7 ways to deal with interruptions

Picture this, you’ve got into work and you’re motivated to get on. You sit down ready to tackle your mammoth to-do list and then this happens “Hi, have you got a sec? I’ve got a quick question…” and so it begins…the endless stream of interruptions that eat up your valuable time, making it near to impossible to get anything done, or for you to focus long enough to get anything crossed off your list.

Sound familiar?

Interruptions – or as one of my lovely clients call them – space invaders – can be the biggest time suck after e-mails….so how do we make peace with them once and for all?

1. Make a note of all the recurring questions

When it comes to interruptions a good first step is to find out what you’re being asked every day, so start to scribble these down every time it happens. The reason for this is that you’ll then be able to see if there’s any recurring questions, training needs, or even things that just need communicated. What can often happen is that you fall into the trap of just answering the question just so that it’s dealt with and so everyone can go back to their lives. This usually takes place on auto pilot. By consciously thinking about (and making a note of) what everyone wants from you, you might be able to deal with it on mass.

2. Coach them

Once you’re sure that everyone should know the answers to the questions they’re asking, have a go at coaching them rather than just jumping straight in with an answer (no matter how tempting it might be).  Ask them what they think they should do? What ideas they have? What could they do? Yes this way will take longer, but think short term pain for long term gain as they’ll soon start to become more self sufficient.

3. Push back

Just because someone lands at your desk, doesn’t mean that you have to jump to it and give them your full attention at that time. After all, you’ve got things to do too. Instead explain that you’re busy with something right now, but if they come back at [give them a time] you’ll be all ears. Note –  If you’re going to do this…make sure you’re available at the time you suggested.

4. Account for them in your day

One of the biggest problems when it comes to interruptions is that we just don’t account for them in our day. We know they happen, but we treat them like they’re a surprise. Instead, roughly decide how much time interruptions take in a day…if it’s about an hour…and there’s no need to be exact here…then build that into your plan for the day.

5. Accept that they’re part of your job

This is never an easy one, especially if you’ve trained your brain to hate interruptions, but acceptance really can help. Well, it can help with how you feel about them. Accept that interruptions come with the territory, that people are coming to you because they need you at that time, and that you are in a position to help. Accept that there was once a time when you were that person, and you interrupted people too (and you may still do from time to time).

6. Use them as a communication tool

It’s really tempting when someone lands at your desk to carry on typing with a cursory ‘yep I’m listening, go on’ whilst you’re secretly hoping they pick up the message and ‘jog on’- but this is a fantastic way of sending out the wrong message. Instead, try and treat interruptions not as the massive pain in the exterior, but instead as a communications tool. If you think about it, they’re a fantastic form of intel as you can see what your team are on with, what they’re struggling with, where they’re lacking confidence, or need motivating (the list really is endless)

7. And when everything else fails…hide

Sometimes you just have to get your head down and get on with something….when in that place looking for somewhere else to work so you can focus is no bad thing.

I’d love to know your tips for dealing with interruptions…let me know by leaving a comment.


  1. Karen

    I love interruptions because I can get an idea of how that person is doing and how the organisation is, there and then. I have a notice on my door window (people can see me at my desk), saying when I cannot be interrupted (e.g. I’m in a meeting/ bi lateral/ teleconference). I have a meeting round-table in my office, so I deal with interruptions by beckoning the person in and asking them to take a seat at the table. If I’m mid-email, say, I’ll ask them for a second. If I’m free, I’ll join them at the table and that way, give my undivided attention having formally indicated, by moving from my desk, that what they tell me is important. Feedback on this is really positive. I get interruptions but if they’re simply a friendly ‘hi’ folk say, ‘don’t get up – just seeing if you’re ok’ and they save the more serious stuff for when they need to. It works for us!

    • barbaranixon

      Karen, I love how you deal with interruptions. You’ve really woven them into fabric of your day and sounds like everyone knows and appreciates how you work. Thanks so much for sharing.


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