Nip Interruptions in the Bud

by Angee Robertson

So now you’ve got your day scheduled, and you’re ripping along having the most productive day you’ve had in forever. You’re tearing through a project that you realize you’re going to get done ahead of schedule… and the phone rings. How many times have you said, “I would get so much more done if the phone would just stop ringing”?

Interruptions, unfortunately, are part of life.

What we need to do:
– identify them
– learn to deal with them
– avoid them if possible
– recover from them as quickly as possible
– don’t let them rule our lives.

Interruptions are more than annoying; they can really disrupt your business. Not only do they cause you to break your concentration and stop what you’re doing, it also takes time to recover from them. The interruption itself might only take a few seconds, but statistics show it takes an average of 15 minutes to “get back into the zone” of your productive flow. Not every interruption can be helped, sometimes serious emergencies arise, both personal and business related. But for those smaller ones, we can look at ways to keep them at bay.

Interruption: Arriving E-mail

The problem, if you’re in the middle of an important task and you stop to read the e-mails when they arrive (hear the Bing-Bing, gotta’ fling), you lose valuable productive time not only reading the e-mail and dealing with its consequences, but also in getting back on track with the project.

Instead, schedule time on your calendar for checking and returning e-mails. Maybe once every two hours you set aside 15 minutes in your daily schedule to go into your e-mail system, read and respond, and update tasks. Now, you’ve got an actual task for e-mail and it becomes less of an interruption.

Interruption: A person walks in

Whether you work from home or in a remote office, people walk in, walk past, or walk by. These can be fellow employees, subordinates, kids, spouses, the delivery driver or even the cleaning crew, and without fail, they always show up at the worst possible time.

Be proactive. Turn your desk so that it doesn’t face the door. This will discourage you from looking up when someone walks by, and it will discourage people from stepping in “for just a minute” when you don’t glance up at them. Set guidelines for when you can be interrupted, and more importantly, when you can’t. If that means closing your door and hanging a “Do-NOT-Disturb” sign on it, so be it, but come up with some type of system to identify when you’re “in the zone”. If you work from home and have kids, think about hiring a sitter to keep them during your most productive hours of the day. And don’t be afraid to let the delivery driver leave the package at the door.

Interruption: The Phone

If we were made to take every call, God wouldn’t have invented voice-mail.

Just like the Bing-Bing of e-mail, the ring of the phone can be your worst nemesis. Thankfully, most phone systems also offer Caller ID, so you can see who is calling without having to pick up the receiver. Once you identify the caller, you can make a quick determination of taking the call or letting it go to voice-mail. And just like with e-mail, you can schedule time in your day for answering the phone (like when working on smaller, less-important projects) and times of day when you will NOT answer the phone. Also remember to schedule time to handle voice-mails. Every half-hour or hour, set aside time in your schedule to check voice-mail and deal with the calls that came in. Allow yourself a good half-hour for returning calls or entering notes and tasks onto your calendar.

Another problem with the phone is the social chat. If you’re speaking with a client that you know personally, or one that’s been with you for a long time, it’s tempting to chat about personal issues once the business of the call has been completed. This is good, as it builds a rapport between you and the client, but it can be bad if the social chat becomes a long conversation that takes you off of your schedule. Phone etiquette is a very important skill, but so is utilizing your time. Try some of these:

For incoming calls, try to let clients know the best time to reach you (your phone time on your schedule).

If you don’t recognize the name on the caller ID or if it’s being blocked, let it go to voice-mail.

For outgoing calls, consolidate and prioritize the calls you make. If you’re making a lengthy call, make notes of the issues you need to cover so you don’t forget anything, and so you have a way to redirect the call back to business if it starts to get off track.

Establish at the outset how long you have to talk, “Hey Tom, it’s great to hear from you, but I’ve only got a couple of minutes, I’m working on a big project.”

Once you’ve completed the call, if you’re going to socialize, give yourself a definite time frame (2-3 minutes) and make sure you have a phrase to end the call if you need to “I don’t want to keep you any longer”, “I’ve got to go right now, but can we pick back up on Friday?” etc.

Keep your eye on the clock and don’t let the call go on too long.

Interruption: You are the interruption

Has this ever happened to you? You’re working away on an important project and you need some research information from the web. You log onto the Internet to look it up, and then get sidetracked by a website and end up wasting time surfing the web. Or, while working from home, you go into the kitchen to get a drink and end up doing the dishes or cooking dinner. Getting side-tracked is easy to do. Try to find ways to keep yourself on track. Consider keeping a timer running for 30 minutes at a time to help keep you focused on the task at hand.

All of these are manageable interruptions. What you have to do is devise a way to avoid the interruptions whenever possible. When they can’t be avoided, learn to identify them and get back on track as soon as possible. If you’re in the middle of a big project when an unavoidable interruption occurs, jot down some quick notes on exactly what you’re doing, so that as soon as you can return to the project, you can get back onto task and back “in the zone” as quickly as possible.

Copyright 2012 Shepolitan Corp. All Rights Reserved.

About the Author

Angee Robertson is President of Shepolitan Corp, a company committed to supporting overwhelmed women entrepreneurs in the day-to-day operations so they can focus on what brings them joy in their business.

For the past nine years, Angee has worked as a virtual business manager for six and seven figure business owners, helping them to automate and organize their systems and operations. This allows them to focus on their “genius work” and do the things they really love in their businesses.

Angee understands the importance of building relationships with her clients. Her favorite comment is, “well, that was easy!” She has recently launched Sheic Journals, a product to help women get out of overwhelm and provide a safe place to clear their minds. You can learn more about her and view her products at

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