Many people working in offices, even factory floors, complain about interruptions. To a great degree, interruptions are things you accept. You may feel like they are push upon you, and sometimes they, are, but for the most part, they are things we do to ourselves out of boredom, frustration or lack of engagement. These ten items are personal actions and behaviors you can own that will help your deal with interruptions at work.
Put your phone on mute or turn it off. You know its still on if you’re jonesing for a peek at Facebook or to text a friend about what another friend just did, and your hand shakily reaches into purse or pocket in an attempt to satisfy the craving for information. Turn it off. The withdrawals are hell, but the empty to-do makes up for the ten text messages or tweets, that when looked back upon in retrospect, didn’t really deserve a response anyway.
Schedule a time with yourself. Just schedule time on your calendar for you. Yes, you, and you are the only one invited or notified. And don’t just make it a mental note or promise, but it on your calendar as “you time.” If you are worried about shared calendars, come up with some standing meeting that looks like it isn’t just “you time” but know yourself that it is. Clear out e-mail, manage your task list by doing a task or two you’ve been putting off, make a phone call or recycle and organize the stuff on your desk. You make appointments with everyone else, why not yourself.
Accomplish something. The best feeling is getting something done. Concentrate on something until you experience that cascade of endorphins that inform your brain of success. If you have a goal, you are less likely to let things deter you from it. (and while doing this, do everything else on the list so that you can go from just getting stuff done, to being in #5.)
Work from home. When you are working on individual work, ask yourself, do I really need to be at work? If the answer is no, work from home. (hint, the operative word here is work. Home as its own set of distractions. Caulking the bathtub counts as a distraction, not as work, at least not your work).
Get in the Zone. I won’t tell you how, you already know. For me, it is rock ballads and wireless headphones. Somehow my brain as figured out how to optimize written output while ignoring Coldplay. I may get an MRI someday to figure out how it works, but for now, I’m just going with it.
Use the Plane. When on a plane, many people find it useful to pull out their PC or tablet and work. Well, by work, I mean watch a video. People need to think. Use plane time to read stuff, mark it up with a pen or highlighter, perhaps write down some notes, do a mindmap. There isn’t much room for anything beyond watching a video, listening to music and doodling. At least make the doodling useful. And if you are a believer in flipped classrooms, what a TED video or something else educational — if you do that, pay attention. Doodling only to reinforce what’s in the video or something the video suggests. Multitasking is a myth.
Don’t distract yourself. You, the one that was reading this and then picked up the phone to answer the text, from last night, to your sister about Sunday. You know who you are. There are still three more items on the list. Focus!
Keep a notepad handy. For short bursts of distraction. You can feel good that you didn’t loose the brilliant idea, but you also didn’t get off track going down the rat whole of the yet another patent idea that didn’t quite work out. Sure, you can use your phone or tablet, but you know, keep a notepad around anyway. Notepads don’t have apps or Facebook to suck you in after you write your note (O, I’ll just check Facebook while its one — stop it!)
Pick up the UPS later. (for those who work at home) When the knock comes, it means someone you know, or perhaps even you, bought you a gift. If you live in a good neighborhood, let it sit on the porch until you are done with what you are doing, then go get it. Make it a reward. If you get distracted, the frustration you feel will go over to the thing. Let the thing come to you when you are in that endorphin moment and it will be treasured all the more.
Make a space. Cubicles suck. Doors are good for avoiding distractions. Most people still know that a closed door means don’t come in. People who live in cubicles may not know this because we no longer teach the proper social graces, but most people have some cultural memory in their DNA that says: closed door, don’t disturb. If you don’t have a door, go find one, get behind it, and concentrate on accomplishing something.
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.