Take Control of Interruptions!
How often do you deal with interruptions at work on a given day? If you are like most of us, you have no idea, you just know that it’s a lot. Professor Gloria Mark at University of California, Irvine, conducted a careful study of interruptions. Here’s what she discovered:
People switch activities an average of every 3 minutes and 5 seconds. Roughly half of those interruptions are self-interruptions. The remaining interruptions were from outside sources, and she discovered that of these interruptions, it took an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the interrupted task. (Even though 83% of them were completed the same day.)
Self-interruptions are a matter of your personal focus, and that’s the subject of a different article, but let me offer some common-sense strategies which can cut your outside interruptions in half.
Don’t Be The Quartermaster
Believe it or not, some managers and supervisors, either by choice or default, find themselves the keeper of the supplies and/or office equipment. If people have to come to your office for a box of pens or tissue, or to use the copier, or find a broom, then you need a new arrangement. Move ALL those things out of your office, or move your office! If you have chosen this arrangement because you feel you need to control the use of supplies and equipment, well, that’s a different problem that this article doesn’t cover!
Only On Your Terms
“Hey, do you have a minute?” “Can you look this over before I send it?” “Is this a good time to talk about the banquet?” These kinds of questions can drain your time like a vampire. If you have developed the habit of saying “Yes” every time this question is asked, you are training your people to interrupt you, and fostering the attitude that your time is not as important as theirs. Perhaps you have unquestionably subscribed to the time-management mantra of “Do it now!” If so, then you should rethink that.
Get in the habit of saying something like, “I’ll be glad to, but let’s do it at 2:30 this afternoon.”
Train Your Team
Granted, some issues are urgent and can’t wait until later. Setting the interruption to a later time is not practical, but you can set a time limit on right now. Ask them how long it will take, and then hold them to that time limit. It might be a good strategy to ask them to skip the explanation for what they want, and get directly to the request. This goes a long way toward retraining your people to communicate quickly and succinctly. Subsequent interruptions concerning the same topic might then be able to be rescheduled.
If you have a pressing deadline in which there is no room for interruptions, simply make yourself hard to find. Set up in an empty room or office and work there. It goes without saying that you will need to turn off your electronic devices so you cannot be “found” that way, either.
Open Door Policy? Maybe Not
Change your policy. If you have an open door policy to communicate your constant availability, switch to a policy or practice that has “open door hours,” during which your people know to bring their issues to you, and to leave you alone during “closed door” hours.
Don’t Allow Interruptions To Be Interrupted
Only allow interruptions to pile up “one deep.” If you are already on your desk phone, and your cell phone rings, let the cell phone go to voice mail. If the cell caller leaves a message you may choose to listen to it right away, or listen later when you are finished with your activity. Even then, you will have the option of responding to the message at that time or later.
Be Phone Smart
When you answer the phone, don’t begin with, “How are you?” This is an invitation to small talk that will take more time than necessary. Instead, after you have identified the caller, ask, “What can I do for you?” This focuses the conversation quickly on the business at hand without being brusque.
Not all interruptions can or should be avoided. But the above strategies can dramatically enhance your work output on a given day.
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