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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 October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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