It’s eye-opening when you realize that many of the interruptions that occur in your day may actually be under your own control! In no particular order, here are the top ten interruptions we see most often with our clients that are affecting their productivity:

1. Phone Calls
Schedule some time to have calls screened by a support person, or if you work alone, screen calls with voice mail. Answering the phone constantly makes you reactive, not proactive! Granted, there are some jobs that make this suggestion unrealistic, but in general, protected time is productive time.

2. Unscheduled Questions and Discussions
One solution is to have a set time block each day for “open door” questions and discussions. Sometimes instant messaging can provide some relief from this issue, if it does not turn into another type of unwanted interruption itself (see #4). If these choices are not realistic, you can do your best to limit number 3…

3. Social Chat
I am not suggesting that you have a sterile office where nobody is allowed to chat. Obviously it’s when it’s excessive that it becomes a problem. Here are some solutions:

  • Immediately stand up when someone enters your office to chat. Standing sends the nonverbal message that you have other things to do.
  • Get rid of “social magnets” in your office such as super-comfy guest chairs and candy.
  • Make sure you are not positioned so that you feel you must greet each person who walks by your door.

4. Instant Messaging
Instant messaging is a double-edged sword… it can really solve the problem of answering quick questions without starting an entire conversation in person, but obviously it can become a problem if people do not agree on some guidelines between them. Definitely set your IM status to “Away” when you need uninterrupted time to work and discuss IM behavior with your co-workers to prevent problems before they occur.

5. E-mail
Turn off the “new e-mail has arrived” notification sounds and pop-up windows. In Outlook this is under Tools>Options>Preferences tab>E-mail Options>Advanced E-mail Options (anybody know a shortcut to this setting?). Force yourself to stop pressing the Send/Receive button all day long as if you were a lab rat about to get a treat!

6. Blackberry/Treo Devices
Strongly consider whether you need such devices in the first place—it may be just another gadget to process! I know it’s hard, but make sure you get some Blackberry-free time to do some focused work. And please be polite when you are trying to interact with other people… see David Spade’s hilarious Blackberry Intervention video:

7. Random Thoughts
Have your To-Do list nearby and ready to write down quick thoughts and keep going. Consider using a digital voice recorder, but make sure you have a process for later putting the information into your time management system. A great workaround for this is Jott, which transcribes your thoughts into e-mail text that you can easily put into your system.

8. Visual & Auditory Distractions
Keep your workplace uncluttered for minimum distractions and maximum productivity. Take steps to mask or eliminate distracting noise– white noise machines and desktop fountains are inexpensive and can make a huge difference.

9. Improper Use of In & Out Boxes
Keep your paper inbox cleaned out and ready so people feel comfortable leaving things for you there. Instruct those you work with to use written instructions whenever possible. Use your paper outbox to avoid getting up every few minutes to deliver things to other places, and be an example of a person who writes very clear instructions.

10. Saying YES when you should say NO
If someone asks you for help, stop and consider the request carefully before answering. Use the very effective phrase “not available” when declining a request. People tend to not question this phrase and instead will go on to the next choice.

Lorie Marrero is a Professional Organizer and creator of The Clutter Diet, an innovative, affordable online program for home organization. Lorie’s site helps members lose “Clutter-Pounds” from their homes by providing online access to her team of organizers. Lorie writes something insanely practical every few days or so in the Clutter Diet Blog. She lives in Austin, TX, where her company has provided hands-on organizing services to clients since 2000.

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