Too often we allow ourselves to get interrupted at work. We hear the ping of an email to our iPhones, someone calls us or even worse we have to attend a meeting. Jason Fried talks about the need to kill all meetings.
We are constantly being interrupted and it needs to stop. We all need to find space and time for our thoughts to wander and create.
Your time and emotional space are important factors to doing great work that you enjoy. You need to figure out how to create this time and space without getting interrupted. The more flow you can create, the easier it will be to improve your productivity.
If you want to do amazing work, you must create a buffer from interruptions.
I recently wrote an article for Forbes.com. As I tried to get started on the article, my thoughts were foggy and angry. I wasn’t sure why. Instead of plowing through the work, I grabbed my Gomden (meditation cushion) and just sat. I let my mind unravel. What came loose was a conversation that I had with a friend about the difficulties of being a writer and how hard it is to become successful.
My thoughts were holding me back from writing because of the idea that all my hard work might amount to nothing. I thought about why I write. I write to change people’s lives. I want to open people’s minds to new ways of working. At that point I realized that if even one person was changed by my article I would be proud of the work.
This 10 minute session gave me the realization that I needed to create the emotional space to start writing again. The words flowed without restraint.
Once I had my emotions in line, I had to deal with the next problem: time.
As I began to write, my cell phone chimed, 3 emails landed in my inbox, and my phone rang. I kept falling out of my zone.
You know what it’s like. Co-workers are asking you for your input and people expect you to return their email within the hour. How does a person find the time to just do extended periods of work?
You have to find time to let your mind get into the zone. The best way I can convince you to develop this system is to remind you of the last time you did amazing work. What did the situation look like? Did you do the work early in the morning when everyone else was asleep? Did you do the work when the office was empty?
You have the power to create the work environment that unleashes your superpowers. You just need to train yourself and the people you work with. Seriously. Train them like little puppies. Show them over and over that your time is more important than their interruptions.
4 Rules to Get Amazing Work Done
I developed these rules at my day job and at home. They are the 4 most important things that help me stay in the zone and knock out some amazing work.
Check your email at set times
Right now I’m expecting an important email to arrive sometime this afternoon and it will be exciting when it arrives, but I can’t check my email every 10 minutes. I encourage myself to stay with this article because it’s enjoyable and I know that this article is important. When that email comes, I can enjoy it at the end of the day.
I tell myself that I can check my email in 3 hours. I set my timer and focus on my writing.
You must find a way to limit the email time suck. You may want to check it first thing in the morning, before lunch and at the end of the day. This routine will allow you to get into the zone. Many productivity experts will say that you should only check your email once a day, but I believe this is unrealistic, especially when email is so much fun. Someone awesome like Seth Godin or Penelope Trunk could have sent you an email.
Refuse to go to meetings
Your time is precious and you have to be willing to fight for it. If someone tries to suck you into a 2 hour meeting then you have three options. Yes, no or limit your time suck.
I refuse to go to 95% of meetings. Most meetings are useless. How often have you attended a meeting only to be needed for 10 minutes of it? Meetings often have too many people and take up too much time.
Try saying no, or if this isn’t possible then limit the amount of time that you can attend. Yes, your flow will be interrupted, but at least you will have time to get back into the zone.
You may also want to designate times when you will attend meetings, like only during the afternoon when you like to do busy work anyway.
Your time is precious. We only have 480 minutes each work day to act on at least one awesome idea.
Teach people that you need longer stretches of quiet time
If you are a high performer, people are usually willing to put up with your rules. By producing amazing results, you can create your own schedule.
When working in an office environment, you are constantly interrupted by the phone and your co-workers. It’s hard to get away from this. You need to create some quiet time that will allow you to think.
I suggest putting your phone on mute, closing all programs that don’t assist you in your work, and putting on some headphones. The headphones are a signal to your co-workers that you don’t want to be disturbed.
This is the important part: when people still try to interrupt you (and they will), you have to be willing to shell out some tough love. Explain to the person that you would love to help them, but you are very busy right now. Then suggest a time in the near future for the both of you to talk. At first people will be put off, but eventually you will train people on how you want to be treated. They will respect this and leave you alone when you are trying to knock out some important work.
