This is the moment you dread. It is 3pm and you have to finish a report before you leave the office. Although it is a tight schedule, you know you can just about manage it.
But then, your schedule gets binned as your boss arrives next to your desk and says. “Gavin, have you got a minute?” You look at your screen. You look at him. He is waiting for a reply and what he is really asking is, “Are you doing something that is more important than me”.
You look up and say: “Yes, of course” as he hands you a file for comment by tomorrow morning — which means yet another rushed meal, a late night and too little sleep.
You may head up a team that tries hard to be efficient, hard-working and target-orientated but that means having an agenda and sticking to it. Unwanted interruptions, especially if frequent, disrupt work schedules, waste valuable time, reduce productivity and can be exceedingly stressful. Such a ‘got a minute’ working culture is, in fact, a methodology that often implies a lack of respect for the basic discipline required in order to work efficiently. Relationships with colleagues should be friendly and cooperative but that implies a respect not only for the workload of others but also of their time.
However, we are challenged in our ‘always available’ world. Today, with social media, smartphones, email and globally dispersed teams, we tend to become always accessible to anyone who wishes to make contact, for any reason.
But there are ways to meet this challenge. Do you interrupt yourself? Of course you will say “No!”, but if a piece of work is rather tedious, do you find an excuse to answer an email that has just come in? Do you look for any Facebook notifications? Do you just check your LinkedIn account and send off a few replies? And when you do return to your work, do you hear yourself saying, “Now where was I?”
Set Goals: At the weekend before you leave the office, ensure that you set your goals for the coming week and check that you have completed all your existing targets.
Controlled interruptions: We all need short breaks within our working day, but treat these as breaks between work tasks, so that it is very clear when you are working and when you are taking a break. In other words, employ a certain amount of self-discipline, otherwise it is all too easy to lose focus upon the job in hand.
Pick and Choose: Learn to respond to interruptions in a way that encourages a disciplined approach to work. Do not either minimise the impact and be eager to accede to every demand on your time, or become irritated and reluctant to respond. It requires a balanced approach. You do not want to appear unhelpful, but others need to respect your time as well as their own.
“I’m really busy”: Apart from putting up a ‘Do Not Disturb!’ notice on your desk, there are other ways of letting people know that you are really busy. One of these is simply to say, “I hope you don’t mind, but now is not a good time for me, can we speak later?”
Learn how to say “No!”: Never an easy one if the person who is interrupting you is your boss. However, if you explain that you have a strict deadline to adhere to, but are happy to give of your time immediately afterwards, then, hopefully, this will be acceptable. This skill needs practicing and can put you back in control. Remember that your boss might not be aware of what work you need to complete, so you need to be clear, courteous and cooperative.
There are no concrete solutions to being interrupted. However, there are some that are within your control. The above tips can help you to manage your time better and avoid some unnecessary interruptions by controlling them rather than vice versa.
The good news is that once you are able to control those unwanted breaks in continuity, your performance and productivity can increase dramatically. That should be a good goal to work towards.
* Unwanted interruptions waste time.
* Essential focus can be hard to retain.
* You need to control breaks in continuity.