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Top Ten Sources of Interruptions

Top Ten Sources of Interruptions

It’s eye-opening when you realize that many of the interruptions that occur in your day may actually be under your own control! In no particular order, here are the top ten interruptions we see most often with our clients that are affecting their productivity:

1. Phone Calls
Schedule some time to have calls screened by a support person, or if you work alone, screen calls with voice mail. Answering the phone constantly makes you reactive, not proactive! Granted, there are some jobs that make this suggestion unrealistic, but in general, protected time is productive time.

2. Unscheduled Questions and Discussions
One solution is to have a set time block each day for “open door” questions and discussions. Sometimes instant messaging can provide some relief from this issue, if it does not turn into another type of unwanted interruption itself (see #4). If these choices are not realistic, you can do your best to limit number 3…

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3. Social Chat
I am not suggesting that you have a sterile office where nobody is allowed to chat. Obviously it’s when it’s excessive that it becomes a problem. Here are some solutions:

  • Immediately stand up when someone enters your office to chat. Standing sends the nonverbal message that you have other things to do.
  • Get rid of “social magnets” in your office such as super-comfy guest chairs and candy.
  • Make sure you are not positioned so that you feel you must greet each person who walks by your door.

4. Instant Messaging
Instant messaging is a double-edged sword… it can really solve the problem of answering quick questions without starting an entire conversation in person, but obviously it can become a problem if people do not agree on some guidelines between them. Definitely set your IM status to “Away” when you need uninterrupted time to work and discuss IM behavior with your co-workers to prevent problems before they occur.

5. E-mail
Turn off the “new e-mail has arrived” notification sounds and pop-up windows. In Outlook this is under Tools>Options>Preferences tab>E-mail Options>Advanced E-mail Options (anybody know a shortcut to this setting?). Force yourself to stop pressing the Send/Receive button all day long as if you were a lab rat about to get a treat!

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6. Blackberry/Treo Devices
Strongly consider whether you need such devices in the first place—it may be just another gadget to process! I know it’s hard, but make sure you get some Blackberry-free time to do some focused work. And please be polite when you are trying to interact with other people… see David Spade’s hilarious Blackberry Intervention video:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=Al5FZPUeiCY

7. Random Thoughts
Have your To-Do list nearby and ready to write down quick thoughts and keep going. Consider using a digital voice recorder, but make sure you have a process for later putting the information into your time management system. A great workaround for this is Jott, which transcribes your thoughts into e-mail text that you can easily put into your system.

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8. Visual & Auditory Distractions
Keep your workplace uncluttered for minimum distractions and maximum productivity. Take steps to mask or eliminate distracting noise– white noise machines and desktop fountains are inexpensive and can make a huge difference.

9. Improper Use of In & Out Boxes
Keep your paper inbox cleaned out and ready so people feel comfortable leaving things for you there. Instruct those you work with to use written instructions whenever possible. Use your paper outbox to avoid getting up every few minutes to deliver things to other places, and be an example of a person who writes very clear instructions.

10. Saying YES when you should say NO
If someone asks you for help, stop and consider the request carefully before answering. Use the very effective phrase “not available” when declining a request. People tend to not question this phrase and instead will go on to the next choice.

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Lorie Marrero is a Professional Organizer and creator of The Clutter Diet, an innovative, affordable online program for home organization. Lorie’s site helps members lose “Clutter-Pounds” from their homes by providing online access to her team of organizers. Lorie writes something insanely practical every few days or so in the Clutter Diet Blog. She lives in Austin, TX, where her company has provided hands-on organizing services to clients since 2000.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

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.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

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.

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.

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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.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

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

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

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.

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.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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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.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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