Interruptions happen to all of us. We get phone calls, people coming up to our desk, and meetings to go to. This can take up a significant amount of time. Wouldn’t it be better if we got no interruptions and could just get on with our work? Probably. But that isn’t likely to happen. The next best thing is to learn to deal with them. Read some tips on how we can do this.
Can Interruptions Affect Your Performance?
The first question to ask ourselves is, “can interruptions actually affect our performance?” It certainly feels like it does. If you’re in a role that requires constant focus and thinking, such as a software developer or networking, then they can disrupt your thinking. I read a great article on better software development and how often you’re interrupted over at IT Job Blog, which mentioned a study was performed which showed that “76% of the worst-performing engineers are frequently interrupted”. This would suggest that yes, interruptions do affect you.
What can we do about them?
Understand The Bigger Picture
A lot of the times we get interrupted during our day is to either go to meetings or to answer questions that other people have. Both of these acts are from other people, trying to do their job, or from your boss who is also trying to do their job. When this happens to me, I try to think of the bigger picture of the company. I try to realise that yes, it may be disrupting me, but it’s helping one or many other people out, helping them get their job done, and in turn helping the company – which is more of a “big picture” thought. This might seem a bit optimistic, but it’s one way of dealing with it and trying to make it into a positive act.
Communicate Your Situation
Sometimes when you get interrupted, it’s because people aren’t aware that you’re busy. You might be flat out with your work, but people don’t know, so they think it’s OK to interrupt you. In this situation, you could politely inform them that you’re busy, and suggest an alternative. Perhaps mention that you need to finish a certain task by a certain time, and you can have a look at their request or speak to them once you’ve finished. You could also ask them to email you – but this only works if you’re on top of your email. If you do this, you need to get back to them, otherwise they just think you’re snobbing them off. If people know that you’re in the middle of something important, most of the time they will be understanding.
Reduce Your Meetings
Depending on your role, you may need to go to a lot of meetings with other people and other teams. A meeting every now and then might not mean much – an hour here, half an hour there – but they will start adding up. I’ve had days where I’ve been in meetings for over six hours of the day – where the only break I’d get is a quick lunch break and then I’d be finished the meetings about 3PM. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for actual work.
A good way to get around this and get some time back is to actually reduce the amount of meetings you go to. Part of being able to run an effective meeting is to only invite those who need to be there – and if you don’t need to be there, you shouldn’t go. Get someone to take notes and pass on any actions to you.
This will save your time and may even make the meetings go shorter.
Work Around Your Commitments
If these don’t work, and you actually do need to attend meetings and process other people’s requests, then I would suggest learning how to work around these commitments. Some of the commitments you know about in advance, such as meetings, are easier as you know the start and finish times and can plan what to do outside of those. The other times are a bit harder – when you’re interrupted spontaneously. These are harder to work around, but with practice and experience you can learn to handle the interruptions better and move back onto focusing on your own work.
Ideally, we wouldn’t have interruptions and we’d be able to get out a solid eight hours of work, but in reality this doesn’t happen. Learning to handle the interruptions is a good part of becoming a great IT professional.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net