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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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    Last Updated on April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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