9 Ways To Handle Interruptions Like A Pro

Are you easily distracted? I bet you are. If I told you this link led to a list of funny pics of deranged kittens, you’d likely click through and quickly forget our conversation.

That won’t happen this time!

Interruptions do the most damage when we allow their appearance to affect us long after we’ve returned to our initial task. This can happen for a few reasons:

  • We treat any break in our work flow like it’s a fracture in the final product.
  • We resent our seeming inability to avoid distractions and end up treating their appearance as a personal weakness.
  • We view distractions as a change in our journey instead of just another bend in the river.

What can you do about it?

1. Embrace Your Fear

You are not, contrary to what your mother may have told you, different from the rest of us. We all get distracted. We all get annoyed when a productive moment is interrupted. We all get fed up when scheduled events don’t go as planned. If you allow trepidation to sneak into your mind at the prospect of distractions, you’ll cripple your productive abilities.

Fearing distractions also fosters resentment against the ones doing the distracting. Recognize that you will be distracted sometimes and accept those distractions as opportunities to improve. You can’t stop distractions but you can keep them from taking over your day. This is your time!

2. Plan For Interruptions

Effective planning is a cornerstone of the productive lifestyle. Planning for interruptions might seem impossible. Does it to you? Here’s an easy visualization that will help you get started with your planning:

Start each work session by drawing a few squares on a small piece of scrap paper. These represent distractions that will almost certainly pop up. As you encounter and conquer distractions, put a check mark in the appropriate box. After awhile you’ll be able to do this in your head. Sounds easy, right? An expected distraction has no power over your day. You still have control.

3. Delegate And Postpone

Once you’ve identified an interruption as something that needs attention and not just a nascent longing to goof off, try to postpone your involvement. The brute way of doing this is to shout out, “I don’t have time right now. Don’t bother me!”

The classy option is a bit more involved. Take a moment to understand what the distraction involves. Is somebody dying? Is there a deadline you’ve forgotten? Is there a networking opportunity here? If it turns out that you’re not facing an emergency, postpone your involvement and delegate as much of the detail work to somebody with available resources.

4. Attack Procrastination

It’s safe to say that most of us welcome far more distractions than we should. Why? Because we’re chronic procrastinators and distractions offer us a way to slack off without being overtly lazy. The simplest way to attack procrastination is to synthesize urgency with truncated deadlines. If it normally takes you 3 hours to do something, hit the bathroom, grab a glass of water, set a timer for 90 minutes, and tear into your work! This won’t work for every project but it’s a lot of fun when it does!

5. Split Your Day Into Targets

Distractions are most dangerous to the person working without short-term goals. You can keep yourself out of the danger zone by setting targets throughout your day. You’ll probably only need to do this for tasks you really don’t want to complete. For example:

  1. Send uncomfortable email by 9am
  2. Complete meeting agenda by 12pm
  3. Say pleasant thing to annoying boss by 2pm

The power in this process is that you now have time-sensitive targets to steer toward once you’ve escaped distractions. That 8:45am phone conversation that might have gone on for an hour? Nixed by the email deadline. Crops dying on Farmville at 11am? Overruled by the meeting agenda!

6. Limit Inputs

The more you limit channels people can use to distract you, the less likely it is that you’ll be distracted. It takes strength of character to ignore social media and your ever-friendly smartphone. It takes trust in the people who work for you to step away from the rush of business and crunch numbers in the back room. It’s hard to disconnect because we often feel a tinge of irrelevance when we step out of the rush.

Do it. Your results will be proof that it was worth the effort.

7. Batch Outputs

Responding to emails in batches and scheduling a block of time to make phone calls can seem like a dreary way to do business but it’s a highly effective way to keep distractions at arms length. Batching is even more effective in minimizing the collateral damage caused by Twitter and other social networks if you jump in without a set time frame.

To get started, make a list of the things you must do every day to maintain good communication in your business and throughout your social networks. Give each tool or action it’s own time slot and allow a bit of margin at the end. You won’t get the momentary social high of constant real-time interactions but the long-term benefits will make up for your loss.

8. Communicate Your Schedule To Others

When it comes to managing people-based distractions, communication is key. Need to finish a project? Let the people in your work group know that you’ll be off-limits until a certain time. Trying to finish a freelance project in a houseful of kids? Let them know that unless somebody is dying or the house is burning down, you’ll murder a kitten if they interrupt you.

Obviously, if you haven’t taken the time to create a realistic schedule for yourself, sharing that schedule won’t help as much.

9. Begin With The Main Point

When you encounter a distraction, get to the heart of it immediately. Your “get to the point” style may go over badly with some people who prefer to give back story before sharing their main point. Apologize for any possible rudeness and ask for the main point anyway.

Once you know the main point you can ask for supporting information and make a smart decision about what to do before getting back to work.

Getting back to work is what you were about to do, wasn’t it?

If you’ve found a particular tip or trick helpful in your quest to beat distractions, I hope you’ll take a moment to share it!

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. ~Thomas Edison

Seth Simonds is an editor here at Lifehack.org. Get even more tips by following Lifehack on Twitter or subscribing via RSS.

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