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Reduce Interruptions, Have Everything Go Better

Today we are prone to too many interruptions to approach our potential level of productivity

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In computer science, an interruption is a signal to a computing device that halts the execution of a program in progress so that some other action can proceed. In electrical engineering, an interruption comes in the form of a circuit that conveys a signal that stops the execution of a running program.

In everyday life, an interruption is a break in the action and is derived from the Latin words inter, which is to go between, and ruptus, which is to break off. Hence, an interruption can be described as something that comes between entities and separates them, such as you and the task you’re attempting to complete! Curiously, ruptus is related to the word rupture, which in biology is defined as a tearing apart of tissue; in politics, a breach of the peace; or in everyday affairs, a state of being broken apart.

Interruptions Impede Productivity

For career professionals seeking to be highly productive, interruptions represent a “breaking apart” of their ability to stay focused and strive for completion of the task at hand. In many work environments today — the traditional office as well as in mobile settings — each of us are prone to too many interruptions to even approach our potential level of productivity. Why? We are subjected to more potential interruptions than any previous workforce since homo erectus emerged from caves.

Unprecedented challenges call for unprecedented solutions. It is not enough to turn your cell phone ringer or vibrator off. It is insufficient to believe that merely closing your office door will safeguard you from intruders. It is folly to believe that tomorrow is somehow going to be better than today if we don’t take a certain number of measures that guarantee we can work for 30, 60, or 90 minutes undisturbed when we need to.

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Many years ago I met with the CEO of the Planning Research Corporation (PRC) in his office on the top floor of a building on K Street in Washington D.C. From this vantage point, he was able to look out of large picture windows in three directions, including to the west for dozens of miles into Virginia. His office, the foyer leading into it, the receptionist’s area prior to that, the hallway leading to that, and the entire floor was notably more quiet than any of the floors under it. Like so many other top executives, he knew the importance of being able to marinade in his own thoughts.

The Quiet to Reflect

Those reaching the top rungs of organizations and who aspire to high achievement, instinctively understand the importance of safeguarding their environment. They understand the value of being able to reflect upon the challenges before them, to utilize the full measure of their cerebral capabilities, and craft a plan or devise a solution to meet that challenge.

In our own lives and careers, sometimes we don’t have the choice of working on a quiet floor with barriers surrounding our work space that ensure the quiet we need to concentrate on the challenges before us. We do, however, have options regardless of our working environment that can increase the probability we will have vital stretches throughout the day and the week, where we are free of disturbances and can safely predict that interruptions will not take us off course.

Most career professionals, at times during the week, have the opportunity to take command of their immediate environment through a variety of procedures that are quite well known but unfortunately not put into practice as often as one might do so.

Interruption-Proof Your Environment

In my book Breathing Space, originally published in 1990, and revised several times since, I offer some suggestions for safeguarding your working environment and minimizing interruptions:

  • Surround yourself with everything you need to fully engage in the change process, which also might involve assembling resources, people, and space, as well as ensuring that you have a quiet environment free of distractions.
  • Give yourself the hours or days you need to read, study, and absorb what is occurring, and to make decisions about how you’ll apply new ways of doing things and new technology to your career, business, or organization.

Go “cold turkey,” which is not recommended for most people! Suspend what ever else you’re doing and engage in whatever it takes to incorporate a new way of doing things. This is enhanced by ensuring that you’ll have no disturbances, bringing in outside experts, and assembling any other resources you need to succeed.

As the Allstate commercial used to say, “Life comes at you fast.” In the future, today will seem like an era of peace and tranquility. Life will come at us ever-faster as our technology and mobile devices connect us with more and more people, and information sources around the world. We have to establish effective habits and procedures to buttress ourselves against what we know is coming: more information, more communication, more to sift through, more to learn, and more to respond to.

It’s All  Finite

Our work week and our lives are finite. We can only cram in so much information within a given period of time. The ability to understand and absorb what we need to, and keep at bay all the extraneous information that competes for our attention is a skill which must be developed, honed, and refined now. It won’t be any easier later.

The sooner we recognize that our interruption-based society is here to stay, at least for now, the sooner we can embrace and securely put into place those measures that will ensure that we can be at our best for today and for the long run.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



 
 
 

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Business

Smart Move in a Rough Economy: Help Your Boss to Shine

Stay on top of your job, your department’s goals, and your company’s objectives

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Making your boss look good can only reflect favorably on you. Both your boss and his or her supervisors will appreciate this.

