There’s never enough time in the day to get it all done. Whether you work alone at home, or in an open-plan office, you’re going to get interrupted again and again… by chatty coworkers, needy subordinates, micro-managing bosses, and of course, the constant alerts and notifications of our beloved devices. We lose hours (up to 6!) every day to distractions, not to mention the disruption to our concentration. Professor of Informatics Gloria Mark, in a study by the University of California Irvine, found that “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task” after an unwanted diversion! With some planning and communication, though, you can head distractions off at the pass and regain your momentum.
1) Use tech tools to disconnect (for a while at least)
That handy “Out of Office” notifier isn’t just for well-earned vacations. Declare yourself off-limits for a few hours while you focus on finishing that big project. The “Do Not Disturb” button on your phone works, too. On your office calendar, set up a meeting – with yourself – so others see you’re not free from, say, 9 AM to lunchtime. For virtual teams, a quick status update to “Unavailable” will hold the interrupters at bay.
2) Acknowledge interrupters, but don’t let them suck your time
They’re in every office: time bandits, people who suck up your time with too-frequent drop-bys, overlong phone calls and pestering emails. Protect your precious time and concentration by giving them a moment of recognition, and committing to connecting with them later. A quick and authoritative “Hi, I’m rushing to hit this deadline, I’ll get back to you by 5 PM” lets people know they’re not being ignored (and reminds them of the time pressures you’re under).
3) Teach resourcefulness
During a training program at clothing empire Gap, Inc., future buyers were instructed to think twice before interrupting their coworkers with questions. Their first reflex, they learned, should be to ask: “Do I have the tools to figure this out on my own?” Teaching employees to approach tasks with a solution-oriented mindset cuts down on unnecessary disruptions, and develops essential problem-solving skills. Managers appreciate knowing that employees have done their homework by fully considering an issue before asking higher-ups for assistance.
4) Get to the point!
When you do tear yourself away from your work to interact with an interrupter, don’t be afraid to do it as efficiently as possible. Asking “So, what’s the issue?” at the beginning of the conversation directs the flow of info, and prevents time bandits from rambling. “When do you need a decision?” is another key question – the topic may be important, but not necessarily end-of-the-world urgent, meaning you can address it later in the day (or week). Hopefully, the chronic interrupters will learn a thing or two from your direct, task-focused approach.
5) Shake it off
OK, despite our best efforts, there will still be interruptions we can’t ignore. A client calls, the boss wants to chat, the server goes down, and it’s all hands on deck. Before getting back to your sidelined project, take a minute to decompress and gently transition from frustration to focus mode. Grab a coffee, get up and stretch, organize your desk a bit. You can also thing out loud, so potential interrupters can hear you say “OK, eyes on the prize! I’m finishing this project today if it kills me!”
They’ll think twice about bursting your concentration bubble!