Learning & Development, Talent

How to Avoid Interruptions at Work and Manage Time Effectively

In a previous post, we discussed the high cost of workplace interruptions. Specifically, we referenced data from Basex research, demonstrating that interruptions cost the U.S. economy $588 billion per year, as well as research from employees reporting that interruptions cost them between 3 and 5 hours of productivity each day.

Interruptions
Source: LightField Studios / Shutterstock

Most of us are familiar with the annoyances that come with the workplace, such as staff members popping their heads in for a “quick question” or a phone that won’t stop ringing or that e-mail that needs to be answered right away. Even in a remote setting, interruptions can be just as frequent, if not more, especially with so many employees working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It may seem like these interruptions simply come with the territory of getting things done in a modern workplace—that we have to be able to cope with and absorb the cost of ever-increasing interruptions. But even in a fast-paced world, there are strategies employees and organizations can implement to reduce interruptions.

Edward G. Brown, in an article for Fast Company, suggests several.

Personalize the Cost 

Encourage employees to calculate the time they lose to interruptions and distractions, and give them the tools they need to make that calculation. It’s crucial they understand how interruptions are directly impacting them if they are expected to work toward a reduction.

Time Lock for an Interruption-Free Period

Encourage employees to block off time to focus on high-priority tasks that require undivided attention and focus. This means telling coworkers and even superiors that they are unavailable except for emergencies.

Focal Lock Against Yourself

Focal locking is working individually to escape from the distraction culture, as we can be just as distracting to ourselves as coworkers and other external interruptions can be.

Allocate the ‘Surplus’ Time

Truly cutting down on distractions should create significant “surplus” time for employees. They need to effectively allocate that time to worthwhile and productive activities.

Batch Processing

“Time locking creates surplus time by preventing interruptions,” says Brown. “Batch processing creates surplus time by letting employees efficiently dispose of repetitive or homogeneous tasks. In batch processing they learn to dispose of these tasks expeditiously, and move on to the next set.” 

Interruptions at work aren’t simply annoying; they can also be devastating to employee productivity and morale. That translates into real money, and organizations need to be cognizant of the impact a culture of interruptions can have on their workplace.

Fortunately, there are strategies available to shift this culture at both the individual and the organizational level to start to reclaim some of that lost productivity and repair employee morale.