Stay focused: 3 rules for managing work interruptions

interruptions_persononfireBeing interrupted at work is a pet peeve for many professionals, and can make tasks take longer to complete.

The reality is that interruptions will happen – it’s the nature of the workplace. Additionally, not all interruptions are bad.

A more realistic goal is to minimize unnecessary interruptions, not to eliminate them altogether. Here are some tips to do that:


Rule #1:  Stop interrupting yourself
  • Turn off the notifications of incoming email. In Outlook, click Tools ~ Options ~ Preferences ~ Email Options. Uncheck the four different notification types and click OK.
  • Turn off auditory (or vibrating) notifications on your phone of incoming emails, texts, and social media updates. Tell family members and friends that if it’s an emergency, call.
  • Turn off similar auditory notifications on your iPad or other tablet
Rule #2:  Stop interrupting others
  • In lieu of interrupting someone for a non-urgent matter, note the issue on a list of things to discuss in your next meeting with them.
  • When you want to catch up, schedule lunch. Resist the temptation to drop by for an unscheduled chat, particularly if you do this often.
  • If you are interrupting someone on an urgent and business-related issue, preface your interruption with “I apologize. I need ___ minutes of your time to discuss ______. I need to respond to this issue in the next ___ minutes/hours. Can we talk now?”
Rule #3:  Handle those who interrupt you
  • Be professional and be honest. If a coworker is a habitual interrupter, discuss the issue openly with them. Schedule a regular time to meet if needed.
  • Take 10 and give 5. When someone interrupts you, tell them you need 10 seconds. Jot a note to yourself to help you remember what you were doing. This will help you re-engage post-interruption. Then, tell your visitor that you can speak with them for a maximum time of five minutes.
  • Use body language. Keep your hands on your keyboard, put earbuds in your ears, or stand up and remain by your door when unscheduled visitors knock. If they are repeat offenders, go back to the honesty approach, though.

Try the recommendations above that you think will work for your situation.  Keep in mind that if you respect yourself, respect your colleagues, and value everyone’s time then interruptions will be minimized naturally.

This article originally appeared on workWELL, presented by Unum.

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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Judy C. Wetherbee

    Hey Melissa,
    Congrats on getting your book project completed! That is a good thing for me because when I read your posts…I feel like you are writing about me and all of the distractions that get in the way of completing my projects in a timely manner. I am looking forward to applying some of your suggestions and improving my time management skills! I have been following your posts since I had the pleasure of meeting you and attending one of your speaking engagements in Chattanooga several years ago.
    Judy C. Wetherbee

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Thanks, Judy! I’m so glad you find the posts helpful. Let me know what you think of the eBook series!

      To your success, Melissa

  2. Richa Speir

    Loved this post… I had just finished downloading your Crazy Productive Series and am looking forward to becoming more organized and efficient!

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Thank you, Richa!


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