Top 5 Tips for Minimizing Interruptions

By Vicki Voisin, ACP

How can you get your work done if you have constant interruptions? You can’t…and it’s very frustrating. You have to practice self-defense when it comes to interruptions. If you don’t take steps to minimize them, your time will be wasted and your productivity will suffer.

Studies show that the average worker is interrupted every eight minutes. The same studies reveal that 15% of the interruptions are important, while the remaining 85% are a waste of time. Telephone calls and e-mail are major culprits, but even worse are the two-legged interrupters: your co-workers.

Here are five tips to minimize those two-legged interruptions and keep you in the productivity fast lane:

1. Stand up when someone enters your workspace….or when they’ve over-stayed their welcome. When you stand, you send a message that the meeting will either be brief or that it has ended. This works every time. You start moving, they start moving…end of interruption.

2. Never ask “How are you?’ when someone stops by your office. This is an open invitation to chat. Do you really want to hear about their gallbladder surgery? Instead, ask ‘What can I do for you?’ This will get you right to the point of the interruption.

3. A bit of creative workspace re-organization goes a long way. If your desk faces the door, turn it so you don’t look right into the hallway at everyone who passes. Once they make eye contact, they always stop to chat. Can you remove your chairs? If not, stack some files on them so the office pest (IE time waster) can’t take root for a half hour of blah blah blah. Last, NEVER have a bowl of candy on your desk. Who can resist a handful of M&M’s…and a little conversation to go along with them?

4. If you’re asked to answer a ‘quick’ question or someone wants ‘just a minute’ of your time, beware! Your first question should be, “How much time do you need?” If you have the time available, go for it and hold them to the deadline. If you don’t have a spare fifteen minutes, schedule an appointment with them later. Rehearse a few lines like: “I’m sorry but I need to finish this deposition summary in the next hour. Can we talk later?” or “Attorney X is waiting for this research. I can spend some time with you at 2:00 this afternoon.” If you use lines like these, you’ve turned the tables and you’re now meeting on your own terms.

5. Urge co-workers to accumulate their questions. They should save all but urgent issues to discuss with you in one chunk of time. It’s much more productive to spend twenty minutes discussing five client matters than it is to talk about one client matter for ten minutes every hour.

6. BONUS TIP: Don’t interrupt yourself! Determine your peak productivity period and make yourself unavailable to the world during that time every day. Shut your door. Turn off anything that might be noisy or distracting. Stock your desk with all the supplies you need to eliminate unnecessary trips to the supply room. Practice what you preach: accumulate your questions and assignments and interrupt your co-workers only once.

Your challenge: Make a short list of the interruptions you will allow. For all the rest, decide which of today’s tips you can implement to minimize them. Once that decision is made, take the necessary steps to curb those interruptions and you’ll find yourself on your way to a more productive day. I’d like to hear how this works for you…and also any other suggestions you have for minimizing interruptions. Send those to vicki@paralegalmentor.com and I’ll publish them in a future ezine.

© 2008 Vicki Voisin, Inc.

Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, e-zine or website? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, also known as The Paralegal Mentor, publishes the bi-weekly ezine ‘Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence’ where she offers tips for paralegals and others who want to create lasting success in their personal and professional lives. Get tips and information at no cost at www.paralegalmentor.com.