Managing Interruptions by Ann Gomez
I advocate focusing (instead of multitasking). Focusing on one task at a time is the most productive way to operate – especially when you have a lot of things to do and as a professor, YOU DO have a lot of things to do, right?!
But it is hard to focus. There are countless distractions that interrupt our focus: e.g., emails, phone calls and drop-by visitors. The good news is that there are several things we can do to manage these interruptions. (We often can’t eliminate them, but we can manage them around our focused work sessions.)
- Turn off the ‘new email’ alerts. That includes the bell, the box that pops up in the corner of your screen and even the flicker of the cursor that seems to speak to our sub-conscious. Instead, commit to checking your email at periodic intervals.
- Close your door. While most offices are trying to instill an ‘open-door philosophy’, there are select times during the day when we would benefit from closing our doors for 30-60 minutes. (Just use this technique selectively to make sure your colleagues respect your need for uninterrupted time.)
- Start your day with a project (instead of email). Generally, we can find some uninterrupted time in the morning. Many writers (including this one) subscribe to this philosophy. Julie Morgenstern also advocates this approach in her book: Never Check E-Mail in The Morning.
- Stand up when someone comes into your office. This is a neat one. This simple technique gives you more control about how long the conversation lasts. If you want to get back to focusing, you can communicate that subtly by sitting down. (Or for your less intuitive visitors, you can take steps to escort them out of your office.)
- Go with a more direct approach and tell your drop-by visitor that you are in the middle of something. Ask them if you can come and see them later in the day.
- Allow your calls to go to voicemail. Just try to get back to people soon after your focus session is done.
- Clear your desk to eliminate visual distractions. I advocate one thing on your desk at a time.
- Share your routine. Let your students and your colleagues know if the best time to chat with you is in the afternoon. Or consider scheduling some regular office hours time each week (most colleges and universities expect this, anyway).
- Consider working off-site. Work from home. Swap offices with someone. Book a boardroom. Escape to a coffee shop.
- Accept that some interruptions are warranted. The office environment is a team-based environment after all. We don’t need to be perfect about managing our interruptions. Our goal should simply be to manage some of them so we have more focused work time.
Remember – we don’t need to manage interruptions all day long. We are simply trying to build in an hour of focus time here and 30 minutes of focus time there.
Managing interruptions can be hard to do. But the pay-off is rich. It allows us focus more time and effort on our top priorities. And that seems well worth the effort to me.
© Ann Gomez BSc, MBA, firstname.lastname@example.org
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