Interruptions are Productivity Killers
In everyday life, an interruption is a break in the action. “Interruption” is derived from the Latin words inter, which is to go between, and ruptus, which is to break off. Hence, an interruption can be described as something that comes between entities and separates them, for instances you and the task you’re attempting to complete! Curiously, ruptus is related to the word rupture, which in biology is defined as a tearing apart of tissue; in politics, a breach of the peace; or in everyday affairs, a state of being broken apart.
Interruptions Impede Productivity
For career professionals seeking to be highly productive, interruptions represent a “breaking apart” of their ability to stay focused and strive for the completion of the task at hand. In many work environments today — the traditional office as well as in mobile settings — each of us is subject to too many interruptions to even approach our potential level of productivity. Why? We are subjected to more potential interruptions than any previous workforce since homo erectus emerged from caves.
Unprecedented challenges call for unprecedented solutions. It is not enough to turn your cell phone ringer or vibrator off. It is insufficient to believe that merely closing your office door will safeguard you from intruders. It is folly to believe that tomorrow is somehow going to be better than today if we don’t take measures that guarantee we can work for 30, 60, or 90 minutes undisturbed when we need to.
Many years ago I met with the CEO of the Planning Research Corporation (PRC) in his office on the top floor of a building on K Street in Washington, D.C. From this vantage point, he was able to look out of large-picture windows in three directions, including to the west for dozens of miles into Virginia. His office, the foyer leading into it, the receptionist’s area prior to that, the hallway leading to that, and the entire floor was noticeably quieter than any of the floors under it. Like so many other top executives, he knew the importance of being able to marinade in his own thoughts.
The Quiet to Reflect
Those reaching the top rungs of organizations and who aspire to high achievement instinctively understand the importance of safeguarding their environment. They understand the value of being able to reflect upon the challenges before them, to utilize their full cerebral capabilities, and to craft a plan or devise a solution to meet those challenges.
In our own lives and careers, sometimes we don’t have the choice of working on a quiet floor with barriers surrounding our workspace that ensure the quiet that we need to concentrate. We do, however, have options, regardless of our work environment, that can increase the probability we will have vital stretches throughout the day and the week where we are free of disturbances and can safely predict that interruptions will not take us off course.
Most career professionals, at some time throughout the week, have the opportunity to take command of their immediate environment through a variety of procedures that are quite well known but unfortunately not put into practice as often as one might do so.
Interruption-Proof Your Environment
In my book Breathing Space, originally published by MasterMedia in 1990 and revised several times since, I offer some suggestions for safeguarding your working environment and minimizing interruptions:
- Surround yourself with everything you need to engage fully in the change process, which might involve assembling resources, people, and space, as well as ensuring that you have a quiet environment free of distractions.
- Give yourself the hours or days you need to read, study, and absorb what is occurring and to make decisions about how you’ll apply new ways of doing things and new technologies to your career, business, or organization.
- Go “cold turkey,” which is not recommended for most people! Suspend whatever else you’re doing and engage in whatever it takes to incorporate a new way of doing things. This is enhanced by ensuring that you’ll have no disturbances, by bringing in outside experts, and by assembling any other resources you need to succeed.
Our work week and our lives are finite. We can cram in only so much information within a given period of time. The ability to understand and absorb what we need to, and to keep at bay all the extraneous information that competes for our attention, is a skill which must be developed, honed, and refined now. It won’t be any easier later.
The sooner we recognize that our interruption-based society is here to stay, at least for a while, the sooner we can embrace and securely put into place those measures that will ensure that we can be at our best for today and for the long run.
- Simpler Living (Skyhorse Publishing)
- The 60 Second Innovator (Adams Media)
- Breathing Space (MasterMedia)
- Complete Idiot's Guide to Managing Your Time (Alpha/Penguin)
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