Phone calls, hallway conversations, people stopping by your #workspace - all of these interruptions can be frustrating and disruptive to an otherwise productive day. Not to say there can't be value in any of the conversations resulting from these situations - it's just that they often don't come at an opportune time for us. However, not all interruptions stem from external sources - we can sometimes be our own worst enemy. Let's explore how to prevent (or at least mitigate the negative impact of) interruptions, no matter what the cause, from derailing your day.
Establish a time and place to focus. It can be helpful to establish a regular time for tasks that require focused concentration. Maybe you can set aside an hour a week for such tasks, or even an hour a day. Let colleagues or family members know what that time is so they can get out of the habit of trying to find you during that time. See if you can hide away in a conference room, or at least behind a closed door, to reduce the temptation for others to interrupt. I had a client who would sit in her car to read work-related materials away from the interruptions of her colleagues - now that's being creative (and desperate)!
Have set times to check email and text messages. Frequently checking email or instantaneously responding to texts is a common yet often-overlooked way people interrupt themselves. You stop what you are doing to read messages totally unrelated what you were working on, and then have to ramp back up to what you were previously doing - pretty similar to someone else interrupting you, right? And often times those self-induced interruptions don't have much payoff. Try to have set intervals for checking these electronic messages - maybe once an hour or three or four times a day, not every five minutes. You'd be surprised how much focused concentration results. Turning off the ding sound and pop-up email notifications can help in this regard.
Create exit catchphrases. There may be a short list of people you're willing to let interrupt you at any time (your spouse, boss, child, key client), but for everyone else, you might want to have some rehearsed lines exit from their interruption and defer them to a more convenient time. For example: "I'm working on a deadline, can I call you later?" The more you practice it, the easier it will be to say in the heat of battle.
Choose the right time to work on tasks. Sometimes we interrupt ourselves by looking for diversions from whatever unpleasant or difficult task we should otherwise be working on. It's best to work on such tasks when you have the most mental energy.
I'd love to her what the common interrupters of your day are, and what you might do about them.
Internationally known organizing and productivity consultant, author, and speaker Sue Becker of From Piles to Smiles® enjoys helping people live better lives by creating customized systems to overcome their overwhelming paperwork, clutter, and schedules. She specializes in helping people who are chronically disorganized, especially people with AD/HD and is Illinois' first Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization.