How To Manage Interruptions Like A Pro

Jake Wells

Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

You're neck-deep in a project, making progress, then suddenly—BAM!—you're interrupted. What do you do next?

You must manage interruptions to make the most of your time, improve focus, and—most importantly—finish your work.

So, when the phone call ends or your coworker walks away, go take a quick walk to get your blood pumping. When you sit back down at your desk, you'll find it easier to get back on track.

There are two kinds of interruptions: external and internal.

External interruptions—ones you can't control—will pop up, but you can minimize them with simple steps. Hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. Turn off your phone, or at least the ringer on your phone. Close your email.

Internal interruptions are those you cause yourself. To stem those, turn off social media updates on your phone. You may even want to take social media apps off of your phone altogether. Turn off Wi-Fi on your computer. Close unnecessary applications. Internal interruptions and procrastination are often the same thing. You can control these by making necessary changes.

Most of us are not very good at estimating time, so we don't plan for interruptions. We may underestimate the amount of time we need for a difficult project and overestimate the time we need to complete an easy project. The next time you start working on a task, ask how long you think that task will take and then expand that amount by 50 percent. This ensures that once you start working on a project you have the time to complete it.

The Importance of a Timer

Using a timer is one of the best things you can do to increase your awareness of the time you actually spend on a project. Guesstimating and basing your time-keeping on your emotions doesn’t work.

If you want to make the most of your time, a timer is not optional.

The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity approach centered around the timer. In the Pomodoro Technique, you work in twenty-five minute increments, take a short break, return to your work for another twenty-five minutes, then take another short break, etc. After four, twenty-five-minute sessions, you get to take a longer break.

There are five basic steps to implement the Pomodoro Technique:

1. Decide on the task to be done.

2. Set the timer to twenty-five minutes for one session.

3. Work on the task until the timer goes off

4. Take a short break (three to five minutes).

5. Every four sessions take a longer break (fifteen to thirty minutes).

So, for some it could look like this:

Work—> Break (Facebook)—>Work—> Break (Twitter) —>Work.

If you need a longer time frame for each session, feel free to adjust the time to whatever time you like. Just be sure to take slow steps. Don't jump from twenty-five minutes to fifty-five minutes. If even twenty-five minutes is overwhelming, set the timer for a time period you know you can achieve. How you work and where you are needs to fit your needs.

Don't compare your specific approach to someone else's. Do what you must to get your work done.

Schedule Distractions

You can even use the reverse Pomodoro Technique to intentionally schedule distractions for twenty-five minutes and limit the damage distraction can cause. It's fine to fit a little social networking and not-quite-job-related news reading into your day, but mental limits don't work.

StayFocusd, a plugin for Google Chrome, sets a timer on sites you know are addictive, then blocks them when time is up. You can't even get into them until the next day.

If you find Twitter to be an issue, block Twitter after a defined time of ten or fifteen minutes. Maybe you spend too much time reading blogs. You can block your favorite time-wasting sites. Maybe email is your biggest time suck. You can block that too.

Don't feel bad for using a tool like this. In reality, there’s no precedent to the many distractions available to us online. In almost everything you do, you’re now a marketer and platform-builder too. As you develop discipline, you won't need as many applications, and you’ll be able to just say no to your distractions on your own.

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