Keeping the Flow: Advice for Keeping Interruptions to a Minimum
It's a great feeling when you start a project and the momentum is going at a steady pace and your concentration is focused. However, that momentum is vulnerable to a wide variety of interruptions.
Although it's impossible to stop all interruptions, here's some advice that you can utilize to keep those to a minimum.
Schedule blocks of time to check emails if your particular position allows. There are apps that allow you to put your emails on pause, such as INBOX PAUSE. That can be helpful to use if you have a hard time ignoring notifications when new emails come through.
Have you ever gone online to pay a bill or respond to a quick email and emerged from your computer screen several hours later? There are so many online distractions (ex: Facebook, ads, and Instant Messages, to name just a few) that it is easy to get sidetracked. Hopefully at work the distractions are not quite as bad, but it's important to pinpoint what they are so they each can be addressed. Maybe your big online distraction is the IM service that your company provides. Chances are you probably have a busy setting, such as "in a meeting," that you can utilize for moments when your full attention needs to be on the momentum you are building on a specific project.
Procrastination is a common block. Similar to the online distractions section, you will need to pinpoint the reason for your behavior. If you find you are procrastinating at certain regular time periods, ex: after lunchtime when you feel tired, then perhaps you need to schedule times during your peak energy levels.
Another point to keep in mind is that it's important to just start. Once you start working on the project then momentum will start to build and you will eventually find yourself in the flow of the task.
Although you might not have the luxury of not answering your phone for a block of time, it's worth screening calls when you are in the middle of a nice flow on a task. We all have caller ID, but not all calls show who is calling. There are apps, such as truecaller, which can tell you if the incoming call is spam so you do not waste your time answering unnecessarily. Utilize voicemail to screen calls as well if the call is not from the person you support. Although assistants are service-oriented at the core and it might not be easy to not pick up the phone, it can be hard to get into the flow of a large project so decide if the call is worth the immediate interruption and break your momentum.
If you do not work alone, there will be times when others will not pick up on the non-verbal cues that you are deep in a project. Have a go-to phrase, or even several phrases, as an article in The Muse states. Explain that you are preoccupied and have something that is "top of mind," "an urgent task that requires immediate focus" or something along those lines. Be sure to also request for them to send a meeting request, come back during a certain time period or shoot you an email, depending on the person and/or request. That way they know you are not simply brushing them off and are showing that you are acknowledging their need for your help.
Another strategy is to give the person literally one minute. You can tell them "I literally have one minute" and if they need more time then either you will be free at a specific time or that they are welcome to send an invite. Some items can be addressed quickly when people feel pressed for time because it forces them to be concise.
Dealing with someone who is simply chatty can be tricky as well. Another article in The Muse suggests making a relevant, declarative statement, such as "Wow, I can't believe the traffic was that bad for you coming in today!" so you are acknowledging their presence or situation. If the person lingers or stops by later, you can use one of your go-to phrases, such as "I'm slammed at the moment" in order to keep control of your momentum. The article also states that "[s]ometimes, once the floodgates have opened, it’s impossible to close them." In these situations, you might need to tell him/her that "[I] have trouble refocusing if [I] step outside of a “work mindset,” so [I’d] prefer not to socialize in the office." If that also doesn't work and your flow is consistently being interrupted then it might be time to bring the matter to your supervisor's or HR's attention. Chances are others might be finding that person to be a nuisance to their flow as well.
I also recommend planning out times when you anticipate you will be the least susceptible to such interruptions. One example is knowing the peak points that emails and calls come in. If you know you have a constant influx between 10am-2pm, then schedule the start of your project outside of that window.
Also, I recommend breaking up long projects into subtasks. Chunking up each to-do item allows for milestones and can help to develop a more accurate timeline of the overall project. It can also make the larger project at hand feel more manageable once it's broken down.
Being a top assistant, you know the importance of being as productive as possible. Each time your flow is broken, you lose productivity; it actually has been proven to take double or triple the time to complete a task once you've been interrupted since you have to go back and review where you were. Pinpointing the interruptions you regularly face and gearing yourself up to prevent these will help to be more in control of your flow and to make strides on hefty tasks.
How do you minimize interruptions at work? Please share in the comments below!