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  • Writer's pictureKristen Herring-Asleson

Interrupted?! Again!

To handle interruptions while knee-deep in a project takes a patient, flexible person who can change directions in an instant. Yet even the most laid-back person often exercises great restraint to keep from pulling their hair out, or the very least, to keep from screaming.

Interruptions come in many forms, and for me this week, it is a sickness that has knocked me flat out. It is all I can do to get my client’s social media posts created and posted. All else is being set aside unless it is uber-important.

Whatever the interruption, whether it be brief or last for days, everyone handles interruptions differently.

Katie, an assistant in a human resources department, said: “I find that my current role is constantly about multitasking and keeping my head afloat. My biggest interruption is the phone, but what I do to stay focused is have music on in the background. For whatever reason, it helps me concentrate.”

Peggi, an executive, shared: “My biggest issue is emails constantly arriving. They flash by on my screen, and as much as I would like to shut that feature off, I do need to be aware of some that need immediate attention. Answering emails throws me off my task anywhere from a minute to an hour.” Interruptions are normal for me and I find that unless I remain flexible and calm, I would never get back to the original task I had probably started days before.

Interruptions can be handled in a number of ways. Of course, it is always “fun” to stand up, find a co-worker and gripe about it, but that is also a waste of energy and time.

Getting your nose to the grindstone is what will get the project completed, and get you back to what you were doing prior.

Blaming emails and phone calls as the most common interrupters is typical, but according to the Wall Street Journal, those are not the biggest. Face-to-face interruptions account for one-third more intrusions than email or phone calls.

It is easy to turn to a co-worker for something like tips in Excel or to ask a co-worker if they would like you to pick up lunch. But these such interruptions eat away at the ability to stay on task.

Statistically speaking, one is generally working on a project for approximately 12 minutes and 40 seconds before being interrupted. To get back to the original project, it takes approximately 25 minutes and 26 seconds. Employees who sit in cubicles are interrupted 29% more often than those in private offices.

Clearly interruptions are part of everyone’s day, but there is more than one way to combat them.

  • Share your calendar. If your schedule is available to everyone, hopefully your co-workers will begin to request your attention rather than demand it.

  • Use friendly, but direct reminders. It is OK to ask for a deadline and then tell the requester if you can or cannot meet it. It is also OK to offer to show someone how to do what needs getting done versus doing it for him or her.

  • Always leave a reminder as to where you left off. Take a few seconds to mark where you are at before you get up from your task so you don't waste time searching for it later.

  • Last, there always is the option of taping a sign to your back that says “I’m not here.”

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