12 Ways to Handle Interruptions at Work


The average manager receives six interruptions an hour. And following each interruption, it can take more than five minutes for them to get back into their task.

While some disruptions are part of the job, others are time-wasters that rob you of precious hours as well as the satisfaction of attaining your goals. How can you end frivolous interruptions while managing the essential business-related ones? Here are 12 techniques:

1. Create daily and weekly to-do lists, based on your priorities, to keep you focused and able to discern whether an interruption is important or will help you accomplish your goals.

2. Identify which work relationships are most important and which individuals are chronic interrupters and time-wasters. Develop separate strategies for dealing with each. Set up guidelines as to whom you will interrupt work for, whom you will need to take care of later and whom to say "no" to or redirect somewhere else.

3. When you are interrupted, ask how long it will take, what they need and when they need it. Decide if you have time to handle it and when -- or whether you can refer them to someone else. Tell them what you can do, based on your "to-do" list. Always provide reasons why you can't do something for them immediately; mention a tight deadline or pressing meeting.

4. Sometimes it's easier just to answer their questions as quickly as possible and get back to your priorities. Set a time limit by saying, "I have five minutes. What may I do for you?"

5. If it is your boss who has the request, let him or her know what you're working on and ask which task should take priority.

6. To discourage impromptu interruptions and distractions, arrange your desk so you are not visible from the door or facing the entrance to your cubicle.

7. Curtail frivolous interrupters by standing up when they enter your work space while glancing at your watch. If they don't take a hint, ask them to walk with you while you talk. Then walk them to the restroom or back to their office so that you can control when the conversation ends.

8. During your most productive hours, send your calls to voicemail. Then set aside a time (preferably when your chatty neighbor usually drops by) to return them.

9. Unless you're expecting an urgent message, resist the impulse to constantly check e-mail. Consider eliminating desktop e-mail notification to reduce distractions.

10. Avoid holding meetings in your office or cubicle; that way you can leave when it's convenient.

11. When you've been interrupted mid-task, make a few notes to remind yourself where you were and what your next step is, so that you can more easily resume the project where you left off.

12. Follow the golden rule by not interrupting others or stopping by "just to chat" during regular business hours.

Following these time savers will help you cut down on frivolous interruptions and give you more time for doing those things that will bring you the greatest results and rewards.

Next: What Your Desk Says About You >>

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