Are interruptions breaking your day? Here’s what to do about it.


In a recent survey, corporate managers told us that interruptions are one of their biggest challenges.

Here’s what you can do about it.

Unfortunately interruptions are an annoying reality of organisational life.

Meetings, messages, emails, colleagues and customers endlessly demand your attention and take your focus away from what you’d like to be doing.

Research suggests that everyone — from IT professionals to health care providers — are interrupted as much as every six to 12 minutes.

And other research shows that it’s actually really difficult to switch your attention between tasks without a residue of each unfinished one being left behind in your head.

Which means the chances of doing your best work after an interruption are pretty slim unless you can really focus and complete something.

We know that interruptions are one of the biggest challenges managers face, especially when trying to do their own work, and others want and need help.

So what can you do about it? Here are four simple things that our clients tell us work in order to overcome interruptions:

1. Marking in your calendar when you’re not available
2. Working away from your desk
3. Turning off calendar and email notifications
4. Setting boundaries and saying no

Read on for more information

1. Marking in your calendar when you’re not available

If you’re a manager this is good practice for getting your own work done. Let your phone go to voicemail, don’t look at emails, mark your Teams or Slack to show you’re busy. Negotiate with your team for how they can contact you in an emergency.

Work away from your desk. Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

2. Working away from your desk

This may have been more relevant when we were all office based, but when you are now working remotely, you can always go to a cafe or go to the library, or go and sit somewhere else, say on a different floor.

3. Turning off calendar and email notifications

If you haven’t yet turned off the notifications from you calendar or from email, you may not be aware just how distracting they are. Email can suck up your time with pointless busyness and reactive working, and this is what you want to avoid, especially when you are trying to do something else. Turning off reminders (which are all set to On by default) might be the most empowering thing you can do. Doing the same with your calendar notifications puts you in charge of how you are reminded of things – not the software you use.
say no

Set boundaries and say no. Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

4. Setting boundaries and saying no

It is great to decide what to focus on and to create space to work on that. Just be aware you might have to say ‘no’ when someone tries to cross that boundary.

As an example, this is the story of two business partners who were constantly interrupting each other. It was happening so much they were both feeling really aggravated. But neither said anything about it. The build up of anger, frustration and resentment was threatening their working relationship. Eventually we helped them have a conversation, and they decided: “we will have four tea breaks a day, and in between we’ll write everything down that we want to ask each other and wait for that cup of tea and then we’ll go through our lists together.”

They did this and they got loads more work done and started to enjoy working together again – setting boundaries changed their lives and saved their business.

So try these four things and see how you get on.

These tips and strategies come from our new Working Smarter programme – if you can find the time and the headspace to do it, it is a brilliant way to change your mindset and learn practical ways to be more productive.

If you’d like to make work better try the manager programme first for yourself, and if you think it’s good, get the team version with or without clinics for your organisation. Contact us here.

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