Preventing interruptions is one of the best ways to manage your time according to business consultant, Donna Stone, who provides seven practical tips to improve your productivity.

Operating in a business which is time-based, I am very aware of the interruption factor in my work day because we do track time closely.  Whether you work from home or in a formal office, the interruption factor can be devastating.  Imagine you are working on a report and then someone pops their head in your door to discuss the weekend.  You chat, losing direct time, but don’t forget you also lose more time as you then will need several minutes to re-focus on what you were doing.

  1. Plan your day with set times.

    Plan your day and ensure that those around you know this occurs.  If people need to see you, they should not simply ‘drop in’.  Encourage co-workers (and even your staff) to book time with you – not just drop as they feel like it.  Book them all in a block.  That way, they know they have limited time and the next one is waiting.  Another trick is to book this time just before lunch or just before finishing time – most visitors will keep it quick to avoid cutting into their own personal time.

    At home, have work time and family time.  Communicate this clearly with your family and stick to it!  If children know you work till 4pm and then will come out and spend time with them, they will learn to wait, but be prepared; pens down at 4pm sharp!  I know personally I get engrossed in what I do, so put an alarm on your mobile phone to go off five minutes before your deadline.

  2. Comfort zone.

    Whilst it’s good to have a comfortable chair for your clients, this is not a good idea to have in your office.  If room allows, have a boardroom where you meet clients and in your office avoid the comfy chair – so as not to encourage the ‘stay arounds’.  This also has a dual effect; you also won’t be interrupted by your own phones from the office.

  3. Control the email.

    Turn off the sound on your emails ‘inward alert’ so it’s silent.  It takes extreme discipline to not check your mail the second you hear that ‘beep’.  Again, allocate your time so as to do emails in a group – finish the task you are on and then hit the emails at once; perhaps once an hour or so.

  4. Turn off the mobile.

    Good business etiquette says you turn off your mobile phone when you are in a meeting; however, I am amazed at how many business people don’t follow this practice.  A meeting cannot be successful if you are constantly excusing yourself to answer your mobile and it really does send a message to the other person that you don’t think their time is of value.  So, now I often pull out my mobile and turn it off in front of the person I’m meeting, saying something like “I’m just turning this off so we don’t get any interruptions”.  Most people get the hint and follow suit.

  5. See your staff in batches.

    For example, a junior may need help.  Rather than seeing you 15 times in a single day with queries, have them hold on them all and see you once as a batch – spend five minutes with you and then get back to it.  All staff, junior and senior should be taught the concept of ‘batching’ to avoid multiple interruptions.  Alternatively, encourage staff to query things with you via email – even if they work in the same room as you – I’ve found it does work out quicker for the simple stuff.

  6. Allow people to use an iPod.

    In some circumstances – especially open plan offices, it’s actually beneficial to allow staff to use an iPod or MP3 player.

    By having the earphones in, this avoids the background noise and random interruption factor – it’s like working in a private bubble.  Personally, I find a snappy tune helps me to keep up the pace whilst working and I can easily avoid the ‘idle chatter’ without appearing rude.

  7. Hold the phone.

    Have a period of your day where you do not take phone calls; aim for your most productive part of the day.  If you are a morning person and at your most efficient early in the day, advise your receptionist to tell callers you are ‘unavailable’ till 11am.  Yes, I realise this means you chance playing a game of ‘telephone tag’ but the advantage of hitting the work hard for a couple of hours will outweigh in benefit.  Just ensure your receptionist doesn’t use the phrase ‘she’s busy’ as this sounds like ‘she’s too busy for you’.  If you work at home, you may want to do what I do, I work from 4.30am to 7.30am and then stop to get my children ready for school, have breakfast, put on a load of washing etc.  I get more done in that first three hours than in an entire day.