Coping with interruptions

  • Put a sign on your door. “Do not disturb” is not enough. Put when you will be free (to discourage non-urgent interruptions), and why you are not available (to discourage the unimportant ones). For example:
  • Rearrange your desk so that your line of sight does not face out to the corridor, but is sideways to it. This means that passers-by cannot easily catch your eye, but will have to come in and disturb you. They will be much more reluctant to interrupt you if they have to do this.
  • Publicise fixed times: green means available, red means no interruptions allowed.
  • If someone asks if you’ve got a minute say, politely, “No, not at the moment, but I could do it later if you like”. Suggest an appointment to discuss it properly, perhaps after you have had time to prepare for it, at a later specified time. Take control of your day!
  • Hold a short daily meeting (perhaps only 10 minutes) with your major interrupters, so that you can get everything out of the way in one hit. Most problems can then wait until the next meeting.
  • Think: “why did that interruption happen, and what can I do to prevent it happening again?” Look for patterns.
  • Establish a time limit for the interruption at the start. This is good manners, means they know where they stand and can plan the pace of their talking, and makes the point that your time is valuable.
  • Remove extra chairs from your working area, perhaps leaving just one uncomfortable or wobbly one.
  • Find a reason to stand up when they come in, and then stay standing up.
  • Use the word Anyway to keep the conversation on track: “Anyway, has that answered your question?”, or “Anyway, I must get back to this report now…”.
  • Be more assertive tell them that they keep interrupting you and it’s giving you a problem
  • As a last resort, hide. This would mean working in a spare conference room for an hour or two. It’s not a strategy you could use regularly or you will be discovered and sought out, and it is not good if you are nowhere to be found when there is a genuine crisis, but it does make the point that you are working on something important and that only vital interruptions are allowed.