Interrupting Interruptions

Think back to the last time you were hard at work on a project that required your full attention.  What happened when someone unexpectedly showed up at the door or called on the phone to interrupt your concentration?  How did you react?

I am sometimes asked how to handle interruptions.  This is not a trivial question.  According to a New York Times article, “Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.”  Interruptions are a fact of life, so what is the best way to handle them effectively?  I see the solution as a series of executive decisions.

The first decision is to identify if the interruption is an emergency.  If so, handle it.

The next decision is whether the interruption will take less than two minutes to resolve (2 minute rule).  If so, clear it out of the way.

The third decision is the trickiest.  Does the interruption carry more value to your work world than the item you are engaged in right now?  If so, follow the interruption.  If not, ask the interrupter to schedule a time to meet later in the day or week to address the issue.  You can sooth any sore feelings by stating that scheduling a time to speak will allow you to give their item your full attention.

Interruptions are a fact of life.  How we handle them is the art of work.


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