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New Year; New You Part II – Battling the Interruption

This blog post was originally published by Giving Tree Associates.

Two weeks ago I promised to spend January talking about New Year’s resolutions. I chose to focus on the #1 challenge confronting my coaching clients – time management. Most of us feel overwhelmed by the constant flow of information and expectations around near instant turnaround times. Our brains hardly have a minute to rest. In my January 10 post, I asked you to rate your own time management behavior and suggested you try two great time management tools. Check them out! Today, I want to talk about minimizing interruptions during work hours.

Interruptions. Most of us have no idea how serious a threat to our productivity interruptions actually pose. Maura Thomas of the Harvard Business Review and Stanford News tells us that “…more than a quarter of the time someone switches tasks, it’s two or more hours before they actually resume what they are doing.” She explains that the problem is not isolated to getting distracted from our work, it’s that we get distracted from our work by other (sometimes quite important) work.

The bottom line is that people who are constantly bombarded with different streams of communication, “…do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.”

Holy cow! I used to pride myself on being a great multi-tasker. No more.

So what does this mean for you? How can you minimize disruptions and do one darned thing at a time? During a session I facilitated on time management for a large Chicago based nonprofit, my attendees generated some great suggestions, and I’d love to share some of my favorites with you. Here goes:

Schedule time on your calendar for each major task or project. This means that you treat each task or project as if they are a “real” meeting and you actually schedule a specific time and date (or several) in your Outlook or Google calendar to complete them. And like a meeting, you won’t take phone calls, answer emails, or chat with co-workers during this time. Just work on the project and let your brain focus.

Find a productive work space in which to complete the task or project. This could be your office – but close your door. You might even create a sign on your door that asks people to hold off on interruptions until your door is open. If your office is not private, or people don’t respect the awesome sign you created, move elsewhere. Find a place in your building or a nearby café and let your co-workers know you will be back in an hour (or two, or three).

Once you have found your productive space, shut down all non-critical communications. Yes, all of them. Remember, Maura Thomas? She says it often takes over 2 hours to get back to our original task after an interruption. So if you check email from that café (in which you are hiding in order to get your grant proposal written), it’s likely that you’ll see an email from your boss or co-worker to which you feel you need to respond. And that one leads to another. Before you know it, you are spiraling down the rabbit hole of interrupting one important task with another, and the grant will go unwritten. You get the picture. So close your email window, turn off notifications on your phone, and if necessary, give yourself a break to check your phone every 30 – 45 minutes. I promise you’ll survive.

Last, if social media is your #1 offender with regard to interruptions or time management issues, schedule time in your day to check emails, Facebook, Instagram, Snap, LinkedIn, or whatever takes you off schedule. Decide that you’ll check whatever you feel compelled to check at very specific times during the day, not randomly throughout the day. This way you control your time on social media and it does not control you.

I hope these suggestions have been helpful in embarking upon your time management journey and minimizing interruptions. Feel free to share additional suggestions below – we’d love to read them! Join me again in two weeks as we begin our series on campaign planning – I hope it’s a game changer and contributes to a year of productivity, strategic thinking and success.