Prevent intrusions before they distract you

Prevent intrusions before they distract you

Who causes most of our interruptions? We do. Nearly half of the readers who answered our survey last month said they themselves are the most frequent source of interruptions. They start working on one thing and then switch to something else.

If that’s a problem for you, try these two techniques:

  1. Clear the decks first. Before you start working on something, remove all the competing thoughts from your mind. If you’re thinking “I need to call Betty about the sales flyers,” call her or jot a note on your to-do list.
  2. Set a timer. The Pomodoro Technique has become one of the most popular time-management methods. It boils down to one simple practice: Set a timer for 25 minutes and work on one task until the timer rings. Then take a 5-minute break. After four cycles (two hours), take a longer break.

Nearly as many readers (41%) told us that people coming into their office without appointments is the most frequent interruption they encounter. Here are two more ideas for that problem:

  1. Flag availability. Create a visible signal for co-workers: a “Do not disturb” sign or a traffic light that welcomes them with green or stops them with a red signal.
  2. Take a hard line. Tell your team that you are serious about taking control of your time and that everyone must schedule an appointment. Don’t allow any exceptions, even for people who ask for “Just a second.”

We’ll say this one more time: When you need to concentrate, send calls to voice mail and turn off your email and instant messaging programs. In our survey, 30% of readers blamed email and IM for interruptions, and 15% cited phone calls.

Among the write-in answers, two people said their boss interrupts them more than anything else. Our suggestion: Check in with your boss before you start working on a project. Ask whether the boss needs anything, and then explain that you will be concentrating on a specific task for the next hour and will check back after that. 

Feeling buried by email? Discover how one top executive deals with more than 300 messages a day, in the Ripped From Real Life section at

Being an Organized Executive is about order and attitude. It’s remaining calm amid the chaos of the workplace and maintaining your focus on what’s truly important. Organized Executives never stop discovering better ways to reach their goals. They continuously learn from others, adapting great ideas and systems to their own needs. Join us on the journey at our blog.

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