Posted by: bevmeldrum | August 22, 2007

Controlling Interruptions

In yesterday’s post I talked about some ideas of ways you can manage your day by limiting reading your emails and answering the phone.

Switching email alerts off is straightforward. It’s not so easy to stop people interrupting you, but here are some suggestions that might help.

  1. If you have a door on your office – use it. Open door policies can be great when working in teams but you will still need to shut the door occasionally to allow yourself some time to focus on specific tasks. If you are really not used to doing this try it for 20 minutes at a time. If you can see the benefit allow yourself to increase that time. Your staff and collegaues might take a while to get used to the idea but they will and you’ll reap the benefit of un-interrupted time.
  2. Not everyone has a door on their office. Try the Green Frog approach – I talked about this the other week. Explain to your co-workers that when your object of choice – a Green Frog for example is on your desk you are not to be disturbed because you are trying to concentrate. Make it light-hearted and into a bit of a joke. One client of mine who works in a really unhelpful environment found as soon as he did this he colleagues followed his lead – there were all desperate for a way to stop getting interrupted that would allow them to focus on their work.
  3. Wear headphones. You don’t even have to be listening to anything – people are less likely to interrupt you if they see you are wearing headphones (in-ear buds don’t work so well as people can’t see them).
  4. When people pop by just to ask you something, ask them to email it to you. They will quickly learn they will save themselves a lot of effort by just sending you an email rather than making the effort to wander over to see you.
  5. Alternatively, explain to them that you are busy on a task and you will pop by to see them in 10 minutes (or whenever).
  6. Start using Instant Messaging (something like Googletalk) in the office – you can change your status to ‘Busy’ or something similar when you don’t want to be interrupted and you can respond to people’s messages quickly once you’ve completed your task.

Of course, with any of these techniques they need to be used sparingly. Unless you have a major piece of work on and need every minute of every day for a week to work on it leaving your Green Frog on your desk all day will send the wrong signal!

And maybe, if you start using one or two of these ideas, as my client found, it will give your colleagues the freedom to feel that they can start taking control of their own working days too.



  1. My professor back in high school once told us a story about when he was studying in college for some really hard class. He told us that the building had caught on fire, and on his way out, he saw one of his peers studying hard! This is the same guy who was studying hard the night before, and the night before. It was as if he hadn’t moved.

    Anyways, firefighters ended up having to rescue the kid because he didn’t hear any of the loud alarms or any of his friends screaming at him to get out. His trick was .. noise canceling headphones and some hardcore focus.

    I enjoyed your post! And thought I’d share that story.

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