Whether at work, on the go or at home, people rarely like to be interrupted. Here are some tips on preventing that from happening.
You too can prevent interruptions
1) Relax and get comfortable before you begin the task at hand; sit in a good chair, adjust the lighting, etc. It's bad enough when other people interfere, you don't need to let your own body beat them to it with a cramped neck or tired eyes.
2) Allow people onto your instant messenger contact list once you're confident that they won't abuse the privilege of being there.
3) Turn off your email/messaging program or any other work communications mechanism but make sure that people know how to reach you in case of emergency, work or otherwise. In my case, I used instant messaging as my hotline and that's why it's important to follow tip 2) before this one.
4) Keep your personal cellphone off during the day, and only check messages during your lunch hour or breaks. This is true even if you work or job search from home. It's very easy to let cellphones blur the distinction between your personal life and your work life, and if you're not careful both can suffer for it.
5) Plan a part of your day to be available for others and tell everyone concerned. Ideally, this would be the same time slot every day so that people easily remember it. Expecting to be interrupted, only use that time slot for light work that can tolerate intervention. The rest of the time, be strict – when people come to interrupt, tell them to come back during your ‘available' hours.
6) Educate your questioners to answer their queries on their own. This will eliminate their need to interrupt you for the same question repeatedly and other questions in the future. Just as good if not better – they may avoid bothering other people too.
7) Recognize the patterns in interruption and react to break them – is it always the same person? Make sure they only come to you during your public time (see above). Do people mostly bother you for the same reasons? Put a clock where it can be seen, teach someone else to use the coffee maker, or write up a help guide on your blog or company intranet about how to find lost email. Whatever it takes.
8) Filter your email so that you receive alerts only for important messages that need an immediate response. Everything else can wait for daily time slots first thing in the morning and first thing after lunch. If you consider this to be light work, by all means do it during your ‘available' hours from tip 5).
9) Remove any comfortable chairs that will tempt people to sit down and chat when they're distracted. When I first arrived at my last job, I purposely kept a comfy chair near my desk so that people would stop by, it was a great way to meet my colleagues quickly. Once I felt comfortable enough, I got rid of the chair.
10) Keep all cool gizmos/gadgets/gewgaws out of sight if they are likely to attract others like bees to pollen. Yes, that means your Palm Treo Lego cradle. Plus, it'll be easier for you to resist the urge to play with them yourself.
11) Respect the attention of people around you. If you're careful about interrupting them, they'll be less inclined to do it to you.