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Time Management: Too Many Interruptions

October 13, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Time Management

Distractions and unexpected interruptions are a problem for most people but can be even more disruptive if:

  • You have a procrastinating personality (you tend to put things off if you can)
  • You love to talk and socialize (and time will therefore easily get away from you)
  • You are always willing to help others (at the expense of your own priorities)

Many distractions and interruptions are of low urgency and low importance and we can therefore eliminate many of them (as unnecessary time-wasters) by being firmer with people when these occur. However, some distractions and interruptions occur for more important and/or urgent reasons and these need to be accommodated by planning to have a little time in our day for such events to occur.

Although we can potentially resist some distractions and plan for a few interruptions to our work schedule, they may still have a negative overall impact if we are not careful. So what else can we do to minimize the negative impact of distractions that rob us of our productive work time? Here are a few ideas:

  1. When a person says, “Got a minute?” don’t accept their time estimate. Ask them to give an estimate – ideally a precise estimate – of how long it will take and then hold them to it, as far as this is possible. If it can be handled in a short time, and it is not going to distract too much from the priority task you are engaged upon at the moment, then do it. Otherwise, set up another time.
  2. Make sure that the language of priorities becomes part of the workplace culture. That way, when someone wants to interrupt, you can tell the person about the priorities you currently have, and the two of you can make a reasoned judgment about whether his or her problem has a temporarily higher priority than your work, and the other person will not be offended by the exercise.
  3. When people want to interrupt, ask for a few second’s grace. Perhaps they can help themselves to a drink, or perhaps they will be grateful for the time so that they can gather their thoughts, and possibly their paperwork. In that few seconds, scan the work you have been working on, getting an overview on what you have learned up until the current point. If necessary, jot down a few notes about your thoughts, and what you need to do when this interruption is over.
  4. Be disciplined about your priorities. No matter how big or distracting an interruption has been, be committed to returning to where you left off.

If interruptions are a long-term structural problem for you, impeding your ability to get things done, carefully analyze why this is the case and make some structural changes. This could be things like turning your desk or chair around to face away from the door, shutting your door more often, asking people not to interrupt more frequently, etc.

The featured video clip is drawn from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder Time Management Video Vignette Set.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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