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Are you feeling annoyed and frustrated because you keep getting interrupted?

You need to finish that monthly report, finalise that quote, or follow up with that customer but as soon as you get set up and focused, the interruptions start. Sometimes it feels as if the ‘serial interrupters’ are watching you, waiting to pounce as soon as your head is down and your fingers are typing. To make it worse, so often what they ask is not urgent, and it is minor or even unnecessary. Yet their ‘quick question’ always seems to take at least 15 minutes.

Research shows that managers and leaders are interrupted every 8 minutes! That’s 50-60 interruptions every day. No wonder you feel as if you get nothing done!


Interruptions or Interactions?

The reality is some of these interruptions really are interruptions, but some of these so-called interruptions are interactions. What’s the difference?

As a leader or manager, a critical part of your role is to be there for your team and your clients. Your role is not merely a list of tasks to complete; that’s a non-management role. A critical part of your role as a manager or leader is to listen to, advise, and coach others. It is your job to listen to your team’s concerns and questions and coach or advise them so that they can move forward. It is your job to remove obstacles so that they can achieve their outcomes more efficiently. It is also your job to respond to your manager’s or the Board’s requests.

What is the difference between interruption and interaction? An interruption is a task you can do but …. you SHOULDN’T.

Often it’s a task you used to do, you continue to be asked to do it, and get tempted to do so because ‘it’s quick and easy’ or because it’s a task you enjoy. It may well be either of these, but it’s not what you are paid to do now, and it doesn’t ensure the person, whose task it is now, is doing their job.


Woman holding her head at her desk

When to Interact

An interaction is a task you should do, and if you’re a manager that includes the tasks that your performance is measured on and the tasks that are directly related to your staff being able to complete their work in an efficient manner and to a high standard.

Your decision is not about whether you should be helping them; it’s about WHEN you should be helping them. In other words, it’s about prioritising appropriately and effectively.

The answer to when you should be helping them depends on:

a) How genuinely urgent the task is

b) What you are currently doing

You then have three options for your response:

  1. If it is a genuine emergency, then the answer is obviously to interact immediately.
  2. If it is not a genuine emergency and you are currently in a meeting or completing one of your critical tasks in a planned timebox/Pomodoro then now is not the right time. You need to communicate with the person the right time to speak together and then continue with your current task. Doing this means that the person will get what they need and you are still productive. Of course, the words you use and the way you say them are critical. This can be learned and as a manager, it is vital that you learn this skill, both for your productivity and for your team members’ engagement, development and productivity.
  3. If you are not in a meeting or in a planned timebox/Pomodoro responding to your team member’s or client’s question immediately is the right course of action.


How to Handle Interruptions

These are the tasks you could do, but shouldn’t. To maintain your level of productivity, you must NOT do them.

Of course, the way you communicate your response to the ‘interrupter’ is crucial. You shouldn’t be doing the task but they are still a client or colleague so your specific words, your tone and your body language are all critical to gaining the right outcome here. This response is a specific communication skill. If you find yourself thinking I need to ‘push back’ or ‘I’ll just tell them straight’ you need to unlearn some existing communication habits and then learn the new effective words and tone to prevent yourself being interrupted, while not putting your relationship with this person in jeopardy.

Most interruptions are in fact interactions, they are part of your role BUT you need to make sure that they lead to increased productivity for both parties i.e. they need to be at the right time, and you need to deal with them in the right way.

Decrease your frustration, lower your stress levels, increase your productivity, your sense of achievement and your reputation as a high-performing manager by learning to manage interruptions and interactions effectively.