How to Reduce Interruptions and Improve Focus

Originally published
Originally published: 1/1/2010

10 practices that help build a culture of mutual respect.

According to the WhiteCollar Productivity Index, the average worker feels that they are unnecessarily interrupted about once every eight-anda- half minutes. And the worst part of interruptions is that not only are you completely thrown off what you were doing, but it also takes eight minutes to refocus that task. T

urning your company into a workplace with fewer interruptions will save valuable time that everyone can use to:

• Get more work done in less time.

• Have more time for daily planning.

• Schedule time to think, read, and learn more about your business.

Not all interruptions are bad, so you should have a clear understanding of what you consider a necessary interruption and what is unnecessary. When someone has a great idea and wants to talk to you about it, they should be encouraged to share what’s on their mind. Yet, when you are obviously concentrating, others should recognize that and make a proactive decision as to whether or not to interrupt. Use and teach these 10 practices to reduce interruptions in your organization:

1. Do things on time.

You will have things completed and moved on to others before they feel the need to follow-up (interrupt) you to find out why information they were expecting has not been given to them.

2. Don’t interrupt others.

If you have a habit of barging in and interrupting others, this sends a clear signal that it is O.K. for others to do the same to you. More often than not, people treat us exactly as our actions show that we want to be treated.

3. Look before you leap.

Learn to look and see what people are doing, and decide if your interruption merited. Most conversations can easily be delayed without negative consequences.

4. Set appointment times.

People tend to interrupt because they are not sure when they are going to have access to you. Whether it be 10 minutes in the morning with your assistant or follow-up on that big project that requires multiple meetings throughout the week, set appointment times on your Outlook calendar so there is clarity for all involved that there will be time to meet and talk.

5. Tell them you’re busy.

Then immediately set a time to meet. If appropriate, you might want to consider meeting/talking after normal working hours or over a scheduled lunch. You may want to schedule time as a repeat appointment with those who need to have routine access to you.

6. Take a stand.

Allowing someone to sit down in your office inevitably will mean a longer interruption. If you stand up, and perhaps walk to your office door or cubicle entrance, an interruption will tend to take less time.

7. Turn off visual and audio email notifications.

Your email system allows you to turn off these interrupters. Setting times throughout the day to manage email eliminates the need to use notifications.

8. Batch communication.

Keep a file for every person you interact with frequently so that you can place notes of non-urgent issues you wish to discuss with them during your scheduled appointment times. These “batch files” will minimize the need for non-scheduled times — interruptions.

9. Do things right.

Handle communications completely and correctly the first time to reduce others’ need to get clarification.

10. Leave complete phone messages.

Expect to get voice mail when you call someone and be prepared to leave complete information in your voice message. Request that others do the same for you.

By implementing and leading the way to reduced interruptions, you will contribute to building a culture of respect within your organization and have that precious “thinking time” that spawns great ideas to grow your business. 

Kerry Gleeson is the founder of the Institute for Business Technology International (IBT) and developer of the Personal Efficiency Program (PEP). He is the author of the books The Personal Efficiency Program and The High- Tech Personal Efficiency Program.

Bary Sherman is CEO of PEP Productivity Solutions, an international efficiency consulting company. Contact them at kgleeson@bellsouth. net and

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