Thursday, 5 May 2011

Dealing with Interruptions at Work

An interesting statistic: The average American worker has fifty interruptions per day and seventy-five percent of the them have nothing to do with work.
Every day people are struggling to cope with greater demands at work with ever dwindling resources.  The greatest resource we have in the workplace is time.  That is why it is important to protect the amount of time we waste.  Protecting our time is a great strategy to help you discover more time to invest in the projects and tasks that are important to you (and your career).  Below are some tips to dealing with Time Demons...people who rob you of your time. 

MANNERS: A great saying when dealing with interruptions is: Be Gracious with People & Ruthless with Time.  It is always important to make it clear to the other person that you would love to help them, but you haven't the time.  Making it clear to people that time is the enemy, not them, will make them understand that this isn't the appropriate time for you to deal with their request.

SAY NO or NOT NOW: The main reason why people interrupt us at work, is because we let them.  Do remember that you can say no to their requests or that you are not available at the moment.  Using 'no' can also be useful to open up a negotiation about a request, so that you still might end up doing the task but in your own timescale.

ISOLATE YOURSELF: When working on a big project or on a tight deadline, using a meeting room can help minimise the amount of interruptions you have.  If you work in a team, diverting your calls to a colleague (or to voice mail) can also help reduce the amount of people disturbing you.

EMAILS: Set limits to the amount of times you check emails in a day.  Emails can be very distracting and if a request is important or urgent, the person will usually call you to chase the emailed request.  when extremely busy, a usual tips is to turn on your Out-of-Office notification, stating that you are away from your desk and that you will be able to reply to messages by a certain time.  

BE PROACTIVE: If there is a regular customer or a colleague that is constantly pestering you for extra assistance, it can sometimes be useful to call them in advance and ask if there are any issues that they can foresee where they will need your help.  Also, you can ask people how long the interruption will take.  So when people ask, "Have you got a minute?" you can respond with' "If it will just take a minute, if not, I will have to speak to you later."  This way you can have greater control of your schedule.

SEND THEM CLUES: Using body language can help let people know that you are under pressure due to a lack of time.  Some ideas are: look at your watch, stand up when people are speaking to you or pick up the telephone receiver.  This can send the message to the other person that you are busy and are unable to continue the discussion.  Even asking the question, "Anything else?" can make others realise that you are now trying to finish up the discussion.

MEETINGS: Meetings can be a real waste of time.  Here are a few things to remember to help your meetings be more productive: have a clock in the room so that everyone is aware of the time, agree an informal agenda at the start of the meeting (and stick to it), consider only attending a part of the meeting (rather than sticking around for bits that are irrelevant to you), agree your actions before departing the meeting, avoid discussing information that can be accessed online or electronically, stay only for a restricted amount of time (90 minutes MAX) and make sure that the meetings are action orientated (that key actions are assigned to the attendees).  Another effective solution is to have the meeting standing up.  This way people tend to stick to the topic and the meeting will tend to be shorter.  If a meeting is called to discuss another meeting, don't bother attending.  

DELEGATE or DEFER: If you really can't say no but still are struggling with time pressure, you may need to defer that task to someone else.  If it is a task that keeps occurring, then it may be an idea to delegate it someone else.  Delegation can be a great way of developing members of your team to take on new responsibility. But remember: Delegation is not abdication.  You will still be held accountable for the task so make sure you delegate the task thoroughly. 

DECIDE: We all need a break from the occasional drudgery of work.  So if you are going to let someone interrupt you, then make sure it is a decision you have made and not an element of your day that you can't control.  If you are allowing someone to interrupt you, then make sure it is an interruption that you can afford.