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How to Avoid Lengthy Interruptions at Work

How to Avoid Lengthy Interruptions at Work
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It’s amazing how so many people do so little work. I know that I personally can waste time with the best of them, losing hours to meaningless email, workplace chatter and random meetings that accomplish next to nothing. As I’m rarely wasting time by myself, perhaps you or others can relate?

One of the most frustrating things about trying to be productive at work is the occasional “pop-bye” colleague who drops in and stays beyond a reasonable amount of time. What can you do to keep them moving along? Here are some suggestions:

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Reposition Your Desk: If your desk faces the doorway or a hallway, you might consider moving it towards a wall or so that you don’t seem as accessible to the sporadic drop-in. Sure, it’s less friendly but depending on your job, it might do the trick.

Buy a Large Clock: Placing a clock in a key location in your office is helpful as it allows you to look at it occasionally and then comment on it. “It’s getting late, I better get back to work,” or “Wow- 4:15 already,” are helpful lines that give your visitor a clue that you are actually trying to get work done.

Look at Your Watch: Sure, it’s rude and borderline obsessive-compulsive but it works. A quick glance to the watch will tell your friend that time is money and something not to be wasted. Your watch doesn’t even have to be working- your visitor doesn’t know but will quickly take the hint.

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Stand and Don’t Sit Down: When someone arrives for a pop-bye, stand and greet her but don’t sit down. Standing tells your visitor that you have things to do so let’s get on with it.

Use Savvy Lines Like “I’ll Walk You Out”: I’ve used this many times and it works wonders. You can also the visitor if they know the way to the front of the building or you can inquire about the location of their parking. You’re not being dishonest, only strategic with your time. Some folks can talk forever so the smart worker knows when it’s time to hit the evacuate button.

Head Out the Door to a Real Appointment: As you are a savvy knowledge worker, use your own schedule to your advantage and start heading out the door to your own meeting which is scheduled. A polite “excuse me, I have a meeting to attend,” is all you need to say.

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Head Out the Door to an Appointment With Yourself: If you don’t have a meeting with someone else, you can always schedule an on-the-spot meeting with yourself. Who says you can’t work in another location or even off-site? Know when to pick up some work and then move to another spot. You’ll decrease the time of the pop-in and probably get more work done in the new location.

Be Honest: Last but never least, honesty can be a potent conversation killer. Remember, you’re not being rude, only focused. If you just don’t have the time to chat, tell the other person or schedule a follow up at a time that works for you.

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Mike St. Pierre is the host of The Daily Saint, a productivity blog.

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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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