Everyday interruptions at work can cause barriers preventing you from using your time effectively and, ultimately, can be a barrier to a successful work environment. Learning how to deal with interruptions at work can be quite a challenge.

I recently read an article that showed interruptions at work cost the US economy more than 1/2 TRILLION dollars per year ($588MM).

The average employee spends 28% of their time dealing with unnecessary interruptions. The average manager is interrupted every 8 to 9 minutes.

Take a moment and think back to your last workday, and think about the many interruptions that occurred. In this age of voicemail, e-mail, pagers and cell phones, we receive constant interruptions. From conversation’s in passing or anything else you unexpectedly demanded your attention and, in doing so, caused you to be distracted from the job-at-hand and ultimately this means breaking your focus, and having to spend time re-arranging your thought processes to successfully complete your work. The average interruption lasts 5-10 minutes, plus it takes about five minutes to recover and get back to work. That’s an average of 15 minutes per interruption.

How can you better keep these unexpected distractions under control?  Here are some helpful tips to remember:

Typically these distractions and interruptions fall into three categories: visitors, phone calls and e-mail.

  • First of all, accept that interruptions are a part of life.  They are going to occur.  When they do, it is important to not let yourself feel thrown off track.
  • Allow time for interruptions within your daily schedule.  Don’t schedule yourself so tightly that you have no room for the unexpected.
  • When you must work without interruption, make yourself unavailable and announce your unavailability verbally, by e-mail, by memo and/or by a sign on your door, cubicle or desk.
  • Finally, Prioritize your daily must get done list and train yourself to go right back to where you left off after the interruption.  Don’t lose track of your focus.

With a little practice, planning and taking responsibility, can you successfully control all interruptions? It would be nice to say yes, but we all know that simply isn’t possible. There will always be someone who truly does not respect your time. Be sure to keep in mind that a true crisis will occur that requires your attention. There will be times when it’s better to allow an interruption than to try and stop it.

It is said that most people find they can accomplish more in one hour of continuous concentration than in a full day with the usual interruptions.

In my personal opinion the best way to manage distractions at work is with self-discipline. Time management is a matter of self-discipline, and even more so when you’re managing interruptions. Others will respect your time only to the extent that you do. You must set the standard, and show the way. Choose to set a high standard, as your time is valuable.