Tips for Managing Human Interruptions and Being Productive
Interruptions at work usually stem from two sources: your colleagues and your management. To minimize the impact of these interruptions on your productivity, you must first be clear about your priorities. Knowing what is crucial for your work should guide you in deciding which requests to accept and which ones to decline.
The second thing to keep in mind is that you cannot fulfill everyone’s demands, and you must learn to say NO to some of them.
Colleagues: If you have a private office, it’s relatively easy to isolate yourself by closing the door to avoid frequent interruptions from your colleagues. You can take it a step further by setting specific times of availability and unavailability, prominently displaying them on your office door.
For instance, I recently read about an Indian business owner who implemented this method by hanging a sign on his office door with the following message:
“Do you have something to hand over or discuss with me? What is its importance on a scale from 1 to 10? (1 = Just to say hello! and 10 = There is a fire!). If the importance is 7 or above, feel free to enter my office. If it is below 7, you have three options:
- Come back later
- Send me an email, and I will respond promptly
- Leave the documents at the reception; they will give them to me when I am available.”
Based on this example, one might rightly think that this system only works for “bosses.” However, in reality, even if you are not a manager, you can implement it, provided your supervisor approves. You can obtain their approval by demonstrating the benefits of such a system.
In reality, all managers and leaders seek effective collaborators. If your manager is convinced of the significant increase in your efficiency, there is no reason for them to oppose implementing this system.
If, despite the closed-door system, you still have colleagues unexpectedly entering your office, you can stand up to prevent them from sitting down. Why? Simply because a standing discussion is often quicker than a seated one.
If you work in an open space and don’t have a private office, you can use a green and red sign system to indicate your availability. The idea is simple: make the corresponding sign visible at your workspace and explain the color-coding principle to your colleagues.
Another simple trick in an open space is to wear headphones and listen to instrumental music to aid concentration. By having headphones on and being focused, you are already creating a barrier to anyone who might want to talk to you. In this setup, colleagues will generally prefer to send you an email and avoid interrupting you unless it’s a genuine emergency.
Your Manager: While managing colleagues’ requests is relatively easy, it’s more challenging when it comes to your manager. If your manager’s requests are frequent and genuinely disrupt your productivity, it’s essential to discuss the most important tasks (MITs) of your role.
In every profession, there are generally 5 to 10 Most Important Tasks (MITs) that must be regularly accomplished to succeed in your job. One key to your workplace productivity lies in your ability to identify and focus your attention on these MITs. Your MITs are the major tasks for which you were hired and should be carried out daily. These tasks allow you to add value to your company and contribute to its growth.
For example, a sales representative’s MITs include:
- Prospecting new clients
- Mastering the product and presenting it persuasively to clients
- Identifying client needs and proposing the most suitable product
- Providing evidence to counter client objections
- Efficiently concluding sales meetings
- Building trust relationships with clients to obtain references
Discussing your MITs with your manager helps align on real priorities. Once you and your manager are clear on your MITs, in case of excessive requests, especially when working on a specific important project, you can remind them of the deadlines, usually set by them, and the consequences of any delays.
To avoid confrontation with your manager, you can, in some cases, accept to do the requested work by proposing a new deadline. You can also suggest another person for the job based on their skills or availability.
If you are a freelancer working from home, if possible, designate a room in your house or apartment as your office. In this case, you can apply the principles mentioned earlier in the context of a company to your children and spouse if they are at home during your working hours.
This text is an excerpt from the book “5 steps to (re)take control of your TIME and your life ” written by Henri M. Missola .