“Hey, have you got a minute?”

You don’t have a minute, but you don’t want to be rude – so you respond, “Sure – what do you need?” Their request never takes “just” a minute, and it breaks the flow of whatever you were working on. One study found that it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus, even more if the interruption moves you on to something new.
If you’re in the office, you’re at the mercy of people who wander up to your desk. If you’re remote, it can be phone calls, video chats and noisy pets or delivery people. The interruptions might be valid, but they steal the focus needed to accomplish your most important priorities. A simple structure can put you back in control instead of letting others determine your schedule.

Schedule your own priorities first

At the beginning of the week, determine the blocks of focused time needed to work on your most important projects and priorities. Schedule them on your calendar, then treat them like any other appointment or meeting with an executive or client. If someone wants to talk during that scheduled time you can say, “I already have a commitment at 9:00, but I’m available at 10. Would that work for you?” You’ve said “yes” to their request, but you’re using your scheduled commitment to protect your own priorities as well.

Respond proactively to requests for your time

When someone asks for your time when you need to focus, suggest an alternative appointment – but put it on your terms. In the office, say, “I can’t talk right now, but I’ll have about ten minutes in an hour. I’ll come to your office at 11:00 – sound OK?” By giving the amount of time (ten minutes), you’ve set expectations for how long you’ll be available. Going to their office makes it easier to leave at that time than to convince them to leave your office.
The same applies from a remote location. When you’re pinged by someone who wants to connect, prepare a quick response: “Can’t chat now, but I have ten minutes at the top of the hour. I’ll call you then if you’re free.” Again, you’re setting the time expectation and can use it when you connect. At about the eight-minute mark, just say, “OK, I have to jump off in two minutes – so we’ll need to wrap this up, or we can schedule another quick call tomorrow to finish up.” Almost always, they’ll wrap it up instead of requesting a second call.

Communicate the process

Consider a sign on your door (or digital auto-response) that lets people know your availability. When you’re busy, say, “On deadline – available at noon.” When you’re open, say, “available until 2PM – come on in.” You want to be consistently available, but not always instantly available. Let people know how your signs work, and they’ll learn the best way to get your full attention.
Obviously, these suggestions apply to people who are able to choose their activities during the day. If you’re a paramedic or in customer service, interruptions are your job. In most situations, the key is to simply know your priorities, schedule them early and use them as tools to say “no” to stay on track.

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