Have another place to go when you need to focus
The best option for doing great work is to go to a place where no one can disturb you. This depends on how flexible your work environment is.
You should find a room or space where people can’t see you. You may be able to block out a small meeting room if you work for a large organization, or maybe you can go to a local coffee shop if a meeting room is not available.
I prefer to have a room where I can close the door and turn on some classical music. This set-up always gets me in the mood to work. I’m using this technique right now. I’m listening to Bach and typing away on this article.
You need a place like this to get your superpowers into a flow state.
Putting it all together
You have the right to find time to be so amazingly productive that you can’t stop smiling. I believe many workers struggle with their happiness because they aren’t given the time to think through problems. They are interrupted for silly stuff that can always wait an hour or two.
You can create the time and emotional space to be super-productive. You’ll be so productive that people will love the results and realize that leaving you alone is the best thing they can do for the company’s bottom line.
What do you do to create more emotional space and time for your projects?
How do you teach people to leave you alone and let you work?
* Join over 1,200 people who have already subscribed to the FREE 10 part E-Course on Leveraging Your Superpowers. Learn how to discover and leverage your superpowers so you can do amazing work. (Sign up is in the top left corner)
* Gretchen of the Happiness Project always brings insight to life and this post is no different - Choose One Word to Set the Tone for Next Year.
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> What do I do if I’m unhappy at Work?
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Image courtesy of iklash/
5 thoughts on “How to Stop Interruptions and Be More Productive”
It sounds like you know your process well.
I've found that productivity really is a personal thing where you have to know how to leverage your personal patterns and set yourself up for success.
Hi J.D., I feel like I'm improving my process every week. It is very personal, but I've also learned that what works for other people has a good chance for working for me.
Most of what works for me was suggested by other bloggers. It's trying their ideas and keeping what works that has really helped me.
First off, yay, your site works perfect again on Safari and LOVE the photo choice with that Mac 😉
I guess I am lucky at home not having pretty much any interruptions. My husband and I have never been phone people, so it is a very rare event if the phone rings. And the checking the email thing, yeah, that is an area I go back and forth in.... sometimes I get serious and have set times, and other times, I yo-yo back and forth with every new email.... bad, for time management and focus, but.... I have focused in on why I do this, and I think it helps me to manage my inbox (when I can) tackling and dealing with 1 message at a time right away.
Hearing myself write that, I know, big focus killer... but I function 😉 LOL so I guess at the end of the day, if I am not complaining, then it is okay for me.
Thank you for talking about this talk in such great detail!
Hi Evita, We all have to work within our comfort zones. We can't go too far in one direction otherwise we end of freaking out. It's best to start small and implement new methods to cut down on interruptions which help us accomplish amazing work.
Well written! This is exactly why I hated working in a cubicle. I was a tech writer, which requires long stretches of uninterrupted work. I sat with a bunch of people whose work involved lots of discussion and brainstorming. I wore headphones all the time, because I had to. And people learned pretty quickly not to interrupt me.
I know people who think they're really good at multi-tasking, and always wonder how much more effective they'd be if they focused on one thing at a time. I can't multi-task - everything comes out crap when I'm forced to do that. Maybe some people really do their best work like that, but I have doubts.
Oh, how I long for a quiet spot. I am in an office setting - several of us sit in / share an open area.
I have co-workers who leave their cell phones on loud, leave them in their office and then go into a meeting, leaving us to listen to the ring tone de jour; they holler at each other down the hall; intercoms on phones are turned up so loud you can hear the message in stereo if you are in the right place. A person who sits near me, is the backup receptionist. Sometimes she gets louder and louder and LOUDER on the phone as the day goes on. But she whispers when she's on a personal call.
I have talked to management several times about the distractions (like the stream of consciousness talker, who roams about the office) - but nothing ever changes.
I have to be on the phone periodically - so ear phones are not an ideal solution.
Any suggestions (besides looking for another job?)?
Hi Karl! First time to visit here in your blog and a first post I got to read. I myself is also having a hard time in utilizing my time, but I am now practicing it. I am now trying my best to set my priorities. Anyway, thanks for sharing! 🙂
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