Being able to manage interruption and distraction can significantly increase your productivity and make you feel better at the end of the day. When have you last taken the time to improve your abilities in this area?

 

~~~ 10 tips to manage interruption and distraction ~~~

1. Questions

Don’t focus on what you don’t know. Start with what you know and build from there. Research the rest. Collect questions and ask the right person. Think about why you have these questions. Is it a lack of skills, fear, unclear responsibilities? Do something about it!

2. Waiting / dependency on others

Don’t wait, continue the task as much as you can. Make assumptions and share them with the right person and move on from there. Check if you have enough decision latitude and the guts to decide. No guts, no glory!

3. Fear

Often you fear failure and being blamed should you do something wrong. Have faith in your skills. Think of a similar task that you have done before. If you feel you are lacking skills, ask yourself why and what you can do about it. Ask for help but do not transfer accountability or you might find that you disempower yourself.

4. Interruption

The general rule is to avoid interruptions before they occur. People waiting for your feedback? Let them know when you will deliver so that they don’t need to chase you. Colleagues with frequent questions? Set up a regular meeting. Phone? Politely ask to get back to them later and do so. Once people can rely on you to come back to them, they are more likely to wait.

5. Overwhelmed

Too many things on your plate? Prioritise and follow the tips in “Plans & Priorities.”

6. Low on energy

Re-energise before de-energising. See the tips on “Performance & Endurance.”

7. Lack of clarity 

of the task, expectations or priorities. Again, collect your questions and ask the right person, preferably only once. If you need to ask many times, think about why. For example do you have enough decision latitude or are you lacking skills?

8. Indecision

Don’t overanalyse. Decide quickly. Often you will instinctively know the right decision. Break big decisions into small ones to limit the impact of a wrong decision. See our tips on decision making in “Plans & Priorities.”

9. Misjudgment

Sometimes we underestimate tasks when we don’t know them well. Don’t get discouraged if a task gets bigger as you understand it better. Break the task down, prioritise and focus on the important points. Manage expectations where required. Update your schedule and then push through.

10. Distraction

We get insecure, slow down, distract ourselves when starting a new task. Take notes of all the things you know about the task. That will build confidence and concentration. If you struggle, be very specific on what holds you up. Write it down in one sentence only. Go from there. You need to stay with the task for about ten minutes and the rest will flow from there. So, don’t distract yourself by incoming emails every few minutes. Plan dedicated time for it.

Check the root cause!

Waiting / questions / dependency / lack of clarity can often point out a bigger problem. Ask yourself why you are in this situation. Think about how you can avoid the same situation in the future. Maybe you need to be given more responsibilities and trained, and so on. Be proactive! Talk to your boss and propose concrete remedy.

 

If you have been able to get through this page to this point, that is a good sign that you can focus well! Just a little bit more to go!

 
 
Exercise: Master personal distractions and interruption

Use the template below to diagnose the challenges that you encounter during the day. Whenever you get sidetracked write it down and fill out the first three columns. Look at the previous pages for typical difficulties and suggested solutions. Fill out the last column after some time, when you know if the solution has worked or you had to find a different solution.

Use this template for 3-5 days. This should suffice to face about 80% of your typical interruptions/distractors. If you are happy with the solution that you have found, great. If not, think about alternate solutions. Review the completed template every morning for a week. The best sign that you have been successful with the exercise is if you can apply the solution successfully when the same situation reoccurs.

It may take you a while until the solutions become an instinctive reaction. Therefore, I recommend to review this every Monday for a few weeks. The beauty is that the difficulties and solutions are tailored to your personal situation.

Note on the terminology: Interruption is caused by others; distraction is self-inflicted.

Situation
Difficulty
Solution
Does it work?
Planned long meeting was cancelled in afternoon and I got an hour extra. Indecision what to do next and loss of focus due to unexpected situation. Just followed my task and priorities list without questioning them. Yes, but there was an impulse to replan things. Next time need to apply solution quicker.
Last day before xmas break, one project causing issues reducing time for something with a deadline at 2pm. Overwhelmed. Asked colleague for support to do the ground work on one of my tasks and I did finishing touches. Yes, very well. Colleague was happy to help me out. Apply more often!
 

 

Click the image to download the template.

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