We are interrupted on average 7x/hour and waste approximately 2.1 hours a day on distractions. You’ve probably been thinking that since interruptions originate with another person, they need to be the one to stop it – but you have more control than you think. I’m putting together a resource guide for you about how to find more time in your day and stay focused amidst never ending distractions – it leaks a number of the tips I wrote in my book Success under Stress .
In the meantime, here’s a 3 step process for how you can eliminate up to 75% of your current interruptions.
Use the acronym A-C-T to figure out one of three possible responses to every interruption:
A: Allow or Accept C: Cut it off at the Pass or Curtail T: Triage
Accept or Allow: If you decide an interruption is as or more important than whatever you are currently doing, Accept or Allow it. Give it your full attention. Resolve the issue. Choose to accept or allow interruptions only if they meet your pre-set criteria, thus you need to make some thoughtful and strict criteria before you get into the situation. For example:
Your manager or client expects real time availability (you know this because you’ve asked, not because you assume it).
There’s a significant risk to your level of service.
An important or income-generating project needs your input to move forward.
The interrupter is a mutually supportive friend who generally doesn’t waste your time.
There’s a personal or family emergency.
Cut it off at the Pass, or Curtail:
Prevention! Make a list of your most frequent sources of interruptions and distractions then problem solve them away.
Schedule buffer times each day to deal with answering emails,unexpected requests, vet new opportunities, rather than interrupting what you are doing.
Silence email notifications, ringers, etc. to create uninterrupted work time.
Schedule interruptions: have frequent brief check-ins instead of get calls and emails all day long; hold “office hours” so people know when to contact you or expect a call back; if your direct reports or assistant are the source of interruptions, give them clear guidelines on what matters are appropriate to interrupt you about. Teach them how you think about solving problems, let them know you consider them capable of solving problems and that you will be evaluating their performance based on how much they take ownership of situations.
Assemble a FAQ document with comprehensive answers to frequent questions – and include a reference to it on your voicemail or signature line of your email.
Triage: Allow a brief interaction between you and the interrupter solely to determine how to deal with the interruption. Just like the Emergency Room nurse, pointedly (but pleasantly) ask a few questions that will give you clarity on the situation and enable you to tell the interrupter your plan for when/how you will respond. The right questions can help you craft a mutually satisfying plan – or even help you determine that you don’t need to get involved at all. Make a list of three to five questions that are relevant for your circumstances. Post them in your office so you can easily refer to them in the heat of the moment.
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