If this post just popped up in some kind of inbox and you were alerted to it, let me suggest that you open the tab and then go back to what you were doing. Read it later, when you have a clear, spare two minutes.
Can you imagine if other people did that? Allowed YOU to decide when to be interrupted?
I have noticed that people are now imitating mobile phones. (Eh?*) When a phone rings, we answer it without thought. We have adapted to the urgency implied by the self-selected, jolly amusing ringtone and, even if we are engaged with someone else, will usually interrupt ourselves and answer it.
Unconsciously, people have now adopted the belief that they are smartphones, and I bet you have experienced the situation where you are chatting to a colleague and someone interrupts – and the conversation sways that way instead of where it was. Absolutely unbelievable and incredibly RUDE.
A wise man speaking as I did a spin session said, “An interruption is something that happens when someone thinks you care.” I like that. It’s a little blunt and it doesn’t apply to all interruptions, of course – but it is funny.
Interruptions – unwelcome interruptions – are those events that interfere in an untimely way with what we are doing that is more important. If an event intercedes with what we’re already engaged in, but the new event is more important, it is NOT an interruption – it is a new priority until it is effectively dealt with, even if that only means arranging the response for a later, better time.
That’s why a firefighter isn’t ‘interrupted’ by a fire alarm – that is their job and their greater priority. And given the aforementioned definition, they care.
But a lot of ‘interruptions’ are lesser priorities, and we need to (a) manage ourselves to have the discipline to negate their impact and (b) teach other smartphone-people that their urgency is not necessarily ours. (In fact, we often need to teach people that their urgency is their fault, but each occurrence has its own characteristics and we can’t generalise. Some such interruptions need our input.)
The proper response to a needless interruption is – “I’m sorry, I can’t deal with that now*, come back at/email me about it.”
I was once asked by a manager how he could prevent unnecessary interruptions. I asked him if he, like many managers in the organisation, routinely left his office door open. He replied that he did.
“Close it when you’re busy,” I suggested. He later provided feedback to the effect that shutting his door when busy was the most effective time-saver he’d ever used.
The key to managing interruptions is to know what your priorities are, plan your time to maximise the impact you have on those priorities, and manage everything else around that plan.
And ensure you communicate that system to those around you. If they know how you manage, they can adapt their needs (priorities, plan, execution) around yours, too. And little fleas have smaller fleas, as they say – the systematic approach to work, properly communicated, cascades downhill until only those interruptions that matter come to your attention.
Which in itself frees up enough of your time to make reading this article the best use of your time – and the best thing you have learned – today.
*American readers – ‘Eh?’ ‘now’ is UK English for ‘Wait, what?’ and ‘now’ is UK English for ‘Right now’. I am bi-lingual.