Handling interruptions: scheduling time for drop-in visitors

Schedule your interruptions.  Perhaps one of the reasons you’re being interrupted so frequently is you’re never around and available.  This is especially true of people who travel for a living or spent most of the day wrapped up in meetings.  It’s understandable that you’ll be pounced upon by your assistant when you suddenly emerge, and she’s been waiting to ask you some questions for two days.  Here are some ways you can actually plan for and around interruptions:

·        Schedule regular check-in times. If you have an assistant, you’ll want to set up a regular time (or several times) each day or week to touch base.  Have your assistant “save up” all questions he or she has and ask them all at once during your regularly scheduled meeting.  This process keeps your assistant from interrupting you ten times a day to ask you one thing and instead uses one meeting to ask you ten things.  Similarly, if your boss is the one you aren’t able to pin down, suggest this process for yourself.

·        Block out interruptible times.  One Human Resources Director I worked with figured out she was interrupted every 11 minutes.  She had to work late just to get her work done—although talking with employees was important—because she couldn’t get the space of mind to finish a task through completion.  I suggested she block out several time periods each day and ask people to “sign up” instead.  She scheduled an “Interruption” block in her Outlook calendar from 9:00-11:00 and 1:00-3:00 each day, printed her calendar sheets, and taped them to the counter of the reception area.  Her assistant fielded interruptions, telling employees she now scheduled discussions by appointment, and people willingly checked the blocks of time and signed up for a 30-minute meeting.  If it was absolutely an emergency (the HR Director had already briefed her assistant on what issues were deemed an emergency), the appointment was waived.  Perhaps you won’t block out four hours a day as she did, but you can use the concept to communicate to peers, internal customers, and subordinates the times you’re willing to be interrupted.  Think of it as a limited “open door” policy: only open at certain times.  You might think it won’t work, but would you expect your hair stylist to allow you to drop by when she’s not working?  Would you then get upset that she didn’t respond to your beck and call?  Believe me, people will get used to it.

·        Set aside “down time.”  One architecture firm I worked with established a firm “no interruption time” during the hours of 9:00 to 10:30 every morning.  How would you like having 90 minutes of complete concentration every day, when meetings weren’t allowed, instant messaging was disabled, phones were forwarded to voice mail, no interruptions were allowed, and the email servers were turned off?  Drastic?  But wildly popular for the people who could actually focus on completing an important task without being distracted.  You probably won’t be able to swing this policy company-wide but could try to work it out with those whom you work with most.  You are probably interrupted by a “core” group of people throughout the day, so work with your team to establish this down time, dedicated to real work.  Hey, even kindergarteners know the importance of rest time.  Without it, they get really grouchy—and so do you.