(Almost) Everything You Need to Know About Managing Interruptions!

by Emma-Louise Elsey

How focused are you? Do Interruptions Get in the Way of Achieving Your Tasks and Goals?

How often do you get into a state of flow? You’re super-focused, you’re making fantastic progress and suddenly, you’re out. You’re interrupted. You pick up the phone to answer a call, you’re tempted by a “ting” on your cellphone to check your messages, your friend/partner is bored and comes to talk to you, your colleague has an “urgent” (for them) request. The list goes on.

Interruptions take us away from whatever we’re working on. When we need a break this can be a good thing, but at its worst an interruption can cause us to lose our sense of “flow”, we can lose a wonderful creative thought, forget something important – or even lose a deal!

So, this article is for both you and your clients! Inspired by and based on our popular Interruptions Blaster Workbook, you will find something helpful here. Whether you could do with more focused time to work on your business, or have a client that keeps being interrupted at work or whose family prevents them from working on their coaching goals with you, I share the key for dealing with all interruptions and 3 helpful ideas to manage your (or your client’s) interruptions better, including 12 specific strategies to take in the moment!

The KEY to Managing ALL Interruptions:

When it comes to dealing with interruptions there is a never-ending list of possible responses.

The KEY with ALL interruptions is to STOP and PAUSE before you take any action.

  • – STOP, take a deep breath and evaluate the situation.
  • – Then, ask yourself, “Is this interruption more important than what I’m currently doing?”

What you choose to do next depends on many things – including WHO the interrupter is, whether it’s URGENT or not, whether the interrupter is a repeat offender, whether it benefits YOU or not, whether you’re in a state of flow etc.

TIP: Try asking, “If I say “Yes” to this interruption, what am I saying “No” to?” You’re essentially asking yourself “What are the consequences, to me, of this interruption?”
TIP: If you find you’re welcoming interruptions AND not getting things done, you may need to have a deeper review around your motivation.

Here are 3 Helpful Ideas to Help You Deal with Your Interruptions

Idea 1 – Get to know the source of your interruptions

Do you understand the source of your interruptions, your interruption habits? Because when you do, you can respond effectively in future, instead of simply reacting on auto-pilot.

Try keeping an interruptions log for a week or two – making note of:

  • – What the Interruption is (name it & briefly describe it)
  • – WHO IS the Interrupter? (remember it could be you!)
  • – DAY & TIME
  • – TIME SPENT on Interruption
  • – WHO BENEFITED from the Interruption? (this can be very interesting to see!)
  • – How IMPORTANT is the Interruption? (score out of 10)
  • – Was it an URGENT interruption?

As you write out each interruption you could also briefly ask yourself what could I do differently NEXT TIME? And jot down any ideas that spring to mind.

Then at the end of a week or two, review your log looking for themes, common patterns and interrupters! Now you have the information you need to come up with a plan…

“The average American worker has fifty interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with work.” W. Edwards Deming
Idea 2 – Have pre-prepared strategies for dealing with your interruptions

Here are 12 Strategies for dealing with Interruptions in the Moment

  1. Simply say “No” to the interrupter’s request.
  2. Delegate the interruption. This could be delegating back to a family or team member or to someone you know would really enjoy – or even benefit from the experience of – dealing with the request.
  3. Give it back to the interrupter. “I know you’re more than capable of handling this on your own”
  4. Reschedule the interruption or request for a time that suits for you. Try “I’m just in the middle of something/a tight deadline. Can I get back to you tomorrow?”
  5. Ask the interrupter to schedule a meeting with you to discuss it.
  6. Ask your interrupter, “Is this urgent?”
  7. Share what you’re doing and ask if the interrupter’s request is more important than what you’re working on. This is a good strategy if it’s your boss who is regularly doing the interrupting.
  8. Ask the interrupter for 5 minutes to make notes/wrap-up so you don’t lose where you are.
  9. Offer the interrupter a set period of your time to work on the interruption, after which they must schedule another time with you.
  10. Ask the interrupter to summarise the issue or request in an email – including what they want you to do about it (you may even find they will go away and deal with the issue themselves once you do this!)
  11. Buy yourself some time and ask them to come back in 30 minutes/an hour.
  12. Self-Interruptions If the interrupter is you, you can say “No, I’m not doing that now” out loud to yourself. Then agree with yourself that you will attend to your self-interruption later eg. I’ll look at that message at lunchtime, I’ll browse YouTube this evening, when I’m not working.

Important thought: Remember that kindness and respect are essential – whether you’re dealing with yourself or someone else. It can help to think of it like this: Say “Yes” to the person, but “No” to the task
Idea 3 – If you’re working on something specific, try to prevent the interruption in the first place:
How to Prevent the interruption (this is great for set periods of time where you really need to focus)

  • – Go somewhere you won’t be, or are less likely to, interrupted.
  • – Close a door between you and the outside world if you can.
  • – Putting on headphones and listening to non-distracting music can put you in a super-focused zone, and also is an unconscious signal to others that you are working – creating a barrier to their interruption.
  • – Put your answer machine on and/or switch the phone ringer off.
  • – Close distractions like social networking sites, email programs and email ‘pingers’.
  • – Turn your personal cellphone off.Wrap-Up

Interruptions can be frustrating or they can be stimulating – giving you a welcome break. To handle interruptions more effectively you need to stop reacting and instead take a deep breath, giving yourself a few short moments to evaluate how you are doing, and then make the best decision for you.

Article by Emma-Louise Elsey and reprinted with permission from “The Launchpad” newsletter and blog at The Coaching Tools Company