In most of the companies I worked so far, we usually get a lot of interruptions. Everything is deemed important and our attention is stretched super thin between all kind of distractions. In the beginning it feels good, we are busy and we are being helpful, but after a while it gets exhausting. And the flow of requests never ends.
One of the big issues with a large number of interruptions is that we are forced to make a lot of small decisions tens of times a day. Every time you get interrupted by an email or a person, you need to make a decision if you should pursue the request or not right away. And if you decide to pursue it, more decisions will be required. From a certain point of the day forward, you will be so exhausted by all these that you will either be driven by interruptions or make haste decisions that will make your future self unhappy. And this is called decision fatigue.
See the interruptions
They say that visualizing a problem, means to have it half solved already. So one big step in reducing the number of interruptions is to figure out how many you have and what type. Different types could be solved in different ways. If you have many of a certain type, those would be a good place to start eliminating some of your interruptions.
If you have a strict process in place, this would as easy as pulling a report. But many times these interruptions usually get lost in the noise. Once you are aware that they exist and you want to track them down, this usually involves a change in process. “Every time someone interrupts you, you should create a yellow sticky and put it on the board.” Sometimes this works out if you have someone to keep reminding everyone to follow this procedure when an interruption appears indefinitely. Wouldn’t it be great if we could build this in a habit?
While I still have a large portion to read of Duhigg’s habits book, I know that in order to build or change a habit, you need to identify the 3 components of a habit: the trigger or the cue, the routine or the thing that should happen when triggered and the reward.
Usually the routine is what you want to do out of habit, so in our case, to write a yellow sticky and put it on the board. But what would be the cue?
The cue should be also pretty simple: either a physical person coming at your desk asking you to do something or an email with a similar request. And what about the reward?
This is where the idea gets fuzzy. I couldn’t really think of a reward that would be seen as a reward by everyone. What would work for me as a reward, is the fact that I am making steps towards eliminating interruptions which bring me frustration. Seeing that post-it on the board gives me hope that sometime soon we will take measures to eliminate this waste of time and energy spent on switching context and potentially on tasks completely void of value.
Once you gather all these post-its, make time weekly or daily, whatever works for you, to go through them, group them and choose simple actions to prevent or avoid them. Start with the large groups, there might be very simple solutions which could have a big impact.
I think it’s very important to make a commitment to improve things based on the findings. Not taking any action as a result of gathering all these post-its is one of the main reasons this habit doesn’t usually stick, in my opinion.
Limit email and chat
Handling email and chat messages as they come, can severely damage your productivity. So unless your job requires you to answer emails asap, and very few jobs require that, I suggest you to form some very simple habits to handle this kind of interruptions.
First make sure your email and chat clients are closed when you start your day. Print a paper that says “Close email and chat” and put it next to your desk in a place that is easy for you to see. That should serve as a cue to close your mail and chat (routine). The reward is the ability to be focused on whatever task is important to you.
Now you’ll probably won’t get away without answering char or email at all during the day. So why don’t you choose the moment to do that? Define 1 or 2 intervals during the day when you will focus only on that and block them in your calendar. The calendar reminder will serve as a trigger and answering emails or chats is the actual routine. The reward is pretty sweet: reaching email nirvana, 0 unread emails in your inbox!