We all know that interruptions can take a chunk of productive time out of our day, but many don’t realize how much time they actually consume. Sure, you might only spend five minutes on the phone, or talking to a co-worker, but then it takes you another minute to get back to your desk, get comfortable, get yourself concentrating and back on track. Even if it’s not a lot of extra time, all those little interruptions can add up to a big loss of productivity throughout the day.

Does your work have a policy on answering phones and emails? If you are not required to pick up the phone right away or respond to emails immediately, don’t. By not answering, you’ll save that little bit of time it took to check your email and scan your box, or the time it took to refocus after a call.

In addition to refocusing, you’ll likely add another task to your already full to-do list and you’ll be thinking about that instead of the task at hand. While it may seem like it’s just a little extra time here and there, all those little bits of time can add up to a huge loss.

If you have the option, save phone calls and emails until certain parts of the day. Set aside chunks of time to answer all your voicemails and emails at once. This will keep you brain focused on what you’re doing. Plus if you’re calling into your voicemail less, or using form emails you can quickly copy and paste, you’ll save even more time by doing these things two of three times instead of twenty.

Once you get the phone and email interruptions under control, you can then start on “stop by” interruptions. Unlike phone and email, you can’t just ignore a co-worker who stops by your office to chat, and hope they will go away. This may make them harder to deal with, but it’s still possible to cut down on the distraction.

The easiest way to do this is to shut your door. This way, you don’t have to be rude, but people still know that you’re trying to concentrate and want to be left alone. It also helps cut out conversations and other noise coming from outside the office that could steal your attention.

Another way to cut down on distractions is to remove them from your office space. Everyone has the picture of their loved ones on their desk, but many times “personalizing” your area can go too far. Soon the stress balls, posters, and other clutter can go from cute to just plain annoying. These things not only give you a smaller work area, they can also distract your attention just long enough to derail a hot streak.

Don’t expect to be able to do this all at once and suddenly be more productive. It takes time to develop new habits and to make a real difference; you may have to develop lots of new habits. Try closing your door one day, then cutting down on answering emails once you’ve gotten used to that. Soon you’ll find you have lots of extra time to get everything done you need to.

The Effect of Interruptions on Performance
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