Interruptions come in all forms – digital, email, phone calls, and noisy stuff in general (how come the leaf blowers only come out when I’m in a Zoom meeting?) However, when dealing with cutting down on interruptions, the human kind are the most difficult to control. They require exercising our often underused “NO” muscles and establishing some firm boundaries. If you are constantly interrupted by the “hey – got a quick question for you,” or “just want to run one thing by you,” (whether it’s in person, on Slack, or via text, or whatever) by people who are not dealing with an emergency situation that requires an immediate answer, establish some clear guidelines as to when you’re available to chat or respond in any way. It’s important to communicate in a firm but friendly manner that there are times you really need uninterrupted focus time. Most people, if you are clear and consistent, will respect your boundaries and actually be grateful to know that they will be welcomed and can get answers and help at a specific time of your day. No one really wants to feel as if they’re interrupting you, after all! If you have an office door, close it. You may need to put a polite sign on it reminding people that you are available later, but not now. If you don’t have a door, establish a signal to your colleagues (or your family!) that you prefer not to be interrupted – when you’re wearing headphones, for example. I had one client who worked in an open office space who decided that his signal, clearly established ahead of time, for no interruption time was to hang a funny sign on the back of his chair – one of those red circle-with-a-slash through the word “interruptions.” It was humorous, but got his point across.
Be realistic about what you can and can’t control. It’s not possible to short-circuit all interruptions. Sometimes there are urgent matters that need dealing with immediately, and you may not always be the one who gets to decide what’s important – especially if it’s the boss emailing! And when you’re working from home with kids, spouse, or roommates around, it’s even more difficult. But you can take some specific actions to block a lot of them. Take some simple, proactive steps. Eliminate digital notifications – both visual and audible. Set up some clear boundaries with the humans who co-exist in your space. Maybe you and your spouse can trade off scheduled “no interruptions” time so that you take turns dealing with your kids’ needs but still get some focused work time in. This may require some serious, advance negotiations! But any step you take, no matter how small, will help reduce the “interruption clutter” in your day. The biggest step will be to exercise that muscle that many of us need to beef up – the “NO” muscle. Clearly established and consistently followed boundaries will be all the workout you need to get into shape!