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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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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