Time Management And Interruptions

One of my favorite things to do in a time management program is to ask, "How many of you have too many interruptions?" A multitude of hands go up. I then ask the second question: "If I got rid of all your interruptions, how many of you would still have a job?" Many less hands rise into the air.

Too often we blame interruptions for wrecking our day, when it was probably within the scope of our job responsibilities to get the interruption in the first place. It's how we handle the interruption or what we learn from it for the future that makes the difference on how much it impacts our work flow.

To better analyze your interruptions and how to minimize their drain of resources from a more important task you were undertaking, try these four suggestions:

  • Be less available. You can acknowledge their need for help or information, but that doesn't mean you have to drop everything RIGHT NOW. Use body language to remind them you were in the midst of something else. If you need to really focus on a task, don't stay in your normal work area. Find a place where you can be left alone for awhile.
  • Determine the reason for the interruption(s). Physically keep a log of your interruptions and what you think caused them to interrupt you at that moment in time. You may start seeing patterns develop. You may also be able to discern root causes like a lack of information or the location of resources they need. Determine if you could make a change that would give them the opportunity to get things done without stopping to ask you something.
  • Clarify the interruption. Before they start making their request. ask them how long they think it will take. If their answer is more time than you have and it can wait, schedule it for a time that works better for you. If they tell you it will take two minutes, have your timer set on the desk and tell them to start. It's amazing how people can quickly get to the point when they know they have to.
  • Set up a stoplight. "Green" means they can come into your work area without hesitation. "Yellow" means you can be interrupted if it's really important (define what is meant by "really important" before you start using the system), and "Red" means that you can be interrupted only if you are bleeding-alot-and no one else can stop the flow except you.

Lastly, make sure you aren't inviting the interruptions. Some people like having their work flow stopped frequently because it keeps them from having to focus on a difficult task they need to undertake. I know that wouldn't be you, though. I certainly have never done it either.