In his book, the Age of speed, Vince Poscente mentioned a study of office workers that found on average they spent only 11 minutes of a typical workday focused on a given task before they were interrupted. The real problem was that it took them nearly half an hour to return to the task, if they did at all.
Constant Interruptions are a problem for many people. They are not only annoying and disruptive, they can put you behind in your work and cause stress. It’s important to determine why you are being interrupted and take action accordingly.
For instance, if people keep walking into your office to consult you about something, can you have brief stand-up meetings every morning to keep everyone better informed or written policies and guidelines for them to follow?
Do they interrupt you because you have supplies or materials located in your office or work area? Can you relocate them so they’re central to everyone? Or duplicate them. Make sure each person has the equipment and supplies needed.
Are certain people more talkative than others? Probably 80% of your interruptions are from 20% of the people. If so, can you confront these individuals? Do they realize how their interruptions are affecting your work? In a high-tech world, people crave high-touch even more. Can you arrange to have a coffee with them at break time?
Do you work in an open office with no privacy? Can you periodically work in a boardroom or a spare office? Can you work through the normal lunch hour and take a later lunch? Can you work flexible hours, coming in early and leaving early?
Are the interruptions from telephones or e-mail? Can you engage the voice mail when you are working on your priorities and ignore e-mail until specific times?
Some interruptions are inevitable and even essential so don’t get upset when you are interrupted. Just remember that in some cases that’s just your job calling. If you have allowed more time for the task than you thought it would take, you will still avoid the stress.
It makes sense that the longer you work on a specific task, the more chance you have of being interrupted by others and interrupting yourself. So schedule priority tasks in chunks of 90 minutes. Your energy and ability to concentrate rises and falls in 90 minute cycles. This is the continuation of the sleep cycle and I recommend 90-minute work sessions mainly for this reason.
The most productive time of the day is 10:30 AM for most people so mornings should be reserved for priority work wherever possible. Early birds should start their major products even earlier. If you control your work location, take advantage of it. Some people work at home in the mornings; others work at a coffee shop. Choose a location where you can best concentrate on the task at hand without interruption.
Regardless of where you work, it is important that you control the technology. Ignore the urge to send email or text messages while working on your scheduled project. Maintain focus on the task, jotting down ideas that pop into your mind without being detoured by them. Be sure to put your smart phone on airplane mode.
Self-discipline or self-control, focus, attention, prioritizing and planning are essential if we are to remain effective in this digital age of speed. These are all functions of our executive center in the prefrontal cortex area of our brain. That’s why I claim that the battle against interruptions has shifted from the office to the brain. In my book, Strengthen your brain’s executive skills, published by, I discuss how we can strengthen these cognitive skills, and in particular, those executive skills that are so critical to the effective use of our time.