How to Conquer Interruptions at Work
Interruptions have always been a reality of life and work especially with the rapid development of technology (emails, phone alerts, smartwatch alerts, smart homes & offices) having meetings, conversations with colleagues, unexpected calls – all of that takes our time and attention away from being truly productive and stay motivated in what we do.
Also, the statistics on the impact of regular work disturbances are alarming. Research made in Germany about the impact of work interruptions states that employees in mentally demanding professions are interrupted on average 15 times every hour. It means that you get interrupted every 5 minutes – how can you function you ask? The participants of the research also spent at least a day and a half in meetings during the week and were attempting to multitask at least twice every hour. Such working conditions can contribute to a lack of concentration, lowered productivity, stress, overwhelm, and anxiety.
Our brains have it difficult to manage attention between multiple tasks. Part of our attention stays focused on the interrupted task and does not fully switch to the disturbance which is called attention residue. Attention residue happens because we have an innate need for completion that makes switching our attention difficult for the brain to execute. In such situations, we hold on to unfinished tasks instead of putting them aside and moving on to another.
In most jobs, employees must manage multiple projects or tasks at the same time – switching between different work activities, projects, tasks, calls, and meetings. Work interruptions or disturbances can make us feel stressed, fatigued, frustrated, and guilty because we struggle to manage our attention and workload. Eventually, these negative feelings can also become distracting and continue to overwhelm us which is not helpful.
In this article, we will outline 7 ways to minimize interruptions, achieve your goals, and be successful in your work and home life.
You can avoid many interruptions by holding routine meetings with your colleagues and partners as well as with clients. If people know that they will have access to you on a certain time log, they will most likely learn not to disturb you with less urgent issues until you have a chance to meet. You should also schedule regular check-in times for the people you communicate with most. Suggest your teammates to keep a list of topics or questions they need to discuss with you, and you can do the same.
Having meetings on a regular basis will allow direct communication when the time is appropriate and when you and your colleagues have reserved the time for that, but make sure that the meetings are held only when necessary and avoid time wasting with non-essential chatter. A good suggestion is to limit the number of people you catch up with and do it online if you can or meet in a neutral workspace. This way you can easily leave the meeting after things are resolved and talked through.
Set Time Tor Urgent Tasks And Issues
Reserve a certain time into your daily schedule that is dedicated to urgent tasks for you or your clients and only take on as much other work as you can into the remaining time.
Maybe during the day, you notice that many clients call you in the morning or the important deliveries arrive in the afternoon. By booking this time for urgent matters, you won’t be overloaded and stressed by the things that may distract you from finishing your tasks.
Everyone needs that special time, when you are dealing with high-priority tasks that need to be completed urgently and may require deep focus, this is an essential step to get things done. When you know, that you have time booked for the priority tasks, you will feel much more organized.
Use The Power of "No"
It is completely normal to say “no” to a request or task if you’re too busy and unavailable, or if the request is too demanding, not important, or can be done later. If you agree to everything, you risk burnout and you will not be able to complete everything that has been piling up.
First, you have to define your objectives, resources, and time limits and look after your own needs by setting boundaries for your mental and physical capacity.
Here are some key questions to ask before saying “no” to a task:
- Do I have time to do this?
- How urgent and important it is for me and the company?
- Am I the qualified person for the task?
- Is someone else better suited for the job?
- Can I delegate?
- Does this request fit with my goals and objectives?
- Can I complete the task without interfering with my direct duties?
Mark Yourself "Available" or "Unavailable" Time
You have to have a mechanism or method to let people know when you’re available – and when you are not. Choose a signal to use when you’re unavailable, a productivity tool that will show your availability to others. You can mark your apps on phone or computer to indicate that you are busy. All of this his will remove disturbance while avoiding misunderstandings.
Put your “unavailable time” in your shared calendar and stick to it. Time booked for yourself and by yourself when you’re most productive will help you to tackle more complex tasks.
But do not overuse “unavailable time” and make sure that others know that they can contact you if it’s absolutely necessary. Communication is also important for remote workers who may feel isolated. There are many availability indicators that display notifications and personal availability that will help you eliminate workspace distractions – just have a look at our Products section.
Let Technology Help You
You have to invest some of your time and energy in planning and technology management that can help to limit technology-based interruptions, or just ask your IT specialist for advice. When you need to focus, but the phone keeps ringing, you can use voicemail to screen calls, or send an automated text that you are busy or in a meeting.
It is smart to set any online messaging and communication platforms to mute, or even sign out of them. Don`t forget to make sure to communicate with your team when and why you’re doing this. Probably the best solution to eliminate distractions is using some of the do not disturb lights – to let your colleagues know your availability status.
A good tip is to check your emails less often – a few times a day, and maybe try Phil Simon’s “3 Email Rule” that works when you need to send more than three emails to someone on the same subject – call them instead. This approach motivates people to get more to the point and encourages live discussions of complex issues. Don`t forget to set reminders and label emails to deal with messages according to priority so no important message is lost.
Focus On One Task - Do Not Multitask
The popular idea of multitasking is a myth and it is not healthy for your brain and depletes ability to focus on work. When doing several things at once, your mind is divided between them so it’s only natural that you make more mistakes.
The best way to control distractions is to plan and complete one task at a time. Most of us know that multitasking adds stress to our daily lives, and negatively affects our mood, motivation, and productivity when even your work tasks can become an interruption. When you interrupt one task to focus on another one you will most likely be disorganized and confused when you get back to it.
The best option is to develop a strategy that allows you to switch to a new task after you complete the previous one. For example, this means that you should avoid checking emails before completing a goal from your plan. It also emphasizes the importance of prioritizing tasks: you shouldn’t leave priorities for later, so you won’t have to start working on them before you complete the less important goals from your list.
If your job requires the need to multitask, you have to put more effort in creating more structure to your work and taking a break before moving on to the next task.
Take a Break
When you get interrupted, it’s easy to get caught up in the situation and the person interrupting you. Everyone usually considers their request is urgent and more important than what you are working on. But most likely it’s not a crisis, and it would be more beneficial for everyone to take a little time out before responding. You will do yourself a favor if you remember to take a short break in between your tasks even just for a few minutes to do something for your overall well-being (your mind and body will thank you for that):
- Have tea, coffee or drink some water;
- Take a walk around the block or in the park with some greenery;
- Call a friend or family member;
- Read something off-work topic;
- Do some stretching by your desk;
- Listen to relaxing music;
- Switch your surroundings;
- Mindful breathing (deep and long breaths), short meditation, relaxation techniques;
- Open the window to let the clean air in;
- Tidy up your desk and drawers or desktop.
Make sure to have several breaks in your schedule and set time limits for these breaks, that will help to structure your day by allowing yourself to take your mind off work, but you must monitor the time you spend on them. Sometimes five minutes are more than enough for a brief chat with your friend on the phone or have a coffee with a colleague.
Many different disturbances at some point will always be a part of our life. Whether in our personal lives, work lives, no matter if you work in a busy office or from home. But by implementing some of the tips mentioned in this article, you can be in control and avoid feeling like the day is slipping away from you. With a bit of conscious effort, we can maintain focus and get the most out of our workday.
If you have realized that you have a problem with distractions, you have already taken the first important step forward. We have summarized 7 simple ways for you to help manage interruptions and stay productive:
- Have regular meetings;
- Set a time for urgent tasks and issues;
- Use the power of “No”;
- Mark yourself “Available” and “Unavailable” time;
- Let technology help you;
- Do not multitask;
- Take a break.
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