A lot of our daily responsibilities require us to deal with interruptions, unanticipated events. These are not the problem. It is the unwanted, unnecessary interruptions that keep us from focusing on what really needs to get done. One strategy that I share in my Time Management seminars is the notion that “a problem well defined is 95% solved.” We need to interrupt the interruptions!
Many of the interruptions we deal with can be eliminated. (“The best way to deal with a problem is to never have it.”) To gain better control, I recommend the use of an “Interruptions Log.” Nothing fancy, just a pad of paper headed with six columns: Date, Time, Who, What, Length, and Rating. After every interruption occurs, log it in! Record the Date and Time it occurred, Who brought it to you, a word or two about What it dealt with, how Long it took, and most important, your Rating of its importance (A=crucial, B=important, C=little value, and D=no value). Plan to record this information for about a week to get a fair measure of what is really happening. (It is a nuisance to log this information in, but it does provide valuable insights!)
After accumulating this data for a week, go back and total up the A’s, B’s, C’s, and D’s. Most people discover that more than 50% of their interruptions were C’s and D’s, things that were not worth the time spent. Finally, go to each C and D interruption and ask yourself, “How could this one have been avoided?” and start to take proactive steps to insure that it will not repeat itself in the future. Do this especially for the repetitive interruptions.
For example, perhaps someone comes to you two or three times a day asking for information that they could have located themselves, just as easily. Unless there is an intervention, helping this person to find the information for himself or herself, they will continue to interrupt you to get it. It is the path of least resistance. Help them to help themselves, teaching them how to get what they need on their own, freeing your future from having to spend time on what you know will be additional interruptions from this person.
All C and D interruptions will not be eliminated, but if you can head off, short circuit, and stop just a few and that buys back an extra hour per day, then you have carved out some additional time for long term projects that are being pushed back, thereby reducing some of the stress and frustration.
Recommended Books on How Managing Your Time:
- Time Management from the Inside Out, Second Edition: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of Your Schedule — and Your Life
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
- Time Management In an Instant: 60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day (In an Instant (Career Press))
- Successful Time Management For Dummies
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