“Go ahead with your life, your plans...Don't waste time by stopping before the interruptions have started.”
Richard L. Evans

Of all the productivity challenges described to me, one stands out as the most difficult to address and tackle. Whether work from home entrepreneur or boardroom executive, interruptions by co-workers and reporting staff top the list of productivity smashers and time drains. There’s just something about a co-worker standing in your doorway with that desperate look on their face that makes it tough to turn them away.

By the time an interruption occurs, the interrupting party has typically reached a state of helplessness or panic. They’re so focused on what it is they need that they don’t realize you have deadlines and priorities too. They can only see one tree in the forest, and it’s on FIRE! This is typically when I say to myself, “But, what about that report that’s due by 2:00? Oh well, it’s just this once. The boss will have to understand. Right?”

Contrary to popular belief, only 20% of interruptions (on the phone, in person, via chat, or by email) are true emergencies. With a little compassion and good communication, the other 80% can be delayed to a time that works within your schedule.

The key factors to handling interruption are to ensure the requestor knows they’re being heard and that they have some way to get their needs met. This does not always mean that you are the solution to the problem. In fact, sometimes you simply can’t be.

Here are some fairly painless examples of ways to communicate with others to help minimize interruptions while maintaining a congenial rapport and positive perception. Keep in mind that these conversations are hypothetical and assume that the interruption is not a critical issue.

1. Acknowledge the need and determine the urgency of the interruption.
• Sam, it sounds like this issue really needs to be resolved.
• At the moment, I’m in the middle of working on completing the attendance report for Sally.
• Is this something that can wait until a little later?
• Great, let’s plan on chatting around 2:00 this afternoon so we can discuss how I can help you.

2. If it’s your boss, acknowledge their need and make sure s/he knows what the interruption is pulling you away from.
• Sally, I can tell that this is a very important issue.
• Right now, I’m working on finishing up the attendance report that you needed before noon.
• Would you like me to defer the report until 1:30 and come to your office immediately? Or, shall I complete the report first and come see you afterward?

3. Let people know when you’re working on something of particular importance.
• Sam, I understand your need is important; however, I’m in the middle of a critical update for a customer that just can’t wait.
• I’ll need to get back to you at around 3:00 or so, after I’ve resolved this issue.

4. Negotiate what you will do for them, by when and what they’ll need to handle on their own.
• Sam, I can get you the Time Usage Log by 2:30 this afternoon, but you’ll need to check with Mary for the Group Distribution Form. She can get it to you much more quickly than I.

OR, if someone else can provide the same solution/information you can in a timelier manner.

• Sam, unfortunately, I’m going to be tied up all afternoon with this software push. Mark also has access to the Time Usage Log. You may want to check with him to see if he can get it to you more quickly than I.

Of course the above examples can’t cover every scenario that will occur. The basic gist is to make sure the requestor feels heard and acknowledged, that they understand what’s going on for you at the moment, and that you create clear steps for how (or whether) you will help them. Tact and relationship management are key in this type of interaction because, as they say, you never know when the tables will be turned.

Author's Bio: 

Over the past twenty years, Kimberly Cope has assisted hundreds of companies and individuals in achieving and sustaining greater levels of productivity, profit, and satisfaction than they ever imagined possible. She shares with her clients over two decades of diversified and progressive curriculum design, delivery, and management experience - including seven years with a world-class Fortune 500 development organization.

Her background spans business ownership in the B-to-B and retail sectors, as well as expertise in managing both hard goods and service-focused sales teams, vendor relations, corporate event oversight, retail merchandising, and recruiting.

As a trained personal and professional coach, Kim emphasizes values-based business and life enrichment through exploration, goal-setting, and guided action. She is an active speaker, trainer, and consultant and is excited to work with her clients by offering a customized blend of high-impact solutions to help them achieve their goals.

Kimberly received her education at the Coaches Training Institute located in San Rafael, CA. She is a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF), and is certified in Communication: Human Relations through De Anza College in Cupertino, CA. Kim is also a certified PRINT™ coach and trained to interpret the DISC™ behavioral insights profile and FIRO-B.

Kimberly is married, has two grown sons, and resides in Morgan Hill, California.