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How to Handle Office Interruptions

Updated on December 23, 2012
ChrisMcDade8 profile image

Christine McDade is a Human Resources professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 18 years in the public sector.

Christine McDade is an experienced human resources manager.

Sometimes, a simple note placed on the door will be enough to grant an employee some quiet time from those pesky interruptions.
Sometimes, a simple note placed on the door will be enough to grant an employee some quiet time from those pesky interruptions. | Source

Trying to meet the demands of a heavy workload while dealing with unplanned interruptions that occur on any given workday can be a challenging situation for any well-intentioned employee. A loud co worker, a constantly ringing telephone, and unplanned visits from clients, coworkers, etc., are all elements of a disruptive workplace that can be a maddening experience. Remaining focused on the prioritized work at hand while trying to manage the interruptions can be a daunting tasks. After all, it can be difficult to resist these unplanned situations because they may be events that need your immediate attention to avoid something from becoming a bigger problem. A balance between what should get done and those emergencies that must be handled should be managed to remain productive.

Work can pile up when interruptions get an employee off track.
Work can pile up when interruptions get an employee off track. | Source

Manage Those Interruptions

Employees must manage their schedules to properly account for the time needed to complete projects and tasks under their area of responsibility. Routine duties that involve the completion of reports and paperwork, for example, can take up much of an employee's regular workday. Meetings on the schedule can take up much of those hours of the day as well. Professionals realize the workday must be scheduled to meet the daily demands. Managing the unplanned occurrences, those interruptions, is also crucial as they can take up much of your time, too. While no one can truly predict what interruptions will present themselves, it is helpful to give them consideration that they will become part of the day. When one takes certain steps to manage them within the rest of the workload, it is possible to complete the work that must get done.

Ways to Avoid Interruptions

There are different ways to avoid interruptions during the work day. If a manager or supervisor has the good fortune to have an administrative assistant to help them with their work as well as to stay organized, they can always schedule the day accordingly to make sure their boss has a day with few appointments. An administrative assistant can make sure the manager is not interrupted by screening the phone calls, emails and visitors throughout the day.

For those employees who do not have the luxury of an assistant, the controlling of interruptions will be left up to them solely. Some ways to handle the situation might be:

  1. Shut the door of the office. - Sometimes, the simplest way to get some quiet time to focus on projects is to shut the office door. Co workers should sense that quiet and privacy are needed by the employee who has shut the door to their office. Closing the door will keep out the distractions of office noise and co workers.
  2. Post a "Do not disturb" note on door. - A "Do Not Disturb" sign placed on the door can send that direct message that one does not want to be disturbed. Co workers who did not understand the need to have privacy and quiet with the door closed will certainly get the hint when there is such a sign displayed. This sign should be used sparingly because the effect of the message needs to be more of an exception, rather than a rule, in how one conducts business.
  3. Schedule meetings and appointments in blocks of time. - It is often helpful to schedule appointments and meetings in blocks of time to give the rest of the workday as time for uninterrupted work. For example, blocking off the morning for all times to meet with clients and co workers to handle business will leave the afternoon free for projects, writing reports and other professional documents. By planning the day in such a manner, one can address issues and, hopefully, ward off some interruptions that might have occurred later in the day.
  4. Forward the phone. - Another simple method of avoiding interruptions would be to forward the phone. Directing the calls straight to voicemail will prevent one from having to stop what they are doing and take the call. Turning off the ringer on the cell phone will also have the same result so that text messages and phone calls do not interrupt the work.
  5. Ask for help from a co worker. - If there is a co worker who is able to assist with the interruptions, seek out the person as he/she can be of great help. Having someone else assist with the interruptions will give the employee some time to focus on the projects and workload as needed.
  6. Pick a quiet time to work on important projects. - Employees often choose times to work on certain projects that are typically at a slower pace and quieter due to less staff being on site. For some employees, coming in to work at an earlier hour or even staying later than normal will provide that needed quiet, uninterrupted time.
  7. Consider a change in where the workspace is located. - It will behoove an employee to speak to his/her supervisor if they feel there are some unnecessary interruptions that are regularly causing a lot of disruption of work. In some situations, there might be an opportunity to move the work space to another area of the office to gain that needed break from interruptions. This move could be long term or simply temporary while the employee completes a certain challenging project. The location of the cubicle or office can be in a place where there is a lot of foot traffic between employees, gathering of employees for breaks, or near the front door with people coming and going from the outside. Making a change in geography of the workspace might be a prudent move for an employee with a "loud" office environment.
  8. Speak to the supervisor - If the issue of interruptions is due to some inconsiderate or incompetent co workers who are busying themselves and others with disruptive activities, it may be time to speak to the supervisor who can address any employee relations issues that are causing disharmony in the workplace.

There are many reasons that employees have their focus and attention disrupted in the workplace. The suggestions above are simply ideas to assist in the completion of the work. While there are certainly other methods available to avoiding disruptions, consider the points mentioned above as possible solutions to the interruptions that are bringing havoc to the job. Also, an employee experiencing the interruptions should notify their boss if things do not improve. Since the performance of the employee will be measured for meeting expectations, it is important to notify the supervisor if there are elements in the work environment which are preventing work from getting completed in a timely manner.

Some closing thoughts...

Interruptions are a common phenomenon in just about every work environment. Employees have learned to balance telephone calls, texts, emails and unplanned visitors within the normal workload that is attached to the job. There are different methods of dealing with the interruptions that will solve the immediate problem that presents the disruption in the workplace. If, however, an employee finds the interruptions are disruptive and outside of their ability to deal with, the employee must seek guidance from the supervisor to communicate the issue. Staying organized in the work and including the supervisor when things get out of hand will be sufficient action to deal with interruptions.


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