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9 Ways To Handle Interruptions Like A Pro

9 Ways To Handle Interruptions Like A Pro

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?

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    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!”

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    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.

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    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.

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    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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    Seth Simonds

    Seth writes about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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