09 Feb 8 ways to reduce interruptions
How to keep the snowball rolling
The average workday interruption lasts between 6 to 9 minutes, with a 4-minute recovery time. Let’s imagine that you have 5 interruptions in one day, which is a low estimate. That’s nearly an hour of wasted time that you could have been using to get closer to your goals.
Work momentum is like a snowball rolling down a hill: as it rolls it begins picking up more and more mass and speed until it’s growing at an exponential rate. If you were to stop it halfway down, it would have grown so large that initiating its movement again would take a lot of energy and effort. If you imagine your concentration and flow as being similar, you can begin to understand the importance of allowing yourself time to amass momentum when working. Not only can interruptions cause us trouble by wasting time during our day, but they can also cause damage by affecting our productivity even when we’ve returned to work. Getting into an uninterrupted workflow will help you to start working faster and more efficiently, ultimately becoming more productive with whatever task you are doing, and increasing your sense of achievement and enjoyment.
So, in order to avoid stopping the snowball before it’s reached the bottom of the hill, it helps to learn ways to reduce interruptions. Firstly, being aware of things that interrupt you will help you focus on areas of improvement. If you know that you are constantly being distracted by people calling or instant messaging you, then that’s the first place you have to start reducing inputs. From there, the secret to avoiding distraction is employing your willpower. If you truly want to start working more efficiently and using your time better, then you have to make the commitment and stick to it long enough to develop new habits.
You may find yourself giving in to distraction because of a procrastination habit, so try to discover why you are procrastinating and address the underlying issue. Maybe you’re procrastinating because you are intimidated by a major project, or you are just feeling uninspired at the time. If you are trying to work during a time of the day when you typically feel uncreative and stifled, try changing your perspective on your work area or the issue, or go for a walk. There are likely specific times during the day when you know that you feel particularly productive and creative, so saving these times for major work might help, as well as placing yourself in an environment where you know you can work efficiently. Many people know places where they are able to be the most enthusiastic about their work, whether it is a library, a café, a hotel lobby, or in a park. Work on finding a place like this for yourself if you don’t already have one.
If the problem for you is that you have difficulty getting started on an intimidating project, then the main thing you can do is simply consciously push yourself to get it over with. A task that stays on your to-do list and continuously gets passed over day in and day out can cause you a good amount of stress just from lurking in your subconscious. Reflect on what it is about this task in particular that makes it so daunting. One thing you can do is initiate the habit of beginning every day with this difficult task, simply to move it out of the way and free up the rest of your day from the anxiety that you would have felt with it looming over you. If you do this regularly every day for 3 to 4 weeks you will find it starting to become a habit, and you will find these types of projects to be much less of a hassle for you than they were before.
Creating flow also means that you shouldn’t have to stop all the time in order to reestablish what your overall goal for the task is and how you’re going to do it. When you begin a project, determine why you are performing it right away. Decide what a successful outcome of the project would be, and what steps you are going to take in order to complete it. With that determined, you can focus only on completing each step without interruption.
Being motivated and avoiding distractions can be especially difficult for people who are working on projects and goals with deadlines that are far in the future. In order to stay focused, these people should set short-term targets during their day. Using a day planner can help with this. For example, you could simply write down mini targets for what you want to have completed each hour. Create blocks of time for activities, not only including meetings but also including projects and quiet time.
Some additional practical advice for avoiding interruption:
1. Take breaks when you need to, not just because you have been interrupted.
2. Limit distractions by closing your email and instant messaging programs, and putting your phone on silent.
3. If appropriate, turn phone calls into emails. Phone calls can end up becoming lengthy conversations, which can seriously interrupt the flow of your day.
4. Turn off the sound when you receive new mail.
5. Focus on one task for a predetermined amount of time.
6. Rather than rushing off immediately when you think of something you have to ask, gather questions and ask them all at once (given that it isn’t something urgent).
7. Create a system to let others know when you shouldn’t be disturbed.
8. Go to the washroom, get yourself a glass of water, and organize all of your resources close to you before you begin working.
Focusing on reducing or eliminating interruptions can help you get more out of your day. The resulting increased concentration on your work may greatly improve your productivity and performance.