How many times have you been interrupted today?
Frustrating, isn’t it? And if you consider that it takes around twenty minutes to regain your focus after every interruption, then it’s pretty clear to see that interruptions go well beyond personal irritation to have a significant detrimental effect on your – and consequently your company’s – productivity.
So what’s to be done? Obviously, in our brave new world of predominantly open-plan offices and technology enabling a constant flow of interruptions even at your home office, you can’t completely sequester yourself away – no matter how much you fantasise about it (and you know you have).
But beyond the simple strategy of turning off phone and email notifications, there are a few more things you can do to minimise interruptions (when other people disturb you) and distractions (when your own thoughts wander off-piste). Read on for our recommendations on how to maintain your focus:
- Make a note. Suddenly remembering a task you have yet to tick off is one of the most common distractions. The best way to silence your inner nag? Write down the must-do as soon as it occurs to you. This eliminates any concern that you’ll forget about it and frees up your brain space for the task at hand.
- Clear out the clutter. What you’re working on right now is the only thing that should be in front of you. The less you have on your desk, the less chance of your eye falling on something which could lead you astray.
- Assess what’s important. Can it wait? Then park it – politely, of course. Make a quick decision about which task is more urgent – what you are working on, or what you are being asked to do. If the former is still your priority, then explain to whoever has interrupted that you are not being unhelpful – just busy.
- Try not to intrude. Yes, you do it too – we all do. Be aware of the demands and pressure you may be inadvertently placing on others. Communication is key: ensure your colleagues understand what you require of them and when. This way, you won’t be compelled to interrupt them for updates at an inopportune moment. Which leads us on to:
- Create a culture of respect. You’re all in this together, right? So make the effort to discuss a policy for interruptions with your colleagues. Agree on a universal and (within reason) non-negotiable “Do Not Disturb” signal. And then stick to it.
Let’s face it, you’re never going to eliminate interruptions and distractions completely. (And would we want to? Sometimes an unexpected diversion can be the equivalent of hitting refresh.) But following these guidelines should help to minimise the worst of them. Now – don’t let us keep you. We’d hate to interrupt.