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How to Avoid Interruptions at Work

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Try going to the nearest coffee shop and working there for a few hours instead of staying at the office all day. After you’re done, you’ll realize that you’ve completed more work than you did in the past two days in the office. Why?

Because you didn’t have any interruptions.

No one came to your desk to show you that cute video of a dog and a baby dancing together. No one passed by to ask where you got that nice cardigan from. You didn’t lose your attention by accidentally hearing your colleagues gossiping.

When you need to do something that requires a lot of attention, staying focused is crucial in order to create a “flow” of work. This is impossible if you’re in a big, open office with loud music and people talking all the time. Constant interruptions impact the time it takes to finish up something, and more importantly, the quality of the work that gets done.

Someone passes by, they start talking to you about the movie they saw yesterday, someone else joins, and before you know it, you’ve lost 45 minutes of your time. So, now you have to focus all over again, spending an hour more than you normally need for that task. And this doesn’t happen only once a day.

Interruptions at work can sometimes get you crazy. According to Dovico, the average person gets interrupted every 8 minutes, which is around 7 times per hour and 50–60 times per day. The average interruption lasts about 5 minutes, which means that interruptions take up half of our average workday. 80% of them are not so important, or completely unimportant, so we’re wasting around 3 hours of hour workdays.

We don’t even want to multiply these numbers by the number of annual workdays so we don’t get devastated by how much work we could actually do.

Things get even worse if you’re a team lead who needs to manage a group of people. The number of distractions grows with the number of people you need to manage.

Okay, let’s face it. There will always be interruptions, no matter what you do. In fact, we often interrupt ourselves when we’re not feeling focused enough. There are also times when your colleagues have to reach out to you, so you need to be present.

However, this shouldn’t take up the whole workday. You need to have your own time, when you’ll be able to focus on work without having notifications ringing all the time or people coming over.

So, what can you do to avoid interruptions at work without being rude to your colleagues?

Turn off your email

It’s okay. People will survive if you don’t answer them in five minutes. When you start working on something complicated that requires your full attention, turn off your email for at least an hour. Don’t even leave the app running in the background and stop checking it every five minutes. You’ll end up with better results if you focus on doing actual work instead of just answering pointless emails.

Put your phone on an unreachable spot

Put your phone somewhere your hands can’t reach at the time you’re sitting on your desk. Also, make sure you can’t see it. If you keep looking at your phone, you’ll end up grabbing it to check your Instagram or your messages, and after you leave it, you’ll have to focus on your task all over again. I’m guessing you know that notifications should be turned off.

Create physical barriers

Close the door of your office if you have one. If not, go to your company’s lounge area or to a similar space where your colleagues will find it hard to find you. You can even ask your manager to go to the coffee shop downstairs. Being away from everyone will reduce distractions that come from people around you and allow you not to lose your focus for a while.

Don’t multitask

For some reason, people think that multitasking should be the way they do things. Well, it actually brings more harm than it helps. Doing several tasks at once can cause more distractions as you won’t know what you’re focusing on. It’s better to prioritize and do one thing at a time.

Take a break

Tired people tend to lose focus and get distracted easily. When we’re tired, we usually go to our social network profiles and scroll pointlessly just because we don’t have enough energy to work. Or we believe so. A better alternative would be to go away from the screens for five minutes and give the brain a break. After the break, the brain will be regenerated and ready for a new task. But, be careful. Breaks aren’t the same as interruptions. You should take breaks when you complete a task instead of in the middle of it. You can consider it as some kind of a reward to yourself for staying focused.

Define a no-interruptions hour

If you’re a manager, you can choose an hour or two in the day when you’ll release employees from interruptions and let them focus. Announce it in front of everyone and tell them to postpone their questions until the no-interruptions hour is up. This is a way to raise awareness about the harm interruptions can do in the office and motivate your employees to stay focused longer.

Although there isn’t a way to shut down interruptions completely, it’s actually all about practicing. Yes, you read it right. Staying focused can be practiced, like mastering any other skill. Practice not to open your email, practice not to check notifications, practice not to run to your colleagues and show them the meme you found.

After a while, you’ll realize that you’ve become better at focusing and completing tasks effectively. You’ll get to a point where your productivity depends only on yourself, and you’ll work more on improving it.

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