Minimizing Interruptions

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01Jul2010

Minimizing Interruptions

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By Des Whitehorn, Dedicated, The Legal Secretary Journal, London, England

Have you ever noticed how much more you can get done on the occasional day that you work away from the office? So where does the time go in the office? A “quick” question from a colleague, a phone call, a never-ending flow of incoming emails, a quick trip to the coffee machine: they all add up. So here are the top ten tips to help you minimize interruptions:

  1. Are you the cause of your interruptions? Work out whether you are using interruptions as an excuse to avoid your work. If you procrastinate, butterfly from job to job, or are distracted by the world outside your window, do something about it!
  2. Determine the nature of the interruption. Get into the habit of asking pertinent questions politely but firmly to get enough information about the importance and deadline of the interruption. When does the task need to be done? What are the consequences of extending the deadline? Then you can decide what to do and when to deal with it.
  3. Discourage squatters. Remove visitors’ chairs to stop colleagues from making themselves comfortable. Alternatively, stand up when people come to talk to you – whether it’s about work or not. It discourages people from hanging around and also helps you feel less “trapped” in your chair.
  4. KISS people! (Keep it short and simple.) You can be polite and minimize interruptions if you take control of each interruption (both in person and on the phone). Make sure you ask questions to get the information you need.
  5. Help others to help themselves. If spending a few minutes with a colleague allows them to continue working productively for a few hours, or means you won’t be interrupted for the same thing in the future, the return on your small time investment becomes substantial.
  6. Gain a reputation for meeting the deadlines you accept – this will minimize people interrupting you to find out “how it’s going.”
  7. Always put a time limit on any interruptions, for example, “Hannah, I can see we need to deal with this, however I have only five minutes now. Is that sufficient, or shall we schedule another time?” The other person will either re-schedule the discussion (for when it suits you better) or will aim to make it brief. If people overstay their time limit, remind them gently that you could carry on the discussion at a later time.
  8. Set up an Action Book and encourage people to write simple requests for you in it. This book is particularly valuable if you are on the telephone when they want to talk to you, as they can write their request in the book and you avoid getting flustered because they are “hovering” to talk to you! Alternatively, ask people to email you the details so you can prioritize it.
  9. Consider using your “out of office” message with a time you will be back, so that people who need to contact you don’t chase you for an immediate response to their email request.
  10. Resist the temptation to check emails every few minutes. Turn off your incoming email flasher, and instead set up regular times, say, every 15 or 20 minutes (or even every two hours), to do so. Then decide WHEN you will deal with each of them. And do it!
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