Business Solutions Forum: How do I make all the interruptions to my work day stop?

Q. I could just scream! I had tons of work to do today, several projects with due dates imminent, and instead I dealt with interruption after interruption. What can I do to get things done while still meeting the legitimate needs of those that interrupt me? A. It is best to start by gathering information: Who is doing the interrupting? How many interruptions do you have each day? How much of your time do they consume? What are the topics of the interruptions?
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Q. I could just scream! I had tons of work to do today, several projects with due dates imminent, and instead I dealt with interruption after interruption. What can I do to get things done while still meeting the legitimate needs of those that interrupt me?

A. It is best to start by gathering information: Who is doing the interrupting? How many interruptions do you have each day? How much of your time do they consume? What are the topics of the interruptions?

Then watch for trends: Are the interruptions usually from the same people? Are there regular topics, or are they random?

Then, based on whatever trends you unearth, explore alternatives: If the interruptions are from one or a very few people, maybe a regularly scheduled meeting with them is in order. If you already have regularly scheduled meetings with them, when they interrupt you, see if the discussion can be postponed until the regular meeting. If everything is urgent and they can’t wait, or if there was no way they could have foreseen this need at the time of the regular meeting, it may be that policies, systems and/or authority levels should be reviewed.

If there is a common topic, maybe there needs to be some more structured way to communicate on that topic such as project review meetings, or an online project tracking tool.

Sometimes it is best to simply acknowledge that some number of interruptions are inevitable. Even so, most interruptions can be scheduled to some degree. Consider having drop-in hours, like from 3 to 5 p.m. each day. Send the message that you prefer not to be interrupted with unscheduled meetings or conversations at other times unless it simply cannot wait until 3 p.m..

In many cases, people get into the habit of not organizing themselves and their work and they make up for this by just interrupting you (and likely others) all day long. It is inefficient at best. If you sense this is the case, depending on the relationship you have with this person, here are some responses to interruptions that may be in order:

  • “Can this wait until our regular weekly meeting?”
  • “What course of action do you recommend we take?” “What do you think is the right decision here?” Then if his recommendation was good, next time consider saying, “I really trust your decision on this; can you handle this on your own?”
  • “Say, this doesn’t seem like something we need to deal with this instant. Unless I am wrong, could you just send me an email on this?”
  • “Is this really something that you need my help with?”
  • “This is a situation you have dealt with well in the past. Is there something unusual about this case that needs my involvement?”

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