Workplace Productivity: Protecting Yourself From Drop-In Interruptions

Protecting Yourself From Drop-In Interruptions

1. Set up a self-help center.
If you have people walking into your office and asking for forms or answers to their questions, create an answer area outside of your office. You could use a document sorter, cabinet, or wall storage.
Every time you’re asked for something, stock it in the self-help center. That way the next time someone comes in and asks for that exact same information, you can say, “Absolutely. It’s out there in the self-help center.” And guess what? Pretty soon people start helping themselves, saving you time.

2. Use an understood signal.
Use an understood signal with the rest of your team that communicates “I am really up against a deadline right now. I would really prefer not to be interrupted. If there’s an emergency, come on in and interrupt me. But I’m trying to get ready for a meeting in 15 minutes.”

This signal could be a Do Not Disturb sign. Maybe police tape across the door. I’ve seen people wear orange armbands or different color hats. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as everyone on the team is familiar with the signal and respects it. Of course you can’t wear your hat all day. You have to abide by the spirit of the signal, but this technique will reduce the amount of interruptions.

3. Set up appointments.
When someone drops in to your office to discuss a client file or an upcoming project, your brain may become completely wrapped up in something totally different. So requesting “Hey, can I call you in thirty minutes? I’ll wrap this up and will be prepared to discuss your project at that time.” That way you can finish what you’re doing, get prepared for the new appointment, and speak intelligently without being rushed.

4. Set aside some down-time with your team.
Get together with your team and agree on certain times of the day to work, such as 9:00 to 10:30 every day. Agree that you won’t drop in on each other, call each other, or hold meetings. We will simply work. Reserve a 90-minute period of time for no interruptions and head-down focus time.

5. Create set office hours.
Block out your calendar and schedule fixed office hours, where you’ll be available for interruptions. In the same way college professors have “office hours,” you could designate times you are ready and available for drop-ins. Outside of those periods, you’re there, but you’re busy working.

For example, my travel agent doesn’t book tickets on Mondays. Guess when we call? Tuesday through Friday. You might think people wouldn’t abide by this, but they will. Come up with your hours, perhaps 9:00-11:00 and 1:00-3:00 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Print out your calendars. Post them where people can see them, and they can sign up for times to come and discuss particular issues with you at that time.

6. Schedule regular check-in times with your manager.
What if your manager is always in meetings or traveling? When she is back in the office, you’re tempted to grab her and rattle off the 17 questions you’ve been saving. Instead, use a log to keep track of all the things you need to discuss. Schedule a set time each week to get together and discuss everything at once. Perhaps it’s going to be at 8:00 AM or 1:00 PM or both. But you know that you’re going to have a period of time that you’ll be able to cover all your questions. That way, rather than interrupting nine times and asking one question each time, you can interrupt one time and ask nine questions.

7. Revise your office configuration.
Consider your office configuration and desk arrangement. If you face a hallway or a busy traffic area, you’ll look up as people walk by. If someone catches your eye, smiles, and says, “How are you?” Boom! You just bought yourself a ten-minute interruption. The better way to face is with your back to the door, so you are less likely to be distracted by those random drive-by visitors.

8. Screen your calls.
Okay, admit it. When the phone rings, how many times have you looked down at the Caller ID, saw who was calling, and let it go to voicemail? We’ve all done that!

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is often a good idea to use technology when you are working on deadline, or you’re trying to get your manager out the door for a meeting in 15 minutes. It’s a good idea to let that call go.

9. Hide.
That’s right – hide. If you have a pressing deadline and just simply can’t stop getting interrupted, go somewhere people can’t find you. Find an empty conference room or use the office of a coworker who is on vacation. Go down to the cafeteria or the library. If nothing else, pick up your laptop and head off to Starbucks or work from home, where people can’t find you. At least then, you can plow through a project without being interrupted.

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