Every single day is a struggle to stay on track with your plan. We experience interruptions coming at us, from all directions, all of the time. If we respond to constant interruptions we will never accomplish our goals. Here are some of my tactics for dealing with the constant interruptions.
I hope you find some of these tips useful. If you have some ideas – please leave a comment so we can all benefit!
Never answer the phone:
If you do not recognize the number calling (or do not want to talk to the person), then let the call go to voicemail. I listen to voicemail messages at 8am, noon and 4pm. Every day, I receive many calls from sales people who are pushing all sorts of products and services and, if I spoke to each one, I could easily spend 2/3 of my day on the phone. Now, I call back only the ones that have a product or service that we need, this way I am in control of my time, not the sales person.
Return sale calls during off hours (before/after hours):
About once a week, I return sale calls after hours as I want to get the sales person’s voicemail. I can leave a quick voicemail asking them for additional information sent to me via e-mail (tada – no long phone call with a sales rep!). Once I have reviewed the information, and determined that the product/service has value, then I will spend the 30-60 minutes on the phone.
File e-mail for later review:
All the e-mail I receive from sales people go into a folder in Outlook that I review once a week. The review takes about 30 minutes to complete. Do not waste your time reviewing these types of e-mails as you receive them.
Do not live or work out of your e-mail:
Just because someone sent you an e-mail does not mean you must respond to it in 30 seconds. I check my e-mail every one or two hours. Once I start my review, I will deal with requests immediately if the action requires less then 5 minutes of my time. If the e-mail takes longer than 5 minutes to complete, it is now treated as a “task”.
Limit inbound social interruptions:
When people stop by your desk to say “Hi”, ask them what you can do for them.
– Visitor: “Hi Mike, how are you?”
– Me: “Hi Joe, what can I do for you?”
Do not stop what you are doing, give them a quick glancing acknowledgement as you ask them what you can do to help them, but keep working on what you were doing. NOTE: This is not a relationship builder, so use this during crunch times or if you want to send a message.
They will get the point that you are busy and will get to their point quickly (if they really needed something in the first place). Do not let them engage you in long drawn out conversation about useless matters.
Be social at the right time:
Socialization is important and it should be completed in moderation. I tend to make a social pass through the office after lunch for about 10-15 minutes. Be respectful of other peoples time and do not interrupt them if they are focused on a task. There will be enough other people to chat with that are already engaged in social time to keep office bonds going. This will also prevent people from perceiving your visit as a disingenuous daily feel-good walk through.
Limit environmental distractions:
Some people are distracted by music, people walking by, or the allure of the Internet. Not everyone has the self discipline to stay focused when temptations are abundant. Do what you can here. Arrange your work space to minimize the distraction that outsiders can cause.Their are many Internet filtering tools to limit your Internet access. Also realize, that your employer is more then likely monitoring your Internet usage anyway so it is best be on good behaviour here. Huge amounts of time are wasted without the employee even realizing it because of Internet usage. Shopping, personal e-mail and Instant Messaging are the most common.
The power of saying “No”:
It is OK to say “NO”. I have never understood why people have such a hangup on saying “No” to one another. You can decline a request from someone in a pleasant manner, no need to be a jerk when you do it. I think people are afraid of the the other person’s reaction when they hear “no”, but some of the best time savings have come from when I have said “No” to a request. Most people will understand if you decline politely and tell them that you just do not have the capacity to work on that task at this time. Be sure to thank them for their understanding, this will go a long way.
Meetings about meetings:
Most companies have too many meetings. If you feel that your attendance will not add value to a meeting, then decline the invitation. Make sure to ask for the agenda in advance of the meeting, be prepared for the meeting, and hold meeting participants accountable to the agenda and stop time.
Organize, Organize, Organize:
Follow a planning system! If you lose materials and have to request it multiple times, it makes you look incompetent and wastes time. It will also invite additional distractions while you look for materials you should already have, and the additional interactions with people to obtain information a second time is anything but productive. Your desk should be free of clutter and cabinets should be organized and filed according to your preferred planning system.
This is so important. A disorganized Outlook, Desk, Task List, Cabinets, etc. dramatically reduces your overall effectiveness and will serve up consent interruptions while locating lost information, missed deadlines, requesting materials and the constant follow-up calls from people. Do not be the person that no one trusts to get things done because you spend most of your time chasing your own tail.
The links below are to my posting in the series “Time Management”.