I teach a class Managing an Overwhelming Workload, and during that class I do a poll asking what folks consider their biggest time challenges at work.

Without fail, “managing interruptions” is among the top issues folks are struggling with at work. If you’ve ever tried to focus on that project while working from {home, cubicle land, anywhere} you probably agree with them.

Got Interruptions?

Interruptions are one of the biggest time thieves in your life. Just think, if you had a dollar for every time someone interrupted you at work, you’d be drinking coffee free all week.

Now not all interruptions are bad things. There may actually be good news at the end of “you got a minute?”  The problem, is you will have lost your train of thought by the time you hear them out.

You Are What You Allow

One of the best bits of advice I’ve ever received was that “you are what you allow.” Whatever you let folks get away with, that’s what they’ll do.

Part of the problem with interruptions, is that we say “yes” when folks stop by, under the misguided notion that we can multitask. I won’t bore you with all the details, but neuroscience teaches us that our brains are only able to process things one at a time. It just happens quickly enough that we think it’s all at once.

I want you to picture your thoughts running on a train track. Despite thinking you can process multiple things, you can only have one train or one thought on the track at a time. Sometimes, we can ride the express and move things through quickly-fooling us into thinking we can handle it, but too often, we get a back-up and even derailments.

Unfortunately, every time we switch a task, it can take us up to 11-25 minutes to get back to our productive self.

Stop allowing interruptions under the veil of multitasking and tell folks you’re busy.

(Be nice about it though! Ask them if you can schedule a better time to connect.)

Yet Another Interruption?

I won’t leave you hanging. There are some things you can do when all else fails. Here are some tips to help you eliminate or better deal with interruptions. Drop me a comment to let me know what you think!

  1. Build time into every aspect of your day for those interruptions that we all experience.

You will never have a single day that’s not interrupted by something unexpected. This is usually what throws people off course. It can break your concentration, making it harder for you to get the flow back.

If you’re at work and someone pops in for “just a minute,” you’ll notice that it always turns into a lot longer. Before you know it, half an hour to an hour will have passed and you can’t get that time back.

You want to allocate time for these interruptions by looking at your day and figuring out how much time you have to give these. For example, when someone walks into your office, you can say, “I’m working on a project so I can only spare five minutes.”

At the end of five minutes, if the other person is still there, you say, “I’m sorry, but my time is up and I have to get back to this.” If you respect your time, others will, too.

  1. Plan your day the night before.

This gives you a go-to launching place. You know what you have to start on first. It helps you to manage time if you have a map to follow – even if it’s simply a list of what you must accomplish that day.  Tackle your toughest project at the start of the day. Hopefully, everyone else will be on a coffee run and you can get your work done.

  1. Plan your phone conversations.

If you plan your conversations before you make the call, this helps you stay in control of how long the conversation lasts. If someone calls you and you need to get off the phone, you just say that you have to go.

Most people don’t want to risk sounding rude, so they’ll remain on phone conversations that are taking up a lot of their time.  If that sounds like you, there are several easy ways to end a phone conversation. You can say that you’re in a time crunch and have to go or that you need to take care of something. Usually, that will cause the other person to say goodbye and end the call.

It’s okay to tell someone you can’t talk at the moment and will have to get back to them, or better yet, let it go to voicemail.

  1. Don’t let technology interruptions disrupt your time management.

When someone isn’t dropping by your office or home, they’re reaching out to you through technology like email or on social media. These can quickly take up hour after hour of your day because it’s easy to get sucked into.

If being on social media is a must for you, let it be a scheduled interruption. For example, you just write it on your planner that at lunch, you’ve scheduled ten minutes to be on social media, or schedule when you’ll check and respond to emails.

Stick to that time just as if it were an appointment.

  1. Separate the interruptions between what must be dealt with and what doesn’t have to be dealt with at that time.

You don’t have to make someone else’s urgency (lack of planning) your priority. Someone didn’t get what they needed or didn’t accomplish what they needed and all of a sudden, they want to drop it in your lap. Or, they want you to stop everything you’re doing to help them get out of a jam. There’s something to be said for good teamwork, but if this is a recurring situation, it’s time to put the brakes on bailing others out and talk to them about respecting your time.

None of this is easy, but if you don’t set limits and respect them, no one else will.

Struggling Time Challenges?

Drop me a line and request a complimentary Discovery Call where we can brainstorm some strategies to handle them!

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