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Productivity Tips: Handling Interruptions

In a previous post, I gave some ideas for how to minimize interruptions, hopefully stopping them before they occur.

Sometimes, however hard we try, we get interrupted. Here are five tips for coping when it happens:

work waiting on desk

Deal with It Later

If possible, minimize the time claimed by the interruption by writing the problem down, setting it aside, and not following up on it until later. The less time you're away from your work, the less you'll lose your train of thought. If you try to deal with the issue immediately, you could lose your current work flow entirely.

When working on my computer, I prefer to write the item down on scrap paper and put it in my inbox (my "to process" pile) so that I don't even have to change which program is active on my computer screen. This helps me to pick up what I was doing at the point where I was interrupted.

If you feel a need to process the item immediately, try just writing it into your daily task list and prioritizing it along with your other tasks.

This also applies when your interruption is internal. If your mind is distracted by something else, like another idea, quickly jot down the basic thought and set it aside to explore later.

Tell a Caller When to Call Back

If you must take a phone call, let the caller know that this is a bad time for you. Tell them a specific time that would be a better time to call and be ready for it then so it won't interrupt you again.

Note Where You Were

When the interruption occurs and if it must take you away from your work, immediately jot down a quick note of where you were and what you were doing. Note what your next step should be. This will help remind you where you left off, so you can get right back to it and lose as little productivity as possible.

Visualize Where You Were

After getting back to your work, close your eyes and visualize what you were doing last and what you needed to do next. This helps to calm your mind and get it back into a flow state, especially if you're irritated (or worse, angered) by the interruption. Your mind set might be entirely different now than it was before the interruption, and for creative work, you want to get back your previous state of mind. You want to create a continuity with your work before and after the break.

Keep an Interruption Log

After an interruption occurs, briefly write down what happened. What was the source of the interruption? Review the log from time to time to look for a pattern. You may find new ways to avoid future interruptions.

If you need a software solution for jotting down notes and ideas for later and for keeping an interruption log, try Personal Knowbase notes manager.