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Staying Focused Against the Odds


Friday, November 23, 2012

Life is full of interruptions and always will be. That’s what happens when you live among other humans. How we respond to it is another thing. While the interruption may not be entirely in our control, how we handle it is.

With cell phone calls, email, texting, and someone popping by either at work or home, there is little time and space to be unreachable. I remember when getting a phone call (on a landline) meant jumping up from the couch or dining room chair and reaching the phone before it stopped ringing. Now, of course, one simply needs to whip their phone out of their back pocket and is connected to anyone around the world in nanoseconds.

Juli Shulem

When a person is interrupted from a task, there is what is known as “transition time,” the time it takes after leaving the interruption to refocus on the previous task with the same speed and intensity as before the interruption. The transition time can be up to 15 minutes for the average person! Think about it. If you are interrupted several times a day, let alone several times an hour, you could be spending more time attempting to get back to the task you were working on, then actually working on the task. There’s a slapstick comedy in there somewhere.

According to Basex Research Firm, 28% of the typical workday is lost to interruptions. The average number of physical interruptions in an office environment is 10 per day. Add texts, phone calls, and long-winded talkers and you’re looking at hours wasted daily.

You can set yourself up for as much “completion success” as possible by quashing the focus-grabbers. Your mobile device can be silenced and kept in another area for an hour or so, so that you can neither see nor hear it. Anticipating what might interrupt you that could keep you from doing what you had set out to do is important too.

Conversations, while meaningful and often necessary, can often go on too long and cause havoc with one’s schedule. Know the amount of time you can devote to a phone or personal conversation and stick to it. Alerting the other person of this in advance is a huge help. Start by saying, “Hi there! I have five minutes between appointments and wanted to give you a quick call…” This lets the other person know that you have a time limit and also gives them a heads up on how much of their time you will be taking so their day isn’t completely messed up either: If they also have only a few minutes, then knowing you are keeping it short allows them to accept the call. If they don’t have even a few minutes, then they can say so and suggest another time.

Becoming aware of the twin time-wasting factors of conversations and interruptions is the first step to managing them. Many specific solutions for dealing with the great variety of interruptions may be addressed in future columns. For those with ADD (attention-deficit disorder) or ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), interruptions are a continual aggravation that can lead to significant negative ramifications. See my YouTube videoADHD: It Doesn’t Have to Define You for more about that.

This is the last segment of the Top 5 Time-Wasters series. If you missed any of the previous ones, you can read them in the Ask an Organizer archives. Next, stay tuned for holiday-related organizing ideas.

Something you want an answer to? Ask here and I will address it in future column. Or, send questions to Juli at jshulem@gmail.com and put “question for column” in the subject line.

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