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6 Tactics to Avoid Being Interrupted at Work

6 Tactics to Avoid Being Interrupted at Work

How often do you hear the phrase from colleagues, “Oh, I get so much done after hours or on the weekend when everyone’s gone home and there’s no one around!”

We hear these comments because throughout the day it’s often hard to be fully productive with the myriad of distractions, even if mildly unintended. Whether that be small talk, gossip, general chit chat, attention stealers and general office sounds, there’s a lot of ‘noise’ to sift through just to capture your own attention. Combine this with the feeling that you’re always about to be distracted, and it becomes challenging to string long periods of time together without interruption, which leads to poor productivity.

It’s proven that we work to work better and more productively when we can fully focus on a task without being directly interrupted.  Here are some polite and not-so-polite ways of helping create a more respectful and harmonious workplace:

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1. Make a sign on your door or workstation

Regardless of your level of seniority in an organization, outline how you can best be of service to others when they need your attention. Let people know your preferred methods as you may not like someone standing over you, waiting for you to look up and attend to their needs.

Here’s a couple of other examples: “I don’t work well being interrupted, so please don’t knock on the door if it’s closed. That’s why it’s a door. Make a time to catch up or email me! I promise I’ll be with you 100% when I’m with you.”

In fact it would be easier if we simply used hotel room signs “ do not interrupt” at each workstation. The other side reads “please make up my room!”

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do not disturb

    2. Educate people

    Communicate clearly and politely with your colleagues about how you perform best and how you would appreciate their support. Explain how you like to be communicated with. Combine this step with 1, as it might come across a bit heavy simply putting up a sign with no prior explanation! Have an open group discussion with your colleagues around you about how you would all like to be treated.

    3. Wear headphones

    Big chunky ones make you look even less approachable. I find it helps you zone in, even if there’s no music coming through your ears. It also numbs any outside noises and very popular in open plan offices

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    4. Polite enforcement

    Don’t go soft. Be assertive but polite and reinforce your rules every time they are broken. If you don’t communicate clearly to others then you only have yourself to blame.

    5. Have a strike policy

    When the above rule doesn’t work, keep tabs on those who break your rules. Put a gold sticker next to their name for every interruption, and make it visible for all to see! If gold stickers work to reinforce positive behaviors for school children, I bet it works even better as a deterrent of negative behaviors for adults.

    6. Work from home

    While it takes self-discipline and self-motivation, some people work well isolated for short dedicated periods of time. Schedule in certain time to work from home from time to time if you have the luxury of doing so. Fight for it if need be by demonstrating your productivity. Avoid the washing and ironing and TV of course, and ensure there’s quiet space at home.

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    Good luck gaining better control of your space and time without the daily frustration of constant interruptions along with more peace of mind. Your productivity should increase significantly, others will give you more respect and you should now have more of your week nights and weekends back!

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

    The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

    Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

    In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

    When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

    Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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    1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

    When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

    As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

    That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

    The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

    What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

    Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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    There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

    So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

    2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

    When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

    No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

    3. Move Your Body

    A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

    It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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    So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

    4. Connect With Another Person

    Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

    One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

    Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

    5. Use Your Imagination

    When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

    That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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    And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

    Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

    Final Thoughts

    Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

    Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

    More on the Importance of Taking a Break

    Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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