058: Tips for Dealing with Interruptions
Have you ever had days or weeks where you had a great plan for all you wanted to accomplish only to be sidetracked by interruptions? I’m not talking about distractions like spending too much time on social media or cleaning your house to avoid doing other work.
I’m thinking more about how people or circumstances interrupt our lives and throw our plans off track.
Let me give you some examples.
Late last summer when my father had some health issues and really couldn’t be left at home alone, my mom started ordering her groceries from Walmart and I would go pick them up for her. When she first started doing this she would often place 2 or 3 orders a week.
While I certainly did not mind picking up their groceries, having these interruptions several times a week threw my schedule off and it made it hard for me to stay focused and get my work done.
And then there is the time just earlier this year when my dad fell, spent 11 days in ICU, and eventually passed away. Talk about an interruption to your well planned schedule! My life was thrown off for a good 6 weeks or more as we dealt with the ICU stay, the funeral, and adjusting to life afterward.
These are both examples of how circumstances arise that interrupt even the best thought out plans. Both events were not expected so there was really no way to plan for how to deal with them.
Now let me share an example related to people interrupting your schedule.
I’ve mentioned before that I work outside the home one day a week at my church. I’m the financial assistant. I help our financial manager with counting money, posting contributions, processing payroll, and other financial duties.
The tasks I do consistently each week are counting money and posting contributions. We have to do those things each Monday so the tithes and offerings we receive on Sunday can get deposited into the church’s bank account in a timely manner.
Since I generally only work on Mondays, I try to help count money and post contributions by lunchtime. This way I can work on other tasks such as payroll so they’ll get done in a timely manner.
However, it is often 1 or 2:00 before I get a chance to finish my contributions work and eat lunch so I can get started on other tasks. And the reason this happens is that the financial manager and I are often interrupted several times while we’re counting money and posting contributions.
I have been at this job for about 4 ½ years. These interruptions have been driving me crazy ever since I started this job. The financial manager and I often talk about ways we can reduce the interruptions but we have not been good with our follow through.
Do you have people or circumstances that interrupt your plans? Maybe you only have occasional interruptions, or perhaps you feel like you are always being interrupted.
Either way, I have some tips for you when it comes to dealing with interruptions.
Learn how to set boundaries.
A couple of the examples I just shared had the common theme of people needing our help or attention. I think that most people don’t realize they are interrupting our plans when they come to us for help. And I don’t mean that we shouldn’t be willing to help others. However, in some situations, setting boundaries with individuals who continue to monopolize your time is necessary so you can stay productive while being a help to them.
Let’s go back to my example of picking up groceries for my mom. She was just used to going to the store every few days to get what she needed. When she could no longer do so, she still kept the same pattern, but it was requiring me to go every few days. And she really didn’t let me know until the day she needed her groceries, so there was no way for me to plan for all of those trips to Walmart.
So after a couple of times like that, I asked her if we could get on a schedule where she would order the groceries to be picked up at the same time on the same day every week. And she readily agreed once I suggested this option. We decided I would pick up her groceries on Thursdays between 4 and 5:00.
This way I could put this errand on my calendar so I would have it as part of my schedule. And I could look ahead to see if I was already committed to something else during that time so we could make adjustments.
It made life a lot easier because I knew this errand was just another part of my weekly schedule. It was never a surprise or interruption because I had incorporated it into my weekly work.
Schedule your interruptions
Ok, I know that sounds like a contradiction. How can you schedule something you don’t know is going to happen?
Let’s think about some ways we know we’ll be interrupted, even if we don’t know when it will happen.
One of these ways we know we’ll be interrupted is through our email. We can’t control when we’ll receive email and what we’ll have to deal with in each email. However, we can control when we’ll look at it and respond.
So, instead of looking at your email every time you see a new one has popped into your inbox, schedule a couple of times a day where you will check your email and respond. This will vary from person to person so choose the times of day that will work best for you.
I have to admit that I struggle with this mainly because I’m on my phone way too much. It’s always tempting to check my email right away when I see that I have a new one.
In an effort to regain my time, I’m trying out different times of day to check my email. I think what would work best for me is to check it at the beginning of my workday, at lunch, and then at the end of my workday. Honestly right now most of my emails are personal in nature and don’t always require a response. I don’t have a ton to deal with for The Planning Woman. However, I do seem to get more and more emails related to my business, so I’ll definitely need to work with this plan.
Another way to schedule your interruptions is to turn off all your notifications on your phone and computer. Hearing the ding or buzz of a new notification is enough to disturb our focus and throw us off track. Consider picking a couple of times a day to check the apps or websites that would normally send you notifications. Make these tools work for you instead of letting them interrupt your work and focus.
Train people to know when you are available.
As I said earlier, people often interrupt us without realizing what they are doing. Often they are not aware of your schedule and don’t realize that they are being a distraction. So it’s important to train the people who are most likely to interrupt you to know when you are available.
Back to the example of my job at church. I mentioned that the financial manager and I get interrupted a lot. Especially when we’re counting money. Even though the staff knows that’s what we are doing at 8 am on Monday mornings, they think nothing of showing up to turn in receipts or other money or to ask a question.
While it is fun to talk to the staff, it is a huge distraction. And honestly, because we are counting money, we probably shouldn’t even let anyone in the office until we’re done.
In the past, we have shut the door and put a note asking people to come back after noon. It has worked but over time, people have been getting back in. We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t keep the door shut anymore.
The financial manager and I have been talking about this more. We are going to do a better job of training the staff to leave us alone during that time. Most likely it will take continuing to shut the door and having our executive pastor send out a communication reminding people that they should not bother us during that time.
What makes this so difficult to enforce, though, is that our financial manager is a people pleaser and will drop whatever she’s doing to help someone. The reality is that she is not helping anyone by making her life more stressful by putting off important work to help others.
Just this week I came home from being out of town on Monday, so I had to work on Tuesday. While she was supposed to be counting money on Monday morning, the financial manager was interrupted by a staff member with a payroll issue. This issue could definitely have waited until Monday afternoon to resolve. But the financial manager let the interruption distract her from what she should have been doing. She moved her focus to trying to solve this problem. And by doing this she ended up stressing herself out unnecessarily and did not have a productive day.
So I guess maybe a bonus tip here would be don’t be a people pleaser. Recognize what you need to be doing and train people to know when you’re available.
Recognize that some interruptions are God appointed encounters.
If you’re anything like me, then you are often irritated when you get interrupted and thrown off schedule. However, I’ve come to realize that some of the interruptions in my life are really God appointed encounters.
When I needed to start picking up groceries for my mom, I honestly was a little irritated. Especially in the beginning when I was having to go several times a week with no advanced notice. When I calmed down and we set a schedule, God opened my eyes to the fact that this was a way He wanted me to serve my parents and take care of them.
There have been other times when my day has been interrupted by a phone call or an encounter that took more of my time than expected. These interruptions were really God encounters because they involved helping someone in need. It could be someone who needed a listening ear or they may have just needed my presence or advice.
I encourage you to stop and think before you get irritated with the next interruption. Determine if it really is a God-appointed encounter where He is calling you to serve someone else.