For years authors of books and articles about Time Management and leaders of Time Management seminars have suggested numerous simplistic, unrealistic approaches to solving the interruption problem. The most mentioned and most ridiculous suggestion among the Time Management tips is “learn how to say NO.” This approach has always been simplistic and unrealistic, and it is even more so today than ever before.

The dynamics of today’s work world can result in rapidly changing priorities involving many kinds of opportunities, issues and problems. Some may be emergencies or crises requiring immediate analysis, decision and action; others are routine business. Today, you need Time Management strategies and Time Management tools that work and are based on ethical behavior.

Analysis and Decision
First, analyze the purpose of the interruption. For example, a friendly “Hi Bill, how can I help you?” or “Hello Mary, what can I do for you?” will help you learn immediately the purpose of visits and calls. You, then, can assess the priority of the interruption … How important and how urgent is the interrupter’s opportunity, issue or problem compared to what you are doing.

You want to make an appropriate decision about your interrupter’s request for assistance. But, the correct decision may not be as clearly defined and easy as you want it to be. Comparing the relative importance and urgency of one priority versus another can result in “tough calls”; some times you will be right; and other times you will be wrong. Knowing how to analyze interruptions and respond to them will help you be right most of the time.

Second, most of the things about which you are interrupted are important to you and to your company, as well as to your interrupter. Saying “NO” is not the only alternative.

Never send an interrupter away empty handed if he/she has a legitimate opportunity, issue or problem. Then too, never surrender your time to any person or anything that will waste it.

Professional Approaches
Today, interruptions will be handled professionally and effectively by those who tailor their responses to a variety of interruptions, each having its own levels of importance and urgency. Learn to use the following approaches; use each when appropriate and save time.

1. Say “YES.” When the interruption involves something more important and more urgent than what you are currently working on, your response is obviously “YES.” You demonstrate your response is “YES” when you stop doing what you are doing and help your caller or drop-in-visitor.

Saying “YES” is also the correct response when the interrupter’s need is just as important, but more urgent than what you’re doing, or it could be somewhat less important, but more urgent. You take time for an inter¬ruption when you, your interrupter and your company benefit from avoiding a critical deadline.

2. Say “Yes, I’ll take the time to help you make progress.” If you can’t give all the immediate help needed, take a few minutes to find someone who can. If you can’t find someone else, the only alternative is for you to take a few more minutes to help the interrupter make progress. Arrange to get back with him/her later to give more help, if it has not been necessary for you to find someone else to do so.

3. Say “YES, but not now.” When the importance of your interrupter’s request is greater or equal to yours, but the urgency of the interrupter’s need is clearly less than the urgency of what you are doing, arrange to get back with the person at a time of mutual convenience, if you are the only person who can give assistance.

4. Say “NO.” The “NO” response is reserved for time wasting interruptions. If your caller or visitor wants you to get involved in something unimportant to you and your company, regardless of its urgency, say “NO.” Many say they have trouble saying “NO” to callers and visitors because it makes them feel guilty. The “NO” response is reserved for those timewasting situations in which you would ultimately feel guilty if you did not say “NO.”

Having a range of responses to interruptions, and knowing which one to use at the right time, will make you more professional, more productive and a better team member. Remember, if you do not control how your time is used, others will control it for you, and not always to your benefit.

It is not a sin to have poor telephone and visitor skills and habits, but it is to keep them! For personal development and higher productivity with better Time Management skills, tips, tools and strategies to give you 3 to 5 more quality hours each day and a more balanced life, go to …

Author's Bio: 

For nearly 30 years, Dr. Larry Baker has been an internationally recognized consultant, coach, speaker, author and publisher. His articles, books, booklets, tape albums, movie scripts and personal assessment surveys cover a wide range of Time Management topics, including strategic planning, operational planning, performance planning and organizational design and structure.