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Tereasa Jones
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Interruptions: The Cost, Plus 7 Ways to Stay on Track


We are interrupted almost constantly throughout our days. Although not all interruptions can be avoided, you can use these seven effective techniques to keep your focus and take control of your time at work.


People experience an interruption of some sort approximately every ten minutes. Furthermore, it takes an average of five to ten minutes to recover from an interruption. Five minutes is the amount of time it takes you to reorient while the ten minute span may be necessary to get yourself back into the “space” you were in prior to the interruption. A few simple math calculations indicate that for every hour you are working on a project you are really only productive about half of that hour. If you are working a standard eight hour day your productivity is reduced to about four hours. Those calculations are based on the five minute recovery time. If you have ADHD this is compounded even more. With productivity basically cut into less than half, it would appear that we have a huge problem here.

So, what is interrupting us?

Two things come to mind readily: technological and environmental interruptions. While technology is a wonderful thing, when we are “plugged in” we are subjecting ourselves to constant interruptions in the form of emails popping into our inbox, text messages clamoring for our instant attention, and phone calls no matter where you are (not to mention the ongoing beckoning of social media). Yesterday, I was sitting in a hotel lobby and saw a group of ten people walking from the elevator to the restaurant. Out of the ten, five were walking while either texting or reading something on their phones, one got a call and answered it, and two stopped walking in order to take a closer look at whatever fascinated them on their screens. Only two of the ten walked to the restaurant without interruption! That was in one casual observation for only a few minutes!

Environmentally, we have moved away from brick and mortar as well as walls in general. One in five people in the United States work from home. Among those who go to brick and mortar buildings, approximately 80% of them work either in a cubicle, partitioned space, or completely open space. All of these factors invite interruption right into your world. In one study about 80% of the people working in these kinds of settings said that they experienced a great deal of frustration due to environmental factors.

So, what’s a person to do?

Here are a few things we can do to help us focus more on what we are doing and experience fewer interruptions.

1. Plan Your Day: Your daily planning should really happen the day before. Decide ahead of time 3 to 5 things that you will accomplish the next day. No more than 5. EVER!

2. Schedule Your Time: Get out your planner and block out the amount of time you will need to complete these items. Then double it. Now block out that amount of time.

3. Location, Location, Location: If you can go to a less distracting place to work, plan to do so. Some people like coffee shops; others prefer book stores. If the weather is good, try a park or the beach. The key is to find a location that keeps you focused on the task at hand.

4. Block Unwanted Noise: Use noise cancellation devices such as headphones. Some people like white noise which can be as simple as a fan or inexpensive noise machine.

5. Alert Others: Let people know that you prefer not to be interrupted unless it absolutely imperative.

6. Shut it Down: Turn off alarms and notifications while you are working on projects. Agree with yourself that you will check email and text messages only at certain times. Stick to your schedule!

7. Take Arranged Breaks: Schedule in time to surf the web or check Facebook or other social media.

There may be other things you can do to avoid constant interruption. Ask yourself what those things might be and take steps to implement changes that might help. We might not be able to change our environments, but we can always change the way we respond.

What interrupts or distracts you from your work, relationships, or goals? How do you overcome these obstacles to become more productive and intentional with your time? Let’s talk about it in the comments!


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