Young Girl Doing Schoolwork Looking Thoughtful or DistractedThere is a hilarious skit from Mad TV that depicts a young woman working behind the counter at a fast food joint. She’s chatting away on her phone when a customer comes up and tries to place an order. Bon Qui Qui puts her lacquered fingernails over the phone and gives the customer a death stare saying: “You see I’m on the phone? Okay then. Don’t Interrupt. RUDE!” and goes back to her phone conversation.

While Bon Qui Qui’s approach is definitely not the right way to deal with customers, sometimes at work, it’s tempting to put it into play. After all, some days it feels like you can barely get any work done before Tom comes rushing into your cubicle, Sandra sends 15 URGENT emails and Geoff calls to see if you want anything from the coffee cart.

Really? Can I just get some work done? 

“The average American worker has fifty interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with work.”  W. Edwards Deming

And now with always-on connectivity, the problem isn’t limited to just people who work in a busy 9-5 office. I have literally had my Skype going off, responding to email, my Google Voice number ring while I was in a Google chat and my actual iPhone start buzzing like crazy, all in the same 5-minute span. And I’m not even counting the 17 (and counting) social networks I’m a part of! Writing relatively short articles (like this one) have become an exercise in frustration and usually require a jaunt to the local coffee house, where only a few people will bother me.

How do you avoid distraction at work? Some time management tips:

Prepare ‘staying focused’ statements to tell people you work with regularly. Say:

  • “I’m on deadline.” (denotes finality)
  • “I have to finish this. Please don’t speak to me for the next 3 hours.” (gives you and them a specific time frame)

Use your tools.

  • Put an out-of-office responder on your inbox for a specified time.
  • Try the Do Not Disturb Button on your phone.
  • Insist that people schedule calls with a tool like TimeTrade or Speek.
  • Don’t (for the love of productivity) log in to Facebook until your task is completed. Ditto Skype, Twitter, and even LinkedIn.
  • Block out time on the office (or your personal) calendar as unavailable.

Have a safe word. Lots of offices have their own internal lexicon. Add a word or phrase to it that means business. At one of my offices, we all had earphones (the big ones) that we’d slip on and we’d announce that we were going ‘radio silent’. With four marketing types sharing one large space, it was the perfect way to ensure some silence and let our coworkers know we weren’t to be disturbed.

Don’t encourage bad behavior. Some interruptions SHOULD be ignored.

  • That new intern that has asked you the same question 20 times? The person should probably learn how to do that task on his/her own.
  • That boss who keeps giving you slivers of information about the latest assigned project? Let them gather in your inbox until you have what you need to start.
  • The client who calls every Friday at 7 p.m.? Yeah definitely ignore that guy. Send him an email Monday morning telling him to schedule a call during your “phone hours.”

How do you manage distractions at work? Give us your best tips in the comments!

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