show that when you are interrupted, it takes 20 minutes to regain the level of
concentration you had reached before the disruption. Furthermore, in nearly 50
percent of the cases, a person never even returns to the original task. Track
yourself for a week or two. Understand your own proclivity to be railroaded by
someone who bursts into your office begging for help or that tendency to reach
for the phone every time it rings. Each time you are interrupted, note the
time, who it was, what they needed from you, and how long it took. Then, grade
the importance and urgency of the interruption: A = critical and urgent; B =
important but not urgent; C = unnecessary and not worth the time. At the end of
the week, study your log to determine the average time lost to interruptions each
day, giving special focus to A- and B-level interruptions. If the average time totals
up to two hours of important and necessary interruptions a day, you need to start
planning for them. In this case, you’d reserve two hours of open time in your
daily schedule and use the rest of the day for planned tasks.
Use the following strategies to prevent unnecessary
two or three people who can interrupt you at any time. Make a short list
of key people whose interruptions you will always take, no matter what you
are doing. Defer everyone else to a better time.
ask how long it will take. Every time you’re interrupted, ask how long the
person needs (15 minutes? 45?). Tell them you want to know so that you can
provide the focus and attention they really deserve. Holding people
accountable to the time they ask for helps them be more efficient too.
the conversation with “What can I do for you?” not “How are you?” “How are
you?” is an open invitation to chat. “What can I do for you?” immediately
focuses your interrupter on getting straight to the point.
childcare to keep the kids occupied, even if you are working from home.
Trying to concentrate and hoping the kids won’t interrupt is unfair to
both of you.
a few, comfortable “exit strategies” to make it easier and more natural to
defer interruptions in the moment. For example, you can say, “I’m in the
middle of finishing a project, can we talk this afternoon?” or, “I’m on a
really tight deadline, can we catch up before the staff meeting?”
What catchphrases will
help you wriggle out of the unnecessary interruptions that derail your day?