Ever feel like your day is a series of constant interruptions that prevent you from moving your biggest priorities forward? Or that you get a lot more done when fewer people are in your office?
To some extent, dealing with interruptions is part of most jobs. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t create some structures that minimize them or carve out time for yourself where you can focus without distraction.
Often people worry that doing this will make them seem inaccessible or unresponsive to colleagues. But it doesn’t have to. Here’s how.
1. Schedule clear work blocks. Just like you schedule time on your calendar for meetings or other important appointments, schedule time with yourself to tackle your biggest priorities. Then, protect them like you would anything else important; block off the time as “unavailable” on your calendar, let phone calls go to voicemail, and close your door if appropriate in your office culture. If someone stops by in the middle of the time, be willing to say, “I’m right in the middle of a work block for something pressing, so if this isn’t urgent, can we talk later?” The key to making this work is…
2. When you say “I can’t talk right now,” be clear about when you’ll come back to the person. It’s important to include something like “can we talk after lunch?” or “can I shoot you an email about that before the end of the day?” That way, you’re not just leaving the person hanging; you’re setting out clear follow-up steps with some assurance that their issue will get your attention – just not right this minute.
3. Be really responsive to people during other times that allow it. If you make a point of being responsive and helpful during periods when your work flow allows it, you’ll usually get more leeway during the times when you do need to turn down interruptions. Coworkers are less likely to see, for example, work blocks as “I can never get Jane when I need her” when they get reasonably fast responses from you during other times.
4. Think about whether there are patterns in the interruptions that you get most frequently, and whether there are ways to head them off. For example, if people are regularly interrupting you for guidance on X, you might be able to create a tip sheet or decision tree about X that will help people solve those questions themselves.
5. Recognize that there are some jobs where interruptions are the job. While there are many jobs where the assumption is that you’ll get large uninterrupted blocks of time to focus, there are others where the role is actually structured around needing to be accessible to others most of the time. In those roles, it’s not realistic to protect your time at the expense of making it difficult for people to get in touch with you quickly. If you’re in a job like that, the answer is usually to account for that in your work planning and goal-setting, and to make sure that people above you recognize that reality.
If time is important to you and your business, download our free eBook, 10 Proven Tips to Improve Your Productivity at Work.