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Tips for Managing Interruptions at Work

by Francie Dalton on April 13, 2011

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Time management is always challenging, and never more so that when you’re constantly being interrupted at work.

Here are a few tips on how to deal with it.

1. Get clear about this: Your Availability ≠ Your Importance.

2. Configure your office so your desk faces the door. This allows you to see who’s coming your way, and gives you more control.

If a “frequent visitor” is headed to your office, you can:

  • Pick up the phone so you’re engaged before the person gets to your office – just be sure to activate a phone line and put it on mute as you pick up the receiver.
  • Have a cell phone ear piece on AT ALL TIMES. As long as your hair covers it, they won’t be able to tell whether it’s actually in use or not. As the person approaches you, feign conversation with a non-existent other party and point to your ear so the intruder understands you’re using your ear piece.

This even works for those who get hijacked when they walk past the office of the highly social person. Always carry your cell phone with you when you leave your office, always have your ear piece in, and you can evade any effort to divert you.

  • Start talking as though you’re on speaker phone – ensuring that just as the person gets to your threshold you can say to the speaker phone: “Yes – of course – I’ll be right there.” If necessary, hit the speaker phone button so it’s lit, then the mute button so the tone of “no connection” isn’t audible, then as you utter the words.
  • “Sure I’ll be right there”, click the off button. Establish a “buddy” or two to whose office you can go for this purpose.

3. Develop phrases that deflect the “Got a minute?” intrusion to a later time:

  • Yes – but just a moment – am on deadline here on a work product for Patrick.
  • Actually I’m on my way to meet with x, but Susie knows more than I do about…
  • Of course I have time for you! How about X o’clock this afternoon/tomorrow?
  • Sure – as soon as I finish this I’ll pop down to your office.
  • Actually I’m preparing for X and I can’t be late. Could we talk at x o’clock instead? I’ll come to your office!

4. Use “modified” open door policy. Consider putting a big DIAL on your door – settings could read:

  • “Available – come on in!”
  • “Really concentrating – but if it’s really important…”
  • “Working on an insane deadline – try me after X o’clock”

5. Consider working in another location for the day. Take a lap top to a conference room, or to a close-by hotel/restaurant, or to the local library.

6. Stand up on the entry of intrusive visitors, pick up a binder/tablet, and walk them to your door and out of your office since you’re “on your way to the ladies room/ an appointment/a conference call with/in your buddy’s office.”

7. Try to ensure that meetings with the most intrusive of your colleagues occur in THEIR office rather than your own. This allows you to control departure time.

What tips do you have to avoid unnecessary interruptions?

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Image: incurable_hippie via Flickr, CC 2.0

Francie Dalton, CMC, is founder and president of Dalton Alliances, Inc. and author of the recently published book Versatility. Her Washington, DC based consultancy helps the C-Suite solve business nightmares. Francie equips clients to deal with what they didn’t see coming (and shows them there’s always another way to win!). She welcomes a chance to meet you via Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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