Managing Disruptions to Your Work

Not-Available-for-Work-iconI suppose it sounds funny — thinking about how to managing disruptive work. If it is disruptive, how can one manage it, right?  Most people have plans for their day, goals or tasks that they hope to accomplish, and many (perhaps most) people also have the kind of work that one simply cannot plan — things that halt, or turn sideways, all of those big plans you had for your day.

My place of employment has what is known as an “open environment” – no cubicles, an open floor plan, with lots of people in a common area.  The theory behind open environments is that with no barriers, there will be more communication, sharing and collaboration.  In theory, that’s how it’s suppose to work, and it may well do so for some.  For me, however, it means wearing headphones and listening to music or something to provide white noise as a sound blocker is now an imperative.  (This blog post, “Why Open Floor Plan Offices Suck, Hurt Employee Productivity & Satisfaction” nails it for me.)  I’ve consequently become a Ninja at managing disruptions.

Here are the things I find work for making a disruptive work environment less so:

  1. Set Up a Virtual Cubicle – As notes above, a good set of ear phones or ear buds goes a long way.  It does two things really.  While it’s primary purpose is that of providing you with a white noise to conversations and other distractions, it also is a visual queue to your work mates that you are not immediately available to them for that “quick” question that they want to ask instead of spending those extra 3-5 minutes actually getting the answer themselves.
  2. Work Early/Late – We have flex-time work hours; I can come in and work according to my schedule, not necessarily the 8-5 routine one.  I have used both an arrive early, leave early, and an arrive late, leave late schedule for years.  That time in a nearly empty office at the start or end of the day is where anywhere between 25% and 50% of my work truly gets done each day!  (My work being the things I want to get done.)
  3. Turn Off Voice Mail – Nearly every incoming call I get at work is from someone trying to make a sale, or to be directed to someone who they can in turn make an attempt to sell to.  My cell phone is where I receive my personal calls, and I use my work phone for calling out or for planned calls with specific people.  Voice mail is a waste as anyone that knows me and has my number, also has my email address.  If I’m not answering the phone, people send me an email and save me the time of writing down the message.  With voice mail off and my ringer off, this distraction is no more.
  4. Calendar Everything – I block out my lunch hour on my calendar.  I also block time for specific projects.  If I want to use my calendar to remind me of something, I set up a five minute meeting that shows me as being “free” so that another meeting can be scheduled in that slot too.  I also setup recurring time for maintenance tasks.  It’s during that special maintenance time that I direct people to come back to me to discuss their “five minute” issue.  I calendar time to write when I know the office is empty or I’ll be working from home — writing has to be distraction free.
  5. Set Your Messaging Software Status – If you use Skype, Lync, iMessage or some combo of the above, set your status accordingly when you need to ensure you are not distracted.  Or better yet, turn it on only when you are truly available.
  6. Keep Routines – If people know you are not available for specific times of the day, it can help make work interruptions less random and jarring from your desired routine.  Set your routine with you calendar and keep it.  I have one day a week where I work from home.  People know when I’m available in person, and when I’m not.
  7. Turn Off Email Notifications – If your job permits it, turn off notifications from your email and set reminders to check email at regular intervals instead.  I can’t do this often, simply because staying on top of projects requires that I am quick to respond to inquires and needs that come in from email.  However, when I have a block of time devoted to analysis and writing, email is either off or notifications disabled.

Have something you do that helps to limit distractions?  Share it in the comments please.

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