How Productive People Deal With Interruptions

February 9th, 2016

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Cave intermissio. Beware of the interruption.

Why? The statistics speak for themselves. Studies show, on average, that…

  • You experience one interruption every eight minutes. That’s up to seven per hour, and up to 60 per day.
  • Barely-noticeable interruptions of only two seconds are enough to throw your productivity off-track.
  • It can take up to 25 minutes to regain your mental focus and work flow after being interrupted, depending on the complexity of the task.

The Big Reveal

There’s no denying it! Interruptions are one of the most lethal time-sinks known to mankind. You don’t even have to be good at math to realize that these statistics spell trouble for your get-stuff-done factor.

The problem is this: Interruptions are inevitable, and they can come from anywhere with little to no notice. Your boss requests a hot tasker. Your spouse phones to say “hi.” Your office mate asks to borrow a dollar. Your kids call for you. Your assistant needs your signature. Your cousin pings you on Facebook. Your dog wants to play ball. Your friend texts with drama.

Then what happens? Human nature practically dictates that you give the interruption immediate attention, action, and precedence over whatever you were doing in the first place, no matter how important.

Even more dangerous are the interruptions you welcome, allow, or encourage. After all, who wouldn’t want to find out how your spouse’s day is going, share a memory with your child, or enjoy some fresh air with your dog? All good (and arguably necessary) things, but sometimes, these good intentions come with bad timing.

The Ins & Outs

Martin Luther King once said: “The major problem of life is learning how to handle the costly interruptions. The door that slams shut, the plan that got sidetracked, the marriage that failed. Or that lovely poem that didn’t get written because someone knocked on the door.”

As MLK so eloquently explained, no matter what the situation – pinning a simple poem or achieving a world-changing dream – interruptions should be avoided, if and when possible. Here are three strategies to do just that:

  • First, identify the source(s). Download this tool to help you analyze the who’s, what’s, and when’s of your daily interruptions, allowing you to either eliminate or reorganize to save time.
  • Second, have a game plan for interruptions you can’t ignore or delay. Bookmark your place; jot down your last thought on a sticky note; or, if appropriate, ask for 10 minutes to get to a proper stopping point. All of these ideas will make restarting your tasks faster and easier.
  • Third, have a game plan for interruptions that you can ignore or delay. Put to memory a script like: “I’d love to help you! But now is not a good time. Can we talk later today at 3pm? I’ll be able to give you my undivided attention then.” Being prepared to say “not now” with confidence and integrity means you can get back to being productive asap.
  • Plus, stop interruptions before they even have a chance. Of course, there is always the popular close-your-door approach or do-not-disturb hours. More importantly, however, is cultivating a work and home environment that eliminates interruptions where possible. Teach – and show by example – to interrupt only when it is a top priority, and when it is not, to find a way to honor the other person’s time.

The Bottom Line

Most people understand the importance of not letting interruptions get in the way of productivity. But it is only a highly productive person who follows through on this understanding and gives time and attention only to those who deserve it, not to those who demand it.

Carmen Coker is a former US Air Force officer turned professional organizer. Thousands of busy people have benefited from her expertise featured by CBS, NBC, The Washington Post, and Real Simple magazine – now it’s your turn! If you would like to find more time in your life, download your FREE copy of The Ultimate Productivity Planner™ right now, and start saving 90 minutes (or more) every day…even if you think time management is a myth!

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