March 13, 2018

Managing Interruptions Effectively And Becoming More Productive

You are in the middle of an overseas conversation and your sister-in-law chooses that instant to ask for clarification of a recipe. In another instance, when you are exhausted after a hard day’s work and have just settled down on your sofa with a cup of coffee, you hear the doorbell announcing a neighbour’s friendly visit which could well run into 2 hours.

Interruptions, much as we may wish to rid ourselves of them, always find a way into our lives. In the days of yore they were blissful diversions. This was largely because time was aplenty, women were not working at outside jobs, gender roles were separate, there was little socializing and most important of all lifestyles were simple and unassuming. There was no rat race and keeping up with the Joneses.

Compare this with present times and you have people filling their day with hectic activity. Managing work and pleasure have become a delicate balancing act. All this naturally leaves little time to accommodate interruptions. Creative diversions which one may opt for voluntarily are different. Since they are undertaken out of choice, they are often a source of pleasure.



But unexpected interruptions can be irksome besides disrupting one’s day. They can throw things out of gear and planning too can go awry because of the unscheduled interruptions.

To have a system which is 100% foolproof and without the irritants associated with interruptions would be difficult to achieve. What however is feasible is minimizing the wastage of time which they normally entail and learning to cope with them by finding ways of combating he factors which lead to interruptions.

Learn to prioritize tasks with effective time-management and minimizing interruptions.


Although avoiding and running away from an interruption which stares you in the face can provide short-term relief, for long-term relief one has to learn how to manage them. Here’s a 3-pronged strategy that tells you how.

Try to prevent those interruptions which can be predicted and foreseen.

There are times when you know that you are going to be interrupted. You should then nip these in the bud. If you want your life to be free from unwanted interruptions you must be prepared to be ruthless. Remember there is no soft approach.

In cases where you can avoid embarrassment, learn to refuse outright. For example, if friends are planning to go for a film and cinema hall happens to be in your locality they may suggest dropping in after the show for coffee. You know that at that time you will be catching up on your reading.

Rather than nod your head and accept the suggestion knowing that you will later feel extremely irritated it would be better to be honest and to politely turn down the suggestion. This way your work will not suffer and your long-term relationship with your friends too will be more open and truthful. IF lacking in moral courage you could cook up some other excuse but note that this can only bail you out once and subsequent times you will not know what to do.

It is therefore advisable to give people the true picture. This way there is no chance of friends / relatives / neighbours getting offended. Also they will gradually get to know your routine and mindset.
Seema who likes to have an undisturbed afternoon nap made sure that her friends abstain from phoning her and dropping in at home unless the matter is urgent. By being honest in a diplomatic manner there is no reason why well-meaning friends should take offence.

Keep interruptions which are inevitable to the minimum

There are interruptions which you know you cannot possibly avoid. IT is thus best to shorten their duration and streamline your life accordingly. Work out in your mind what kind of interruptions can be done without.

If you are hard-pressed for time and are also quite content with your own company and with that of your family, you can minimize cultivating relationships in the neighbourhood. Whiel maintaining cordial relations you can do away with gossip sessions and too much familiarity with neighbours. That way you will save time in an activity which in any case did not hold much meaning.

You have successfully done away with casual interruptions by neighbours, etc, but with family and in-laws, on occasions such as birthdays and other get-togethers, it may not always be as easy to eliminate interruptions. So these inevitable interruptions should not be grudged.

If you keep harping on and thinking of all the things you could have done whilst they spent time with you, you will only end up ruining your mood and also be labelled a reluctant hostess. IT is important to prioritise your activities. You must identify those areas in which your work must not be interrupted at any cost and those where interruptions, howsoever unwelcome, will have to be borne with.

The former, like the children’s homework, the care of elders in the family and children’s bedtime schedule, need not be compromised at the cost of interruptions which can be avoided.

You can always request a visitor to read a magazine whilst you put your kid to sleep or supervise dinner for your ailing mother-in-law. This thinking, anticipating and handling of situations has to be done tactfully by you alone.

Shorten the interruptions which do occur.

Finally once an interruption has occurred, you now have to devise a way of shortening it. You can subtly mention a prior commitment or you could by your behaviour and manner or talking, convey the urgency of an impending task and as a last resort show total disinterest in the present activity, which gives the person a hint forcing him to leave.

Gradually with time you will learn to be a better custodian of your time and priorities and this will give you greater confidence and expertise in handling situations. There are times when one gets tongue-tied or is too embarrassed to say “no” lest one hurt the other’s sentiments. There is no harm in assessing the situation and the person you are dealing with before carrying out your strategy.

Does the phone ring as you settle down for a nap or a friend drops in when you have piles of work? Well, perhaps you need to learn to minimize interruptions.




Organizing yourself before a likely interruption.

Most interruptions come about because the priorities of another person come into conflict with your own. Some hints to minimise these interruptions:

Request friends, relatives and likely visitors not to drop in without prior notice. This will enable you to complete your planned task and also gear up for the visit, thus avoiding time wastage.

Group together those interruptions which are within your control. If you have to take the delivery of some furniture, try to utilise the same day for other household tasks like getting the grocery store owner to deliver your monthly rations or getting pending plumbing repairs done.

In case you live in an apartment / building block, request the Durban to collect the mail, packets etc and to bring them to your door once during the day rather than having your doorbell ring repeatedly.

Guide and teach your family to be self-sufficient. Encourage them to be independent and to respect your need for personal time. They should dress/undress on their own, clear up meals, cook simple food, make tea, coffee, darn and iron clothes and ensure that they do not interrupt you for minor maters.

Chart out likely interruptions that arise out of meeting the needs of family, in one go. If you know that the kids like a snack in the evening and guests too might drop by, plan something which would be suitable for both occasions and get it ready while you cook the mid-day meal. This way you will not have to get up again and again.

Let the family know that you are engaged in a solitary activity, even if it is an afternoon nap and that they should not disturb you.

A phone does have an uncanny way or ringing at the wrong moment; more so when you are preoccupied with an important task. So the best thing to do in such a situation is to turn off the phone until your task is complete. Don’t even put it on vibrate or silent. Just shut it off. Otherwise, you will be tempted to check and re-check for missed calls, social media alerts etc. You can always check it when you have some free time on your hands. For a not-so-important task, you can keep your phone in the silent mode and turn off notification sounds for email and social media.
Keep away from smart phone distractions while you are at work.


Finally when desperate for some time off, go to a friend’s or parent’s home.



Of course you should not get interrupted by your own self either. Often we are to blame for not completing a task. Our lack of determination or weak will-power can make us indulge in unusually long phone conversations or hours of chatting with neighbours or getting lost in the maze of internet and social media or maybe reading a racy novel when we ought to be working on an important report. Once you concentrate whole-heartedly and are determined, you will surely complete the task at hand. Also try not to do too many things at the same time as you may lose interest mid-way.

Interruptions are not so bad, after all.

Finally, do not become too fussy about avoiding interruptions altogether. Remember you can only minimise their occurrence, so do not frown or curse your luck every time you find yourself interrupted. There are times when you are overworked and an interruption can be diverting and soothing to your nerves! (By the way, reading a novel can be a welcome diversion as shown in the post “Lose weight by reading sensational novels.”)

(Contributed by Tarini M)


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