Constant Interruptions
The ”constant interruption“ is a huge problem at most businesses. I hear this almost everywhere I go, ”I could get so much done if not for the constant interruptions“. ”People barge in with questions, the phone is always ringing and emails are pouring in.“ ”I can’t walk to the coffee room without being snagged for something.“
I think this relates to changes in the workplace. A few years ago it was not proper to disturb ”the boss“ with questions without going through a chain of command. His secretary would relay messages to him and your answer would be forthcoming. Today’s businesses run leaner. The lines of command have blurred and the support personnel (traditional secretaries) are gone. If sales has a question about a customer’s order, they ask the purchaser. If the purchaser has a question about an invoice he goes to receiving. If accounting has a question they run to the boss. I don’t think it’s necessary to give more examples because everyone understands the problem at their own level.

What to do about it?

Like most business problems lack of planning is root cause. There is far too much reaction rather than proaction. (I needed the word) To be proactive involves a little planning, looking ahead to see when and where problems are going to arise and trying to head them off before the need arises to crash into someone’s office with the current problem. You know that but how can you get others to respect your time by doing their part better?

Most businesses that try to correct this problem will fail in their attempts. Why? Because they think of barriers to protect time rather than looking alternative routes of access. Here are a few recommendations that work if you stay with them. It takes time to build new habits but once accepted and used for a while, old habits fade and new ones are formed.
  1. Set specific times for dealing with problems. ”I am available from 9:00 – 10:30 and 3:30 – 4:30 to answer questions or discuss issues.“
  2. Use email. It sounds odd to email someone who is just down the hall but it sure is less intrusive. Be sure to answer email from within the organization promptly! This really works but it needs to be a supported policy.
  3. Make a rule: No grabbing people outside of their office with ”one little question“. It’s rude, make the point that it’s rude and needs to stop.
  4. The boss has to play by the same rules.
  5. Have more meetings. Most meetings are a waste of time because they not well structured and they last too long. A daily 30 minute (use a timer) meeting can free up hours of collective wasted time for better use.
  6. Change your notion about what a meeting is. Okay, we’re going to have a 30 minute meeting every day—but I just have a question and don’t want to sit here for a half hour listening to other people’s problems. Then let’s all just meet at the same place for 30 minutes. Bring the notes, invoices, broken items, ideas, problems and complaints to the room and talk with the person you need. Group around issues as necessary. It’s a war room! It can be fun to see how much can be accomplished in that short time. Forget about the conference table and the one at a time talking meeting. Yawn. Just get everybody in the room and let them go at it. Equip the gathering room with tools of discussion. Calculators, white boards, notepads, pencils, pens, sketch pads, post-it notes, marker pens, highlighters—all the toys of creativity in the business world. Pick a name for your daily meeting that suites your organization. The Huddle. The Kitchen Crew—anything but daily meeting!
These are just a few ideas to get you started. But if you try them you’ll quickly see the difference.
I’d like to hear about what you’ve tried—we can all learn from successes and failures.

Chris Reich