Pardon the Interruption

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Tips for Managing Workplace Distractions

Everyone can agree that distractions and interruptions take away from productivity. From constant e-mails to talkative co-workers, interruptions are unavoidable and as much a part of the everyday work life as actual work. But you may not realize just how much small interruptions add up. Research shows that interruptions to workers cost U.S. business about $588 billion each year, according to Basex, a business consulting firm.

Avoid Workplace DistractionsFebruary is National Time Management Month, and focusing on how you handle interruptions is a great way to start winning the battle against the clock. With a few adjustments, you will be able to salvage precious time and boost productivity.

Prepare for interruptions.
On average, a worker in any industry can be interrupted every 11 minutes, according to studies by the University of California. Realizing that interruptions are inescapable is the first step to gaining some control over them. Planning for interruptions is a simple place to start. Break tasks up into small chunks so you can finish them between interruptions.

To increase efficiency and organization, designate specific times throughout the day to respond to e-mails, return phone calls and socialize so you can devote specific hours to actual work. It is important to remember that when time is up, you should get back to work.

Cope during crunch time.
Replying to every single e-mail and returning every call immediately may make you feel on top of things, but it isn't efficient all the time. When deadlines approach, turn off instant e-mail notification to stay focused. Also consider using a “green time/red time” flag system. Place a green card somewhere easily visible to signal when you have moments to spare. A red card will signal that you cannot afford to be interrupted.

Body language is a major form of communication and can unknowingly invite interruptions. If your desk if facing a door or an open walkway, you probably lift your head up every time someone walks by. By making eye-contact, you break concentration and give permission to interrupt. Try positioning your desk so that you are not tempted to look up when someone passes by. If someone sees you with your head down, working hard, they will get the message not to bother you.

Don't be the distraction.
As much as you dread interruptions when swamped with work, chances are your co-workers feel the same way. But often, as soon as work slows down, you become someone else's distraction. Whether you are striking up a conversation, talking loudly on the phone or e-mailing a funny message, it is as easy to distract as it is to be distracted. And often, when you seek distractions as a break from your own workload, you interrupt others. It is never safe to assume someone is free just because you are. When you need to speak with someone, ask if they have time to spare first.

Interruptions not only come from external sources, but workers interrupt themselves as much as others do. Many spend hours surfing the Internet, sending instant messages or sending personal e-mails to fill a need for instant communication. But overuse of these tools can become its own distraction. When work needs to be finished, it is up to you to have enough self-discipline to complete it.

However, interruptions aren't all bad. Studies have shown that because people change their pattern of thinking when interrupted, they often experience a surge of productivity when returning to work. That's why the way you respond to interruptions is the key to getting the most out of your day. With some discipline, you can increase your productivity and satisfaction from a good day's work.

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