Hi All,

I get interrupted frequently while I'm sitting in my office trying to get something done.

I KNOW this is very common, judging by what I've read in various threads, so I'm asking everyone here: what do you do? How do you handle interruptions effectively?

Yes, one-on-ones can significantly reduce the amount of interruptions you get from your DIRECTS. But what about peers? Or staff in other areas who report to your peers but need advice or information or favors?

The podcast on micro-communications seems to have some advice here: smile, face the person, and take notes. Should I close my door if I don't want to be interrupted? Does that send a bad message about availability? I just have to take it on the chin here, knowing that these people are my internal customers and no matter what, their needs trump my own?

The bottom line for me is that interruptions sometimes reduce my effectiveness. I'm looking for some any advice or best practices any of you may have.


TomW's picture
Training Badge

On days like that, where I have something that requires a lot of concentration, I'll work from home.

If I can't do that, I'll get one of the rooms that my company keeps for small informal meetings or private phone calls.

tlhausmann's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

Hmmm. Great thread.

I usually respond, "Hey, that is an interesting idea. I'm wrapping up a task for ... right now, would you like to set up a meeting on Wednesday?"

Or something like that. In short, you want to professionally express you are busy while keeping the conversation going.

lazerus's picture

What a great question.

As a manager , it used to bug me that I got [i][b]so many[/b][/i] interruptions every day, so I started measuring the amount of time interruptions were taking up. My goal was to reduce the number of interruptions and reduce the length of time in any way possible: direct confrontation, door closing (which actually does work -- especially if you tell everyone why you can't be disturbed), delegation, etc.

What I found from this execise was that I can't control other people and that interruptions were a necessary part of the job. I rearranged my schedule so that instead of booking myself with work all day, I allowed about a third of the day totally open for interruptions. (I found that I was dealing with interruptions about two to three hours a day). It didn't stop people from interrupting, (most interrupters think their issue is so important it can't wait, and other techniques just elevated their sense of panic), but it did change my own ability to manage the time involved.

US101's picture
Licensee Badge

Stand Up!
• The physical act of just standing up will shorten the interruption. A recent university study found it took 34% less time to make decisions in stand-up meetings and there were no significant differences in decision quality.

Email Escape
• “I’d be happy to help, but I have to finish this first. Can you please send me an email to remind me to follow-up with you?”

Give People Options
• “I want to talk with you, but I’ve only got a few minutes, or we can meet later and spend more time?”
• “I want to hear more about your vacation, but I'm swamped right now. Can we meet for lunch today?”
• “I’m between meetings at 11:00 this morning. Can I stop by then to talk with you?”

rthibode's picture

Great thread. US 101 has some excellent suggestions.

Somewhere (probably on MT), someone said "every time you accept an interruption, you train your staff how to interact with you." That really stuck with me and I've been working on it. Constant interruptions were permitted (i.e., encouraged) by the previous manager, so it's almost part of our culture to be running into people's offices all the time.

I think it's important to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate interruptions. When I introduced O3s and regular staff meetings, I told staff that one thing it would do is reduce the number of interruptions we all deal with day-to-day. Interruptions would be reserved for things that couldn't wait until the next meeting. There are still a few of those most days, but less than before.

I've noticed that some staff have developed a very "spontaneous" work style. That is, they almost interrupt themselves when they get an idea and run down to my office to discuss it right away. Often it's because they're worried they'll forget if they don't act on it right away. For directs like this, I introduce them to GTD or some other way of being more organized, or gently remind them that we have an O3 or staff meeting coming up and they could raise it then.

sklosky's picture


I share an office with several others. I not only get my interruptions, but I have the priviledge of indirectly getting theirs as well.

So, headphones are my answer when I need to focus on a task.

I think activities such as listening to headphones, being on the phone or focusing intently on work tend to raise the level of urgencey required to merit an interruption.

Additionally, I've seen workplaces where folks on a deadline set out a sign to limit interruptions.

Also, I've seen some folks sequester themselves in a different office (or hotel or home office) to eliminate interruptions. This is fairly extreme.

I'm not sure of the dynamic at your office. Best of luck with minimizing interruptions.


drinkcoffee's picture

Great suggestions, everyone. I'll implement some of these and let you know what happened. Thanks!