Interruptions are the #1 Time Thief—hands down.
So if you’re trying to find the secret hack that’s going to unleash your superpower and transform you into a multi-tasking champion, you’re in for a rude awakening.
Like many things in life, the #1 key to improving your productivity isn’t DOING something.
It’s NOT doing something.
In this case, being interrupted.
Nothing derails your productivity more than the endless interruptions that happen during a day.
And while each one may seem harmless by itself, when you add them up, the impact on your day and work will horrify you.
We’re interrupted by communications technology every 10 minutes.
It takes an average of 23 minutes to recover from ONE interruption.
The math behind that is super simple.
2 interruptions and 2 recoveries and you’ve lost an hour.
Add that up throughout your day and it’s no wonder you get to the end of a day and think you were crazy busy AND got nothing done.
Because your day was basically a series of interruptions, recoveries and the tiny bit of work you could squeeze in between those two reactive modes.
If you’re nodding your head now thinking, “YES! That sounds like my day!” you’re clearly not alone.
“2 Interruptions and 2 recoveries and you’ve lost an hour. No wonder you get to the end of your day exhausted and with little to show for it.” Click To Tweet
And if the next thing you tell yourself is, “Well, yes, that IS true but that’s just how things are here. I’ll just stay later and when everyone leaves, I’ll do my real work,” you’re telling yourself one of your 200 LIES.
Here are 7 things you can do to immediately stop or minimize interruptions.
7 WAYS TO STOP OR MINIMIZE INTERRUPTIONS
#1 Turn Off Notifications
There are only 2 ways to stop interruptions completely. One of them is completely within your control and the other is hopefully something you can impact.
What you can control are notifications. Turn them off now—I’ll wait.
The constant stream of digital notifications beeping and chirping at you throughout the day is unnecessary. UNLESS your job is specifically about being responsive to notifications AND what they are notifying you of.
If you have a customer service role OR your position is a support position and you are tasking for other people who notify you of the things they need you to do, then you need a way to appropriately use notifications.
AND you need a meaningful conversation with the people you support about their expectations.
Can you respond once an hour? 4 times a day? 2 times a day?
DO NOT accept the status quo just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
I’m calling bullshit on that.
If you want change, you’re going to have to risk addressing whatever you’re currently doing.
Sitting at your desk HOPING things will change while doing the same thing you’ve always done is the definition of crazy.
If you are not in a support position or your job is not customer service related, you have no excuse for having notifications turned on. None. Turn them off now.
And if you have ADHD or any other condition that makes focusing difficult, notifications just make everything worse.
I’ll post a few links of additional resources for folks with ADHD at the end of this post (so you don’t click away now and miss the point of THIS post!).
#2 Shift the Culture
What you may not have control over but can hopefully influence is the overall culture at your job.
Is it ok for anyone to walk up to you while you’re working and tell one of THEIR 200 Lies:
“Hey, I’m so sorry to bother you (LIE), but …”
As we know, anything after but is likely to be a load of shit.
They aren’t sorry and it’s apparently totally acceptable to interrupt you.
Or it was.
What can you do to push back and start to shift the culture away from anyone feeling entitled to interrupt YOU and then go back to what they were doing with intention and clarity?
Sure, there are times when it’s appropriate to interrupt you.
Like when you’re about to make a dangerous mistake and step into an elevator shaft where there is no elevator waiting.
Or put metal in a microwave.
Or buy ANOTHER ab roller online.
But just walking up to someone’s workspace because they’re bored or looking for a distraction or wanting to gossip or otherwise mess with YOUR productivity is not one of them.
So who do you need to have a serious conversation with about the culture at work?
Have that conversation.
If you need help having that conversation, you can always reach out to me for some coaching. I’d be HAPPY to have that talk with you. AND your supervisor. And HER supervisor. And the CEO of the company.
The negative impact this time thief has to most company’s bottom line should get any boss’s attention.
If it doesn’t, then YOU should be the boss because you clearly get it.
#3 Make Time Constraints Known
If you must be interrupted, the first thing you should do or say is,”I’ve got X amount of time for this right now. I’m going to set a timer and then let’s get this addressed as quickly as possible.”
Then set your timer.
If you don’t set a timer, then you send the direct AND indirect message that your time has no value and you only exist to respond to other people.
Which is bullshit.
If you say you have X amount of time, set a timer and then allow the other person to run over the allotted time, then you are communicating that you can’t tell time, you have no boundaries and your time has no value.
You may benefit from our Next Step Coaching Program.
If you have excellent boundaries and clear communication, when the timer goes off, the next thing you should say is, “Great, thank you. If we still have more to discuss, we’ll need to make an appointment to pick up this convo then.”
