April 28, 2016
How to Manage Interruptions at Work
It’s the start of a new day; you’re raring to go and feeling inspired to tackle those all-important and must-do tasks. But suddenly, you get interrupted and thrown off track.
Whether it’s by a phone call, email, over-heard conversation or colleague stopping by your desk, these unplanned activities might steal your attention – distracting you from the task at-hand.
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that the typical worker is interrupted or switches tasks, on average, every three minutes and five seconds. What’s more, once focus has been lost, depending upon the complexity of the task, it can take over 23 minutes to regain focus and return to the original task. Not only is valuable time lost and wasted through interruptions at work, but the number of errors and mistakes can also increase, affecting the overall quality of your work.
Time is one of the most cherished resources, and although some interruptions are inevitable and beyond your control, many can be controlled or prevented. Below, we’ve got some top tips that will help promote discipline and aid forward planning so you can protect your time and invest it in the projects and tasks that are most important to you, and achieving both your personal and business goals:
Break down your day
It’s all too easy to get distracted by the email announcing cakes in the staff room, or the latest trends on Twitter. But these distractions disturb your trail of thought and productivity, and with no set time frame, it’s hard to manage how long is spent on trivial tasks.
So, instead of dipping in and out of your inbox or continuously refreshing social media sites, set aside blocks of time dedicated to regular activities such as responding to emails, making calls and updating social media. Having specific time slots for different activities throughout the day will reduce unnecessary amounts of time being spent on low importance tasks, and higher priority tasks will have your full attention for more sustained periods – without interruption.
Listen to music
It’s been found that listening to music at work can increase accuracy and speed, with 9 out of 10 workers performing better when music is playing. Music allows you to block out other sounds and surrounding noise from the environment or other colleagues – making it easier to concentrate on getting things done. Putting in your headphones will also act as a visual ‘do not disturb’ signal to team members – meaning they’ll be less likely to interrupt you while you work. So the next time you need to work without disruption, plug in, tune in and zone out.
Assess the situation
When interrupted and asked to take on a task by someone else, it’s only natural to drop what you’re doing and rush to get the job done straight away. While your willingness to help and eagerness to complete the task will do wonders for your credibility, it will increase the pressure to meet your own deadlines, as the time you have to complete your work will be reduced.
So, when you take on any extra tasks you should always assess how long it will take you to do, what will be required to get started and when it needs to be done by. If you’re not able to fit the requested task into your own schedule, delegate it to a team member or ask a colleague for a helping hand to get it finished. But remember, if it’s not feasible for you to take on the new task, you can of course say no, followed by a short explanation of why you’re not available to help this time around.
When you really need to get something done but find yourself surrounded by interruptions, temporarily move to a different location. Whether it’s a conference room, an empty desk, the cafeteria or even the outside seating area (weather dependent of course), escape to a place where you’ll be able to focus and get on with your work with fewer distractions. Remember, this should only be a temporary measure, and if you do choose to move, it’s important to communicate with your team so they know your whereabouts.
Some things just don’t go the way you expect them to, but by planning ahead and using a tool like DropTask, you can limit the amount of disruption to your work before it occurs.
When organizing tasks, prioritize where your time should fore-mostly be spent, and define the order for completing them. Then, if you are faced with interruptions or delays, disruption will be minimal as higher priority tasks will have been completed first and any lost time will instead affect tasks with lower importance and less urgency.
If you do get held up or a colleague, manager or client is waiting on you for information, then be proactive in communicating with them. Leave them a comment or update a task’s status to keep them informed of how you’re doing. If others are aware of your progress, they’re less likely to interrupt you for an update.
Finally, when setting deadlines for your work, allow yourself some extra time to complete them. A little leeway here and there means if any unforeseen delays, problems or distractions do arise, you can be flexible in responding – without falling behind on deadlines.
How do you cope with or limit interruptions while you work? Share your top tips with us in the comments below.
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