The best way to make your boss look good is to handle your work efficiently and thoroughly. If your boss is fair, he or she will give you credit for the work, increasing your chances of promotion.

If your boss is not doing his or her share of the work, leaning on you unfairly without giving you the credit, it’s still likely that you’ll be promoted when your boss is promoted. That person knows you’ve been doing more than your share, and he or she won’t be able to take a new position without your help.

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Becoming a Mentor to Others

Maybe you’re only 27 years old, or perhaps you’ve only been with your present firm for a year and a half. Yet, with your previous experience and achievements, you may already be in a position to serve as a mentor to junior members of your organization. This can be accomplished on an informal, ad hoc basis, and you can literally choose the amount of energy you’re willing to commit. Helping junior members always looks good to those above you, especially at performance review time.

Stay on top of your job, your department’s goals, and your company’s objectives. This three-way strategy includes reviewing your job description, deciding precisely what your department’s goals are, and determining your company’s objectives:

Your Job Description

First, knowing your job description and honoring it, or amending it if necessary, protect you from any misunderstandings. It will also give you an idea of the part you play in the total picture of the organization, an important factor in your work satisfaction and chance of promotion.

Your job description ideally contains all the important activities of your position, the knowledge you need to have or acquire to perform those activities, and some sense of your overall role. If your job description does not adequately detail the information you need to know and the responsibilities you have, now is the time to change it.

Company Goals

Second, learn and understand the goals of your part of the company. By whatever method your organization is broken into groups — department, division, project team — your group has objectives.

Goals are important to guide actions as well as to mark milestones. Knowing your group’s goals will help you to set priorities for your own work and make wise decisions concerning how jobs can best be done.

What is the Mission?

Finally, be aware of your organization’s mission. Any organization, from the smallest business to the multibillion-dollar corporation, has a mission. If you don’t already know it, find out. Your organization’s brochure, annual report, promotional literature, or employee handbook will have the mission spelled out.

The mission will unify and give meaning to all the division or department goals. Although conflicts among divisions will occur because of the nature of different responsibilities, a solid base can be produced when all employees realize the overall mission of the organization.

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Business

Lessons of the 2020s: Unanticipated Events Happen

Unforeseen tasks that arise represent intrusions on our mental and emotional state of being as well as on our time

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By now, nearly everyone has mentally marked the first few years of this decade as strange and, for those on the right, entirely upsetting. While we can’t guard against the unknown, or anticipate radical moves emanating from Washington DC, we can seek to do our best with what we have and what we know.

Each day when you compose your to-do list and begin proceeding merrily down it, do you take into account what is likely to occur in the course of a day? No matter how well we organize our lists and how productive we are in handling the products and tasks unexpected obligations, interruptions, and other developments arise that are going to throw us off.

How do you react when you are humming along, and all of a sudden, you get an assignment from out of left field? Perhaps your boss has asked you to jump on something immediately. Maybe a client calls. Maybe something gets returned to you that you thought was complete.

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To Be Flustered No More

If you are like most professionals, you immediately will become flustered. The intrusion on your time and your progress means that you are not going to accomplish all that you set out to before the end of the day. Is there a way to proceed and still feel good about all that you accomplish?

I believe there is, and it involves first making a miniature, supplemental to-do list that accurately encapsulates the new task that you need to handle. Why create this supplemental to-do list? It gives you focus and direction, reduces anxiety, and increases the probability that you will remain buoyant at the time of its completion and be able to turn back to what you were doing before the task was assigned.

If you don’t compose such a list, and simply plow headlong into the unexpected challenge that has come your way, you might not proceed effectively, and you might never get back to the to-do list on which you were working.

Anticipating the Unexpected

Unforeseen tasks that arise represent more than intrusions on our time; they represent intrusions on our mental and emotional state of being. Some people are naturally good at handling unexpected situations. Most of us, however, are not wired like this. Interruptions and intrusions on our workday take us off the path that we wanted to follow, and tend to be at least momentarily upsetting.

So… when executing the items on your to-do list, proceed ‘knowing’ that there will be an interruption of some sort. You don’t know when it is coming or how large it will be, but it will pull you off course. The key question for you is: can you develop the capacity to maintain balance and equanimity in the face of such disruptions?

The good news is that you can, and it all starts with acknowledging that the situation is likely to happen, devising a supplemental checklist to handle the new task, and as deftly as possible, returning to what you were doing.

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