How to Overcome Interruptions to Get Time Back into Your Schedule

Interruptions, if not the biggest time bandit, are at least perceived to be the biggest and can be the most stressful when you are working against a deadline.

As mentioned earlier, interruptions can come from different sources, such as peers, clients, prospects, subordinates, supervisors, systemic interruptions, and interruptions by you. These interruptions cannot only result in loss of time while you are dealing with the interruption, they also increase your stress level and can cause you to take a step back on the efficiency curve.

What I mean by that is that while you are working on a task, the longer you work on on it, up to a point, you tend to have an increase in efficiency. After a while, through fatigue and maybe boredom, you begin to lose efficiency The efficiency curve normally looks like this:



Now assume you are interrupted at a point in the curve. After dealing with the interruption, you can’t normally start back at efficiency level A because, not only did you have to gear down from doing the task, but you have gear back up to where you left the task, bringing back your notes and tools, remembering where you were, getting refocused, etc. As a result, you will start somewhere behind A on the curve.

If you are interrupted, measure the impact on the efficiency curve. By using triggers to get back on track (stop writing in mid sentence and finishing the sentence when you get back, for example) you will be more easily refocused. Another method is to write down key words that will help you refocus.


Systemic interruptions are interruptions that indicate a breakdown in your process. This would include stopping to look for a report or a proposal, staff asking for clarification on a due date, decisions, advice, support, etc.

This can be fixed if you have a well-defined process—you can identify the breakdown. Of course, if you don’t have a well-defined processes, too many systemic interruptions would create a sense of urgency to do so.

Minimizing Interruptions

  • Close the door, cut off the phone, instruct the staff that you do not want any interruptions. If you will allow exceptions, make sure the staff understands what those exceptions are.
  • Take your work off property, such as a library, etc.
  • Before interrupting someone, first ask yourself, “what are the consequences if I wait?”
  • While working on a task, stay with it to completion.

You can have a process for minimizing interruptions. Remember, it is up to you. You either train people (in a nice way) to respect your time, or you train them to disrespect your time. For instance, many managers or advisors feel it is important to have an open door policy. If you have it open all day, you are inviting interruptions. If you welcome clients to drop in at any time, you are inviting interruptions.

Handling Interruptions

  • Use voicemail effectively. If you have a clear concise message to leave, and don’t have time to talk, leave a message when you know the person is not in, such as during lunch. Allow voicemail to take some of your calls when you can’t be interrupted. After all, you would use that strategy if you were meeting with a prospect or client.
  • Have a strategy for a long-winded caller, such as “I have a meeting in ten minutes, so I will have to leave then,” or have your assistant interrupt on a prearranged signal from you.
  • Batch your return calls and put them on your daily task list.
  • When interrupted with “Got a minute?” be willing to say “I have a meeting coming up and I really need to prepare for it. I have a few minutes at 2:00. Would that work for you?”
  • Handle your email once or twice a day.
  • Have a method for recording ideas such as a notebook or pad etc.
  • When you have blocked out a time for an activity, honor that time and don’t accept interruptions except for emergencies.
  • Just say no!
  • Advise family and staff of your schedule so they will know when you are not to be interrupted.

Remember, these strategies are not meant to blow people off. They are reminders that you have a busy schedule, and they will respect that.

Published on January 13th, 2015 in Blog

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