Manage Your Interruptions – Before They Manage You

Can I borrow you for one second? 

Do you have a minute? Can you hop on this conference call real quick?

I know you’re busy, but could you just …

All those “one seconds” and “just a minutes” really add up, don’t they? Corporate employees get interrupted at least 12 times an hour.

That means, on average, a distraction occurs every 12 minutes and 40 seconds, and lasts anywhere from 10-15 minutes. That’s a big chunk of your day – before you factor in the 15-26 minutes it takes to get your focus back.

Distracting cellphone

No matter where you are on the org chart, bad things happen when you’re interrupted, a study by the Journal of Experimental Psychology found:

  • 8 seconds of interruption doubled the rate of errors
  • 4 seconds of interruption tripled errors

So for your employees’ sake – and your own! – follow these time to protecting your time:

Say “No, but …. ”

Of course, the easiest way to deal with a distraction is saying, “No, I don’t have a second, sorry.”

But that’s not always the best response for your team. Instead of saying just “no,” add a time the person can follow up with you.

Be as specific as possible (i.e., this afternoon at 2 pm in my office), or tell the person to email you to set up a meeting time.

Start tracking

Using an interruption tracker (like Filevine or KanbanFlow) can help you be more mindful of your time – and who’s interrupting it. You can take note of who’s interrupting you, when, details, how you responded and how you followed up.

Take a few minutes to analyze your results and see if you can pick up on any patterns. Is the same person interrupting you? Are the same questions being asked by multiple people? A simple email or quick meeting could be the answer.

Set up privacy rooms

A simple solution your office could benefit from: privacy rooms. Whenever anyone goes into one of these rooms, he or she can’t be interrupted (unless it’s an emergency).

Schaefer Advertising supervisor Erin Naterman says her company has three separate privacy rooms – and it works for her company.

When people go in, “we know they don’t want to be interrupted. Barring emergencies, we wait for them to come out,” Naterman said.

Or keep it simple with “Interruption-free happy hour.” For an hour or two during the day, no one is allowed to speak to each other, send emails, chat via instant messaging, etc. It might seem a bit dramatic, but you’ll be surprised by how much your staff will love this time.

Set yourself up for success

Interruptions are just a part of life – there are going to be times when you’ll just have to deal with them.

For those times, ask the person to wait a moment, then write down your last thoughts or mark your place. These visual cues can cut back on your “Where was I?” response by 80%, says productivity guru Laura Stack.

Interruptions don’t have to steer your day. Give these rules a shot and you’ll see your productivity going up – and errors going down.