncing into activity for its own sake.

Intriguingly I found some suggestions that meditation and the practice of being “present in the moment” can help train us to be more able to focus – I am going to try to find out more about this.

Why not share your top tips, comments or questions on managing interruptions?

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