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How to Stop Being Interrupted

How to schedule your interruptions to beat distractions and find focus.

By
Stever Robbins,
Episode #151

Bernice decided that she wants to lose weight! As a devoted friend, I’m helping! I’ve filled my little cube refrigerator with tofu-based, zero calorie, chocolate-like It’s-Not-Quite-a-Popsicle frozen tofu pops. They have no calories and lots of, er, taste. Any time Bernice gets a craving, she can just pop into my office and satisfy her longings with a tasty no-cal treat.

Unfortunately, this has opened a Pandora’s box. (Even though Bernice says the Pandora myth was just invented to blame women, and the box was really opened by Pandora’s brother Oswald Fingerblatten.) Now Bernice pops by a lot.

How to Stop Being Interrupted

Interruptions are a dastardly enemy of productivity. They knock us off our game, and when we get back to work, the interruption is still bouncing around in our brain, distracting us from the task at hand. If only interruptions came conveniently at a time of our own choosing. Of course, then they wouldn’t be interruptions. They’d be scheduled appointments. And yes, Virginia, you can turn your interruptions into scheduled appointments.

Stop Being Interrupted by SchedulingYour Interruptions

If you’re going to schedule your interruptions, that means you need to set aside a time on your calendar. Think about how many interruptions you get and how often you would need scheduled time to deal with them. If you do mainly solitary work—like training earthworms to do fun circus tricks—you may only get an hour or two of interruptions a week. If you work in an office as part of a team, you may get an hour of interruptions a day.

Now block out that time on your schedule and label it “Interruption Time.” Make it late in the day or late in the week, for example, 4-5 p.m. in the afternoon, or sometime on Fridays. That is your interruption time. Keep it open; don’t schedule anything for this time. If you absolutely must book something for this time, block out new interruption time to replace the time you scheduled over.

Defer Interruptions to Your Scheduled Time

Now when Bernice comes bounding into your office, simply say, “Bernice, I love you like I love my own, dear, deceased mother, but I’m busy right now and can’t discuss Zac Efron.” As soon as you see her pursed rosebud lips begin to quiver in objection, add, “right now, as I’m in the middle of something important. But I want to help, and I can discuss him today at 4 p.m. Please come by then.” Be polite, be nice, and be firm. Keep your mind as much on your work as you can. Grab a sticky note, put the title “Interruptions” on it, and write, “Bernice-discuss Zac Efron.” When your scheduled 4 p.m. interruption time comes around, grab your Interruptions List and take care of the interruptions at that time. You’re not saying “No” to your co-workers, you’re simply deferring their interruption to a time that works for you.

If a given day or week has no interruptions, use the time to catch up on your administrative work. Fill out expense reports, buy extra stamps, or lick all the envelopes in your obnoxious co-worker’s desk.

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About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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