Time Management - 5 Tips for Efficiently Handling Interruptions

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No matter how much you kick and scream, you can't magically create extra hours in the day to get things done. Every one of us is limited by the same 168 hours we get to work with. We can't get more time, but we can practice effective time management.


The majority of hard working people want to practice effective time management. They start out well, but they often forget to account for one of the biggest time sucks: Interruptions.

Interruptions will stealthily steal so much of your life. You may not have actually tallied how many minutes or hours have been straight-up stolen from your day, but I guarantee you it's a lot. 

It's a little crazy how bad interruptions can affect your day. Trying to get your work done amidst interruptions can cause feelings of frustration and increased stress levels. (1)

How many times are you interrupted during any given day?

Here are five effective tips to help you eliminate or better deal with interruptions:

1. Build time into every part of your day.

You will never have a single day that’s not interrupted by something unexpected. These interruptions are usually what throw people off their time management. It can break your concentration, making it harder for you to get the flow back

Studies show that it takes up to 25 minutes to recover your focus after an interruption.

If you’re at work and someone pops in for “just a minute,” you’ll notice that it always turns into a lot longer. Before you know it, half an hour to an hour will have passed and you can’t get that time back.

Consider your usual time management, and block out how much time you have to give random interruptions. For example, when someone walks into your office, you can say, “I’m working on a project so I can only spare five minutes.” 

At the end of five minutes, if the other person is still there, you say, “I’m sorry, but my time is up and I have to get back to this.” If you respect your time, others will, too.

You should also feel comfortable saying "Now isn't a good time for me, but can we talk at 3pm?" (or whatever time you've blocked off for interruptions). This is a helpful tactic that will also eventually train your coworkers to save their questions for a specific time - or even to confine these interruptions to email!

2. Plan your day the night before.

Planning your day the night before gives you a perfect starting place. You know what you have to start on first. You'll have a better time managing your day if you have a map to follow - even if it’s simply a list of what you want to accomplish that day. 

Consider using a planner to visualize your day - and keep track of your habits and progress.

3. Plan your phone conversations.

Phone calls, if we're being really honest, are a huge time waster. Planning your conversations before you even pick up the phone will allow you to stay in control of how long the conversation lasts. Know what you need to talk about and don't get derailed.

Most people don’t want to risk sounding rude, so they’ll remain on phone conversations that are actively wasting their time.  Does that sound like you? Here are several easy ways to end a phone conversation:

  • "Hey, I'm so sorry to interrupt, but I just looked at the time and I need to run."
  • "My apologies, but I'm in the middle of a project that's due."
  • "Thanks so much for calling, but I've got a meeting starting in just a moment."
  • "So sorry to interrupt, but I've got to run. Talk to you soon!"
  • "This was fun, let's catch up again soon. I've got to go now, though."

4. Don’t let technology interrupt you.

When someone isn’t dropping by out of the blue, they’re reaching out via email or on social media. These quick moments can quickly take up hour after hour of your day.  

If being on social media is a must for you, let it be a scheduled interruption. For example, block off an hour of your day to allow for social media time. Stick to that time just as if it were an appointment. If you have to, use an alarm on your smart phone or set a timer so that you know when your social media time is up.

5. Separate your interruptions.

Identify that which must be dealt with and what can be dealt with at another time.

You don’t have to make someone else’s emergency your priority. Someone didn’t get what they needed or didn’t accomplish what they needed and all of a sudden, they want to drop it in your lap. Or, they need you to stop everything you’re doing to help them get out of a jam. NOPE. It's all well and good to contribute to the goals of a team, but if this happens a lot, it’s time to put the kibosh on bailing others out. 

(1) The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress. [online] Available at: https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/chi08-mark.pdf [Accessed 14 Feb. 2018].

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