Women In Business

3 key tips to deal with interruptions

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I like to be the first person in the office.

That hour before people arrive is when I get my best work done.  The day is fresh, my thoughts are clear and better still, there are no interruptions.

I don’t open my inbox, the phone hasn’t started ringing yet and my colleagues aren’t asking me questions. I can complete at least one task that really requires me to think and I do my best work.

Unfortunately the whole day can’t be that way, nor should it. The osmosis that occurs from working in open plan allows for learning, sharing leads and information. The benefits are highly valuable but can come at a cost unless we learn how to create boundaries around our important work.

1. Focus

A study in Kings College in the UK back in 2005 demonstrated the impact of interruptions and distractions on our focus.  They completed IQ tests on three groups of people, the first were placed in a room with no interruptions, the second in a simulated environment which reflected open plan offices, and the third had just smoked cannabis.  It’s no surprise that the group with no interruptions performed best, however what may surprise you is that the group who smoked marijuana before the tests performed better than those in a simulated open plan environment.

What to do

Identify the tasks that require your focus and create boundaries around this time so you are not distracted or interrupted. That may mean that you work one day per week from home, you find a focus room, or you simply put your phone straight to voicemail and your headphones on for an hour.

2. Switching

Have you ever noticed that when you get interrupted it takes you ages to refocus?  Research says it takes between 1 and 24 minutes to refocus once you’ve been interrupted.  Unfortunately, when we can be interrupted every 3 to 13 minutes in the modern office, it’s easy to understand why it’s often a struggle to achieve optimal productivity.

When we get busy we often start multitasking.  We may read email while talking on the phone to a colleague, or we may write a report while we are on a conference call.  We think that we’re saving time by doing two things at once but we’re actually switching between two tasks. Without the optimal focus on either task we’re more likely to make mistakes and will take up to three times as long to complete them than if we did one thing at a time.  

What to do

Research has found that our IQ drops as much as 10 points when we try to multitask.  When you are working on tasks that require focus, minimising distractions like email, phone and questions from colleagues will help you really apply yourself to them.  Compartmentalise your time, and include times to focus on email and other distractions. At other times, have a signal that tells your colleagues “not right now”.

3. Living in a mess

pac executive’s 2015 Workplace Productivity survey found that workers who have a messy workspace, email and computer files are spending up to 2 hours per day looking for information they already have. They’re also more likely to be distracted by clutter, whether that be all of the emails they are hording in their inbox or the paperwork all over their desk and drawers.  

We estimate that 85% of the things you keep you don’t use, and you spend about 6 weeks per year looking for the 15% of things you do need.  

What to do

Adopt a clean desk policy, clear out and file your email every time you check them and you’ll be amazed how much more focused you feel.  Once you’ve cleared away your clutter at work you might like to do it at home- you’ve probably got at least 10 bags of clothes in your wardrobe you no longer wear, not to mention all of that Tupperware you’re keeping that doesn’t have lids.

Even if you only carve out one or two hours per day where you achieve optimal focus you’ll notice that your productivity improves in leaps and bounds as does the quality of your work.

About Cholena Orr

Cholena Orr, Director of pac executive Human Capital, is a business builder who is passionate about mindfulness and lifting people up. She heads pac executive Human Capital - a training, coaching and consulting business offering a range of models designed to support Human Capital needs throughout the business lifecycle; from clarifying strategy and goals through to working with individuals to help them become more resilient.

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