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Win the War Against Interruptions

Win the War Against Interruptions

During crunch time, it's not unusual for Kelly Kelley, CPS, a senior administrative assistant for Vanir Construction Management, to be working on 10 to 15 computer documents, have 40 or more unread emails, hear two phone lines ringing and have two people standing in front of her desk.

Interruptions, such as phone calls, incoming email and people dropping in, can make it sometimes hard to get anything done, but you don't have to let the unexpected disrupt your day, says Rhonda Finniss, president of Ottawa-based On the Right Track Training and Consulting. She teaches interruption management techniques as part of her class on time management.

Many workers claim technology, such as email and cell phones, has made things seem even more urgent, but "good old-fashioned prioritizing methods" can keep you from getting flustered, Finniss says. The following tips can help you manage your interruptions on a daily basis.


Don't get sidetracked by the less-urgent tasks that pop up during your workday; schedule them for later. Plan your day, and follow that schedule to ensure you accomplish everything you wanted to.

Be Polite

According to Finniss, one of the best weapons to prevent interruptions from overwhelming you is to be frank and polite when asking someone to wait.

When you call someone and don't have much time, say, "I know you're really busy so I'm not going to take up a lot of your time," Finniss suggests. "That allows you to be almost curt on the phone call without sacrificing the relationship."

Silence Socializers

If a perennially distracting coworker drops by to chat, suggest meeting after work to finish the conversation or, better yet, ask if he has time to help you. "If you have an empty chair in your office, get rid of it," Finniss says. "When somebody comes in, stand up. If you need to talk to them, walk with them back to their office."

Turn Your Desk Around

Finniss recommends placing your desk at a 90-degree angle to your door or cubicle entrance so you can see people come in but aren't constantly distracted by people walking by.


When you can, bunch together smaller tasks that don't require all your attention. Until six months ago, K Meekins, CPS, administrative assistant for the commercial division of Orkin in Atlanta, handled a phone system with up to 20 lines. She would put calls on speakerphone so she could file and do other tasks while still listening to the callers.

Do It Now

If your schedule allows, perform a task while the requesting party waits. Kelley reduces her chance of forgetting by keeping a person on the phone or at her desk until she's completed the requested task. Continuing the conversation as you work serves two added purposes. "It lets them know that they are not being forgotten or left in the hold zone, but it also shows any people standing in front of you that you're in the middle of something," Kelley suggests.

Turn It Off

Disable pop-up boxes and bells that signal new email arrivals, Finniss suggests. Instead, plan to check your email at reasonable intervals, such as once an hour. "If it's that urgent, they're going to call you," she says.

Race Away from the Rush

Meekins walks or jogs during lunch to clear her mind of any morning stress and return refreshed to tackle the afternoon. Schedule a break away from your office each day to ensure that you're alert -- and not overwhelmed -- when you work.

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