Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
WORKPLACE / AUG. 17, 2014
version 2, draft 2

How to Handle Interruptions in the Workplace

Interruptions in the workplace can wreak havoc on your efficiency and productivity. However, the reality is that no one can completely escape from interruptions in the office. There are ways to maintain your focus on the task at hand and properly manage your time, even in the midst of annoying interruptions. This article will address such steps to take to handle these distractions to your work day.

A Listing of What Constitutes an Interruption at the Office

Obviously, if your boss or manager comes to your office or cubicle and interrupts your work, asking you to do a task - that is an interruption that you need to accept. However, there are several types of interruptions that can ruin your efficiency and mess with the work day. An interruption is anything that makes you lose focus on your current task and then you need to take the time to refocus again on what you were doing.

  • Personal phone calls or emails
  • Distracted by social media or surfing the Internet
  • Colleagues stopping by your office simply to chat
  • Conversations in the hallways with coworkers on non-work related topics

Steps to Take to Handle Interruptions in the Office

The main objective in properly dealing with interruptions is to learn how to control them. Resolve yourself to the fact that they will happen and then take the necessary steps to deal with them.

1. Assess the Situation

Analyze the situation and keep a log for one week and record any times that you are interrupted. List the name of the person, the date and time, the account of the interruption and whether or not it was valid or of an urgent nature. If you are interrupting your own work by spending time on social media or the Internet, log that time too. MindTools.com offers an Interrupters Log Sheet that you can download for free and utilize it to track the interruptions at work. After you have tracked the interruptions for an entire week, evaluate the data and ascertain whether or not you have been interrupted for valid reasons. Valid interruptions are necessary and you can take hold of them and schedule them into your day to increase your work proficiency. Interruptions that are not valid need to be stopped in the future.

2. Review and Handle the Interruptions

During this review process, it is important to sift through the interruptions listed and divide the list into valid and invalid ones. Regarding the non-urgent interruptions, assess each situation and then make a plan to address each one.

  • Be professional and assertive when speaking to a colleague who likes to chat
  • Block off time each day during your breaks to deal with personal emails and calls
  • Learn time blocking techniques which can help you handle interruptions

With regard to the valid interruptions, measure their urgency level. For example, could this valid interruption have waited for the next staff meeting? If interruptions from managers or team members are constant, it can be discussed that maybe a weekly meeting needs to be scheduled to deal with various concerns and issues. You must realize that when interruptions that are both valid and urgent occur—you need to deal with those as they happen. Review your Interrupters Log to ascertain the amount of time that is used up by these interruptions. Mindtools.com offers some advice about interruptions that are both valid and urgent. “Block time into your schedule as ‘contingency time’, and only take on as much other work as you can fit into the remaining time.” Basically, you are juggling this other work around the interruptions that can occur. This creates some breathing room where you are less overwhelmed and stressed by valid and urgent interruptions. 

3. Realize that you Can Say “No”

This is where professional assertiveness comes into play. You need to realize that you can say “no” to certain interruptions. Take back control of your work day. If your workload for the day is extremely busy and you have been interrupted by another team member asking for your assistance in something, it is acceptable to say “no” to that additional task provided the following is true.

  • You truly are working on a project or tasks that take precedence over the interruption
  • You speak in a courteous and professional manner to the person interrupting you
  • You say no to working on the task in the moment and will handle the new task later

However, remember to keep in mind the hierarchy in the office situation. If your manager or boss has interrupted your work and asked you to stop what you’re working on to focus on a new task, then you need to accept this interruption. Learn how to be assertive at work when dealing with interruptions

4. Become Efficient in Your Planning

Depending on the schedule for your day, take the time to think outside the box. If you know you are going to be busy on an urgent task, utilize your voicemail or office assistant to screen your calls. Don’t take any calls during that block of time until you finish your task. Sometimes, dealing with certain interruptions—like phone calls—simply takes self-discipline to stay focused. This way, if the phone call interruption is an absolute emergency, you can take a moment to deal with that call and then get back to the task at hand.

  • Let colleagues know when you are available and unavailable
  • Create a company-wide signal or system (like closing a door or turning your nameplate around) that lets everyone know when someone is unavailable to interruptions.

In conjunction with planning, plan to stay calm during the interruption. Most people, who are interrupting you, tend to think that their issue is of dire need even when it’s not the most important thing. Become efficient at controlling your reactions and responses and remember to take a breath and deal calmly with the issue. Managers need to take special note here to remember to be “available” as needed with regard to employees and urgent issues. Playing the “unavailable card” cannot be abused. Managers should not allow barriers to needlessly come between them and team members.

Handling interruptions in the workplace can be done in a courteous manner that continues to cultivate unity and professional growth and development. Whether you are a manager or not - you need to treat everyone with respect - even when someone is needlessly interrupting your focus on work. Learn how to utilize an Interrupters Log Sheet to assess the situation. Properly review and handle the various interruptions throughout the day. Realize that you can say “no” in certain situations. Learn how to become efficient in planning and also in controlling your responses.

 

Photo Credit: glassdoor.com        

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