“Interruptions” tops the list when it comes to reasons people can’t reach their goals. Interruptions destroy focus and momentum. One source estimates we’re interrupted every 8 minutes. According to another source, a person takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task at hand following an interruption.

Whether you work from home or you travel to an office, taming interruptions is a challenge. Today, we look at 3 ways to tame this time bandit.

Have a gatekeeper

Imagine a stranger walking in off the street to see the CEO of a large corporation. How far do you think the person would get? A receptionist or administrative assistant would greet the person. The gatekeeper would take a message or refer the person to someone else. The CEO may never even know about the drop-in visitor.

You and I may not be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, but our work is important. Our work doesn’t get done and our projects won’t be realized in a constant start/stop environment. But what do you do when you don’t have a person to serve as the gatekeeper?

  • Let the phone roll to voicemail. Later, listen to all the messages with paper and pencil in hand. Grab the details the first time so you don’t have to re-listen.
  • Close your email. Several times a day, open it and handle every message from top to bottom. Make getting back to “empty” every day a priority.
  • Close the door, but don’t leave it closed all the time. This one simple social cue tells people when it’s OK to approach you and when you’re busy. But don’t sabotage the technique. When someone opens your closed door to ask if you are busy, you must say “yes” 100% of the time. Likewise, a door that’s closed all the time gives no clue as to when you are available.
  • Recruit a gatekeeper. In the office, could you and a coworker take turns being the gatekeeper for each other? One person can concentrate on small tasks while the other person focuses on work that requires concentration. Switch positions later in the day.

Make the list irresistible

When it comes to interruptions, often the biggest culprit is…ourselves. Constant checking of email, social media, and other time-wasters derail our productivity. The fix is a task list that is irresistible.

At the end of the day, organize the task list for tomorrow. Notice I said “organize” not “write.” Never start with a blank piece of paper or a blank screen. We’re always accumulating tasks. Throw them in a system.

In the evening, pick a reasonable number for the following day. If the list is digital, it’s just a matter of changing the dates. Identify the “Fab 5,” the 5 items that will contribute the most to a successful day. Put those at the top of the list.

Word tasks clearly so they are easy to do. Start each task with a verb. That one step gives you a clear picture of the action to take. Also, realize assignments broken down into small steps are much easier to accomplish.

Be the model

Resist the temptation to interrupt others. It’s easy to do. It all goes back to the task list. Instead of interrupting someone else, add the item to your list. Rather than interrupting someone else five times, gather those five items and put them on the list. When you and the person get together, run through all five.

Next, share your “how to do it” with others in the organization. People usually interrupt others not because of urgency but out of fear of forgetfulness. If Joe doesn’t pass along the information while it’s on his mind, he may forget altogether. Show him how to throw it on the list. The list never forgets!

When “work” doesn’t work, the root cause is likely interruptions. Plan your work. Work your plan. Let others do the same. Let’s stop interrupting each other and watch productivity go up.

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