How to work with disruptions

Last Wednesday I was literally disrupted every 15 minutes over the course of a 8 hour work day. It’s part of the territory when you look after the reception of a busy office — people at the door, people calling, people dealing with printer issues, people with building issues, people.

So how to focus on my work?

Know my priorities

The Eisenhower box is a wonderful concept.

  • Can I deal with this right now and will it take less than 2 minutes? — Do it.
  • Do I really need to do it now? — If not, schedule it for a better time.
  • Does it need to me who does it? — If not, delegate it.
  • Is this really important and urgent? — Delete it. Furthermore, is it something I can control or have influence over — delete brain energy.

Learn to say “no” or “hold it”

Everyone has their own priorities, their own agendas. Sometimes you have to say “no, it’s not my responsibility, but this is who you can talk to”. Plus there’s always kindly saying, “hold it, can I get back to you in 5 minutes?”. Don’t add to your own headless-chicken state.


It’s a scrap piece of paper but I consistently write every little thing that comes my way that isn’t recorded in an email, whether it be a voice message, a washing machine that needs fixing, or whatever do-this, check-that task. Then I consistently scribble it out once done, decided (into my calendar), delegated or deleted. At the end of the day, the scrap paper goes in the bin.

When working with electronic documents, I also consistently use the ability to rename filenames and highlight sections to remind myself of the progress. E.g. blah-file-Waiting-on-X. If I’m in the middle of the document when I get disrupted, I quickly highlight the bit I’m on so I know where I was. For the most part, this minimises how much time I spend chasing my tail.

Tidy as I go

Ratatouille is a lovely sweet Pixar film which also taught me the idea of tidying as I went. Tidy space, tidy mind. Done with a window, close it. Done with the folder, put it back. Thus when I get disrupted and come back, there’s less searching to do to remember where I was.

This also includes tagging important emails and regularly going through and actioning them (do, decide, delegate, delete).


Add to that, everything has it’s place. Keys! Using consistency in my routines, I save mental energy. It’s easier to tap into the flow of things, because I’ve streamlined my process.

This includes setting a set period of time to run through less urgent emails, rather than dealing with each one as them come. This isn’t easy (particularly when you’re waiting for an email) but I find that if I briefly scan, I can tag it for later and refocus quicker.

Rest and step away

There’s only so much task switching one can handle. Clock off, enjoy your evening, see friends, laugh.

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