4 Ways to Handle Interruptions

Barbara Weltman It’s been said that if you work in an office you’re probably interrupted an average of once every eight minutes. And it can take four to five minutes to refocus after each interruption.

Interruptions are distractions that eat into your ability to handle priority jobs. Take control of your time by effectively handling interruptions. Here are four ways to do so:

Erect barriers. Prevent someone from intruding on your time by setting up physical partitions that isolate you when you want to be alone. Examples:

  • Close your door.It may not stop knocking for important matters, but it will discourage interruptions for socializing.
  • Put up a do-not-disturb sign.Again, some interruptions will still occur, but more frivolous ones will be prevented.
  • Hold calls. Don’t take phone calls; let someone else or an answering machine field the calls while you spend uninterrupted time focused on your tasks.
  • Schedule time alone. Let co-workers know that you are not to be disturbed at certain times of the day (e.g., before 9 a.m.) when you are attending to matters from which you do not want to be distracted. These “interruption-free” periods can be as frequent as you need to accomplish the work you have to do.

Get an idea of how often you are interrupted and how much time this costs you daily by jotting down interruptions throughout one day. Total up the interruptions and see how much time you’ll gain if you can eliminate them from your day.

Create alternatives for handling problems. You don’t have to deal with every problem in your business if you have others working for you.

Educate your staff to handle problems so you won’t be interrupted about every detail.

Set up chains of command to deal with issues that need immediate attention. Your second-in-command, for example, may be equally able to field a customer complaint.

Terminate interruptions. Despite your best efforts, interruptions will undoubtedly occur. Politely but promptly terminate interruptions. For example, tell the person interrupting you that you have to complete a job by a set deadline, but will get back to him or her as soon as possible.

You may have unscheduled visitors who disrupt your day. You can opt not to see them, telling them it’s not a convenient time for you. If you choose to see them, set limits on the time you’ll have together and then schedule a future appointment for further discussions.

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