This article examines two “I” words to avoid. Both keep us from making worthy contributions to the world.


Interruptions

Phones that never stop ringing, emails that never stop dinging, and co-workers constantly asking “got a minute” break our concentration. According to author Donald Wetmore, the average professional is interrupted every 8 minutes. According to a study from the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from an interruption. Those two statistics together paint quite a picture of the problem.

Perhaps the answer is to forward the phone to voicemail and don’t bother checking it. Don’t open the email program and the emails can’t bother you. Close the door as a signal for others to go away. While those actions could solve the problem of interruptions, those same actions set up a larger problem.

Irrelevance 

interruptions, although they’re annoying, are evidence of our value to the people with whom we interact. How sad it would be for the phone to stop ringing and for people to stop asking for our input.

While I can’t speak for everyone, I know how I operate. When someone doesn’t return phone calls and doesn’t respond to email, I stop asking for their opinions. I stop asking for their approval. I do an “end around” and keep moving.

Make the Right Thing the Easiest Thing

Being constantly interrupted isn’t the answer. Becoming irrelevant certainly isn’t the answer either. We have a third alternative. We can be reachable, easily reachable, but on our own terms.

We can teach others that our input is valuable, and it is well worth the time and effort to include us. In addition, they do it without feeling like it takes an act of Congress to get in touch with us.

How do you prefer people reach out to you? For me, unless it’s something that requires dialogue, my choice is email. The other person can send when it’s convenient for him or her. I can read and respond when it’s convenient for me. So, I make it easy to correspond with me via email. Every day, my email inbox is back to “empty.” Nobody is left wondering when or if they’ll hear from me. I’m not fielding phone calls asking, “Did you get my email?”

I have a friend who is working on his dissertation. He also carries a full teaching load on a military base. Between the two, every minute is precious. When you email him, you receive an automated reply about his commitments during the week and that he will respond over the weekend. The thing that makes it work is simple. When the weekend comes, he answers every single one. He’s as good as his word. He’s easily reachable on his own terms.

How do you like to handle phone calls? During my days as a school principal, the volume of calls was heavy. My preference was to return them all in one batch after school. Therefore, my outgoing voice mail included, “I normally return phone calls between 3:30 and 4:00. Please leave your name, number where I can reach you then, and a detailed message so I can prepare for our call.”

In a couple of sentences, I was communicating the following expectations: 1) Don’t expect a call in the next 5 minutes; 2) Calling repeatedly won’t help; 3) Your phone is going to ring between 3:30 and 4:00, so be reachable; 4) I plan ahead so our time together will be valuable. That one thing, my outgoing message, saved me countless hours and put me in control of my time.

So, now it’s your turn. What could you do to make it easier for people to get in touch with you in such a way that it’s easy for them and easy for you?

Most people are overwhelmed by the amount of paper and digital information in their lives. My weekly emails let you know about new content on this website, provides helpful information I don’t publish anywhere else, and lets you know about special events or promotions. As a thanks for signing up, you receive two free gifts.