Three ways to manage interruptions and distractions at work

Do you start the day with a realistic to-do list then get distracted or spend too much time dealing with unnecessary interruptions? Here are three ways to catch those time stealers before they get away with your precious time.

1. Tame the electronic tyrant – email!

Many people with smartphones check their emails 20 to 40 times per day. It is a tyrant that says “read me, feed me, do what I say!”

One of the most useful steps you can take is to set aside specific times for answering, deleting and filing emails. To reduce the temptation to continuously browse them throughout the day, turn off email notification popups on your computer and smartphone.

Have you unnecessarily taught your boss, clients or co-workers that you are always sitting there waiting for an email so you can pounce on it and respond? If so, you’ll have to retrain them by having a conversation about your new email practices and how you will work with them moving forward.

2. The egg timer theory

How often do people stop by your desk and say “Hey, have you got a minute?” and half an hour later you’re still helping them, instead of completing your own priorities?

The egg-timer theory suggests you purchase a three-minute egg timer. Every time someone says “Have you got a minute?” start the timer and explain nicely, but assertively, that you have three minutes. If it is going to take longer and it’s not urgent, schedule a time when you can give them the attention their question needs.

You’ll be surprised by the difference it makes when you’re honest with yourself and others about what ‘a minute’ really looks like.

3. The art of saying ‘no’

Sometimes, when we need to say “no”, we tend to overly focus on doing it in a way that won’t upset anyone. This can backfire, as when you are trying to manage others’ reactions, you may lose sight of what is important to you. Plus, you are trying to control something that is out of your control.

“Tell them no in a way that is clear, honest and respectful and then let them react however they react.” William Ury – Author of “The Power of a Positive No”

Saying “no” technique is a three step process:  

Be straightforward and honest, but not rude. Don’t apologise and give elaborate reasons, and remember – it is better, in the long run, to be truthful than breed resentment and bitterness within yourself.

Putting it all together

Which of these three tips would make the biggest difference in your work day? The pathway to managing interruptions and distractions for better productivity is as simple as picking one to start with and, of course, scheduling time in your calendar to take any actions or reminders needed to make it happen.