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The Results Curve: How to Manage Focused and Collaborative Time

Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

How to handle constant interruptions from your colleagues and manager!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, May 10, 2011 @ 06:00 AM

constant interruptionsConstant interruptions can really get in the way of our productivity. In a recent conversation with BNET (the CBS Interactive Business Network), I discussed this issue and outlined some tips for those who want to effectively solve these workplace challenges (or "landmines" as the BNET team calls them).

Watch the video and/or check out some of the key points below.

Host Question: I have a colleague who is constantly sending me Instant Messages and often stopping by to talk to me.  It's not that I don't like this person but these constant interruptions are having an adverse impact on my ability to make real progress.  What can I do?

Answer: There are two important issues that we need to discuss with our workgroup.

First, how do we indicate to them that we are focused. In other words, when we are trying to focus and prefer not to be interrupted, how do we make this known to them so they become aware of it and therefore minimize their interruptions? Some groups approach this playfully and agree that a person would post a visible “sign” of some sort indicating that they’re focused. Other groups use their Instant Messenger status.

Second, we need to discuss with our group how do they escalate issues to us when critical issues come up while we’re focused. Using e-mail to escalate issues is not the answer because we would need to monitor e-mail all the time and therefore can’t focus. Phone, cell phone, pager, text messaging, work much better.

Host Question: How about my manager? Many of my interruptions actually come from my manager?

Answer: Ideally, you would have a similar discussion with your manager, and also agree on a response time. It would be helpful if the issues are grouped into two categories: Urgent issues that require immediate attention, and less-urgent that can wait until the next time you are on e-mail or next time you see your manager.

Host Question: So what should managers do?

Answer: I have three tips for managers. First, clearly differentiate between what is truly urgent, and what is perceived urgent. Second, have a designated place to capture the issues that are not truly urgent instead of e-mailing them or calling your team members right away. This can be a paper journal or an electronic document. Third, make it okay for your team to say “no” and to ask to postpone discussions until they are finished with their current focused task.

In Summary?

Constant interruptions can really get in the way of our productivity and to minimize them we need to discuss these issues with our group openly and come up with a win-win formula where we can help each other stay focused and yet stay responsive to urgent and critical issues when they come up.

Additional Resources

Topics: business results, time management tips, interruptions