How Admins Can Seize Control of Their Productivity (Pssst … Get Rid of Interruptions)

Everyone gets interrupted at work, but administrative assistants, by the nature of their jobs, probably get interrupted more than most. Not only does she work for at least one boss (and sometimes multiple bosses), she is the conduit between the boss and the rest of the organization. But, as an admin, when you’re on deadline and trying to get a project off your desk, who among us hasn’t cringed upon hearing, “Hey … you got a minute?” from a co-worker? In an instant, that speeding locomotive that was your train of thought gets derailed.  So, how can you put the brakes on interruptions in the office?

Interruptions and distractions are everywhere in most offices. They’re part of every workplace. And they’re not just people. They’re the clutter on your desk, the unfiled documents — both on your desk and on your computer desktop. Sure, social media is a distraction at work, but at least you choose the timing of these diversions—like the “coffee break” of old.

Why should you care about interruptions and distractions if they’re going to happen anyway?

In addition to lost time and productivity, distractions can also cause errors. You go back to the project you were working on, and the interruption causes you to lose your place, or forget a key date or component. In the health-care industry, one field where mistakes can have dire consequences, distractions and interruptions have been linked to errors in patient care. Many health-care organizations have developed systematic approaches to interruptions—a list of critical tasks that shouldn’t be interrupted—along with methods to keep them from happening.

While consequences in many other fields don’t have such extreme effects, the rest of us can borrow ideas to make the office a better place to work. Then, you won’t have to sneak into the office incredibly early or stay depressingly late, just to get your work done without distractions.

What’s the solution to cut down on interruptions?

Here are a few suggestions you can put in place today, as well as a few others:

  1. No-talk Tuesdays. Establish a day or afternoon of silence where coworkers can’t speak to each other unless 100% work-related. This will enable you and the rest of the department to get more stuff done because it’s uninterrupted. Trust us … once everyone gets used to it, they’ll love it when they become much more productive.
  2. Switch from active communication (face-to-face) to passive (email, instant messaging, or collaboration products). While email or messaging is also distracting, it’s at a time of your choice.
  3. Cancel the next scheduled meeting if you’re in charge of it. If it is a simple follow-up or a weekly status meeting for projects, skip one. Obviously, if it is a critical meeting on something important, or you have people coming in from out of town, don’t cancel that. Wait until the next one.
  4. Clean up your work area. Clutter around your computer, when it’s in your field of vision, is distracting your thoughts. Move it to a drawer, a folder, a place where you can’t see it while you work.
  5. Choose to check emails and other passive communication less frequently. Very few things are so urgent that you need to read them the moment they pop up.
  6. Put up a sign that signals coworkers that you are not to be interrupted because you’re involved in something that requires 100 percent focus. Nicely let your coworkers know about this new signal and the reason for it.
  7. Be aware. Stop interrupting other people. Think about just how urgent your need is—will something fall apart if you don’t get it … right … this … second? If you round the corner of a colleague’s cube or office and see him or her deeply immersed in something, go back to your desk and send an email.

Let’s be honest, some work interruptions add variety to your day and help with work relationships. (All work and no play can be dull.) But, when interruptions and distractions affect your productivity and interrupt your thoughts on a regular basis, it might be time to make some changes. The time you lose isn’t just the time of the interruption; it’s also the time it takes for you to regain your momentum and to recover your ideas

(Today is #AdministrativeProfessionalsDay and we’d like to thank you for all that you do in offices around the world, and thank you for letting us be even a little part of your career path!)

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