And then either get out your calendars and BOOK THAT APPOINTMENT or direct them to your online scheduling app OR your assistant’s email.
#4 Run an Errand
If someone shows up at your desk without an appointment and wants to steal your time, pivot into action and say something like, “Hey, great. I’ve got to go to the (kitchen, breakroom, bathroom, copier …), walk with me and we’ll see if we can address this on the way.”
Then get up and start walking.
You get a little exercise, you shift the energy for both of you and you get them away from your desk. Triple win.
I suggest you do this over and over again with anyone who does this to you until they notice that you NEVER stay at your desk when they show up.
If they do connect the dots and say something about it, that is the perfect time to address the underlying issue of interruptions and their impact.
If they can’t connect those dots, they are an idiot and unworthy of your time.
#5 Don’t Go Online Unless Necessary + Gang All Online Activities Together
You may think you’re a ninja online. You’d be wrong.
Even digital natives, especially digital natives who live on their electronic devices like the the human batteries in The Matrix, are wrong.
The Internet is a great source of information and has some amazing tools and resources on it. Hopefully you think this blog is one of them.
But it’s also heavily influenced by commerce.
Which is designed to sell you crap you don’t need, suck your attention away from anything happening in the REAL WORLD and undermine your productivity until it serves them to let you go.
So don’t lie to yourself about your ability to jump online with laser-sharp focus, extract the one piece of information you need and then get right back to what you were doing.
Because, chances are, you’ll end up shopping on Amazon or Zappos or watching an unrelated video on YouTube before you get back to what you were doing BEFORE you went online.
You’d be much better off making a list of the things you need to find and any other online tasks you need to accomplish and then set aside a block of time to do them all at once.
You have a much better chance of NOT going down an Internet rabbit hole this way and if you do, at least you’ve gotten lost while already AT the mall instead of in the parking lot or on the freeway.
#6 Isolate Yourself For Concentration
Until you are successful at shifting the culture at work to one where everyone, or almost everyone, is respectful of each other’s time and boundaries, you may need to remove yourself from the environment to get some serious thinking, tasking or writing done.
You have two choices here:
Work remotely or go into a private room like a conference room or a phone booth and do your deep work there.
If you can work remotely AND your home environment is not as bad or worse as your work environment, I always vote for remote work.
I get a TON done working from home.
And I still have time to get a snack, check my email (2x a day), respond to questions in Slack, go to the bathroom and not turn into a crazy person–most days.
And when I turn into a crazy person, it’s usually from some crazy thoughts I’m having–not from being interrupted.
If remote work is not available to you, then find someplace at work where you can task and not be interrupted.
This is where thinking unconventionally may help.
If you can’t get into a conference room or a phone booth, is there a stairwell you can work in? A bathroom stall?
If the goal is improving your productivity, ask yourself how far you are willing to go to be more productive.
Who cares what that involves or looks like? If you don’t, then it’s really no one else’s business.
Let someone else worry about the optics—you focus on your objectives.
And only a jerk of a boss would question the HOW of your methods if the WHAT of your results are what the team is looking for.
#7 BONUS: Put Something On Any Spare Chair
This is sort of a joke and sort of not.
If you have a spare chair or seat in your office or near your desk, keep a stack of papers or your bag and a few other items on that seat. That way no one can sit on it.
Only the most brazen and clueless person will remove what looks like an organized mess and put it on the floor or another surface so they can sit down.
Most people will stay standing and if they stay standing, they will leave sooner.
If there is a wall or a door frame they are likely to lean against, figure out what you can attach to those surfaces as well.
The less hospitable your space is for someone to linger, the less likely they are to linger.
Do this without shame and knowing that the goal is your focus and productivity and you’ll keep moving the needle forward.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you want to be the rockstar that you know you are, then approach your productivity like an Olympic athlete–train hard, train often and push yourself to exceed your expectations.
Otherwise, settle back into one of your 200 Lies about how you WISH you could be better at managing your time but the odds are stacked against you.
I’m calling bullshit on that, too.
You have agency over your time even if you’re trading it for money with your employer.
And no one cares more about HOW you spend your time than you do.
Nor should they.
You have one life to live and there’s no point getting to the end of it and thinking … if only I could get some of that lost time back.
And if you could, it probably wouldn’t be to answer one more email.
But to have done something significant and meaningful with that time.
Today is the day to shift your mindset so you end each day without regret and a deep sense of satisfaction.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR FOLKS WITH ADHD
One of the pioneers of professional organizing and productivity, Andrew Mellen is the best-selling author of Unstuff Your Life!. He travels the world speaking, teaching, and coaching individuals and global brands including the New York Mets, Genentech, American Express, Time, Inc. and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.