Taming Office Interruptions

Published Tuesday, May 18, 2010 9:26 AM

"Got a minute?"

How many times during your typical workday do you hear this question or its equivalent in the form of an urgent email or a phone call requiring your immediate attention?

Can That Call Wait? Turn on Your Voicemail!

According to a New York Times article on the chaos of modern office life, you probably hear it more times than you can count. Profiling a scientific study of workplace interruptions, the article cites this finding:

"Each employee spent only 11 minutes on any given project before being interrupted and whisked off to do something else. What's more, each 11-minute project was itself fragmented into even shorter three-minute tasks, like answering e-mail messages, reading a Web page or working on a spreadsheet. And each time a worker was distracted from a task, it would take, on average, 25 minutes to return to that task"

Given this steady stream of interruptions, it is no wonder that many of us feel unproductive and depleted at work. But, we are not powerless. Although we cannot eliminate them, we can take steps to minimize office interruptions so we can accomplish more and stress less.

One way to diminish these distractions is to block off an hour or so each day when you:

  • Close your door (literally or by telling coworkers that you are unavailable)
  • Activate voicemail
  • Silence your smartphone
  • Ignore your email inbox

You can fortify this no-interruption zone by responding to emails only at designated times. A little communication also goes a long way. If someone comes to your office or calls when you are busy, you can politely, but firmly, say: "I only have five minutes right now. Can we set up another time to talk at greater length?" Another trick of mine is to use more 'quiet' times in the office to work on projects where I need uninterrupted concentration. For example, first thing in the morning or lunchtime both work well for me to focus with minimum interruptions.

For more practical tips on taming office interruptions, take a look at these posts:

As always, feel free to share your tips and tools for minimizing office interruptions with us.

by Candie Harris



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