Interruptions at work – some solutions

Interruption at the work is something we all experience every day. Traditional workplace psychologists and time management gurus like to believe that such interruptions have a negative effect on the employees’ performance, concentration and productivity. However, recent studies conducted by a few universities in the United States of America state that different types of interruptions raise distinct issues and result in diverse consequences all of which cannot really be termed as ‘negative’ According to these studies interruptions aren’t necessarily bad; at times they can impart vital information as well as help break the monotony, and consequently relieve boredom.

The burgeoning growth of the Indian economy has led to the birth of a very young workforce. The culture that ruled the roost at government offices around two or three decades ago is a strict no-no in today’s Corporate India. When companies hire talented young people, they have to keep in mind that they are not going to last long a formal, humorless atmosphere. Hitherto unheard sops (which may be translated as ‘interruptions’) like an informal work environment, film and activity clubs, music corners, gymnasium etc are what they need and that is what most companies have to provide these days.

However, some companies take a serious note of disruptions at work. To avoid the unnecessary diversion, they implement strict policies and ensure that employees are glued to their work. Many firms restrict the use of headphones, telephones and even the Internet. Budding organizations with not many professionals on board do not want or cannot afford interruptions; as a policy they may not even allow checking personal mails, listening to music and using cell phones during work hours.

Employees, in general are mature enough to understand their responsibilities and handle their work without any restrictions. There are employees who walk into office each day one hour before the scheduled time and make it a point to complete or at least begin with the most important tasks during that time. Some employees try to justify interruptions (informal gossip sessions) when they get some interesting information or news that otherwise would have got missed out during. To certain extent this may also be true but not always.

However, according to an instructional designer, certain interruptions are inevitable, but it’s better to avoid the others. At times when a colleague or a newcomer is bothering to the extent of hindering ones productivity, it’s important for the person to put up a firm face and excuse him/her self from responding.

Nevertheless, there are many people, who have learnt to live with fact that at work it is very difficult for anyone to steer clear of all interruptions. Indeed it is a part of every firm. Most employees have become masters of multitasking, adept at responding to e-mail messages during meetings and making time for multiple distractions when they are actually trying to get work done. The best one can do is to be organized and ensure focus is not lost on the main tasks.

Open layouts at the workplace compound the problem. Although it’s easy to communicate with ones team, these new-aged layouts tend to create another raft of problems headed by interruption. Sometimes it’s easier to just answer the questions as quickly as possible and get back to ones priorities. Avoid the irrelevant extended conversations, and it can be good option.

Considering that there are two contradicting opinions about interruption at work how to decide the better of the two? The determining factor is the characteristics of both the person being interrupted and the task being performed. While some people are adept at ignoring distractions or are easy going, there are impatient and time conscious. For some they are not bothered by interruptions because it does not take them too long to get back on track.

While some interruptions are inevitable others can rob an individual of precious working hours. So it becomes important to be alert and make a conscious effort towards avoiding these. Now, it is up to an individual to discern whether an interruption is important and will help him/her accomplish his/her goals or at least give the much-needed break. The first step is to identify the most important ones and individuals, who are chronic interrupters. One has to design different techniques to deal with each situation. For example, if it is the boss who has the request, the employee must let him or her know that he/she is working on and ask which task is priority.

Following are some golden rules that will help cut down on frivolous interruptions and give an individual more time for doing the work that has been designated to him/her:

* Do not interrupt others or stop by ‘just to chat’ during regular work hours.
* During ones most productive hours, send calls to voicemail. Then set aside a time (preferably when a chatty neighbor usually drops by) to return.
* When one is interrupted ask, how long it will take? Take a decision as to whether there is time to handle it and when or whether to refer the distracters to someone else. Always can’t do something for them immediately, mention the tight deadlines or pressing meeting. This will help one to get rid of the ‘pest’ without really disappointing him/her
* Curtail frivolous interrupters by standing up when they enter your work space while looking at your watch. If they don’t understand the hint, ask them to walk with you while you talk. Then walk them to the restroom or back to their office so that you can control when the conversation ends.