So let’s just say you have a plan and you are pretty good at knowing how to prioritise so you start off on the right foot but somehow you always end getting pulled away to something else.
What is getting in the way? How do you preserve that time so you can work uninterrupted? This is often something that people living in busy households or busy workplaces where there are kids, customers or workmates coming and going.
For example it might be that you sit down to type your clinical notes but then the receptionist comes in and tells you there’s a client on the phone, or one of your colleagues pops their head around the door to have a chat. As a manager it can be really hard to get uninterrupted time to work on projects because then your’e always spending time putting out fires. Urgent unexpected things- usually staff issues, people issues, child issues. The reality is that a lot of these do need to be dealt with straight away but some need to be managed so that you minimise the amount of interruptions and can remain productive. But it’s a fine line because you need to be available and approachable if people really need you.
What is the impact of being interrupted?
Research shows that after each interruption it takes roughly 20 minutes to refocus and get back on track especially when you are doing work that requires critical thinking.
And of course work has different distractions to home. At work it might be other vets, nurses, at home its the delivery guy or your partner on a zoom call in the next room or the kids.
1) Hold regular meetings with people who need your time on a regular basis . This lets people know when they can have access to you so that they can save up non-urgent things. On the flip side if you have things you need to discuss with someone, write down a list instead of jumping up and going and talking to them because you don't want to forget it. Once its out of your head and on paper then you can forget about it until you have the space and time to go talk to them about the list of things.
2) Add "contingency time." Block time into your schedule for those unavoidable interruptions that are going to occur. This means you only end up taking on things that you can fit into the rest of your time.
3) Set "available" and "unavailable" times. This is a great one that we use at work when we are getting near the end of the shift and we have to focus and write patient histories. Now this doesn't mean you have to put a big sign on the door saying ‘unavailable’ although you could, but I do think it helps to use a signal- like putting on headphones, or the door is closed. That tells people you're busy without needing to say a word. If it's really important they’ll interrupt but that signal is enough to make them stop and think before they interrupt you.
Unavailable times are not just about work work work. Best way to do that without being rude to anyone is go outside and take a break away from people. Get some fresh air, take some deep breaths, be unavailable by moving away from people. Then you can be so much more productive and helpful for other people when you are ready to connect again
4) Learn to say "no." If you say yes to everything not only are you filling other peoples agenda but you’ll burnout eventually. Really important to stop and think- if I say yes what goal am I working towards? If you are struggling with time management really stop and think whether part of it could be because you are constantly letting them decide how you spend your time
5) Communicate with your team/family- This is particularly important when letting your family know what you're working on and managing their expectations around when you need to focus uninterrupted and when you are available to help them particularly if you work in the evening time slots. It's not really fair to expect them to know when you don’t want to be interrupted if you don’t communicate with them.
6) Set your tech to work for you (not against you).
Alex says - I don’t pick up phone numbers I don’t know and I have a message on my voicemail telling people to send me a text message instead of leaving a voice message. This means when my phone rings if its urgent they’ll send a text and then I can decide exactly how urgent it is. Do I need to stop what Im doing right now. Can it wait a couple of hours.
I also use the 3 email rule- not my rule but its really useful and saves time. Basically if there is more than 3 emails going back and forth- I pick up the phone and have 1 conversation about it. I work a lot with the marketing department and the HR department and they love long emails. The time that I see people waste writing long essays on email back and forth. Life is too short. Implementing strategies like this means I deal with messages according to priority and at a time that works for my schedule. I also use focus apps like Serene to keep me off social media on my desktop.
7) Tackle unavoidable interruptions. Some things just have to be dealt with
If someone does get through and interrupts you, it works well to set some parameters around your availability. If they say ‘have you got time to talk?’ Say “ I have 5 minutes right now- is that long enough?” then let them decide whether this is a good time for the conversation right now or wait until you have more time available. Because sometimes if it's something that needs your full attention and it's important its better not to rush it and to schedule 30 mins when it suits both of you.