20 Tricks to Slowing Down (or Possibly Even Stopping) Interruptions at the Office

interruptionsAn overflowing inbox … a mountain of papers … a team needing feedback … and a packed calendar — can you get it all done? Not if people keep interrupting you! You’ve got to find ways for stopping interruptions before you go crazy.

It’s always important to be civil and polite to your co-workers. But sometimes you simply don’t have time to stand around and listen to their latest gossip, weekend plans or complaints about their latest work project. A critical part of being successful in your career is managing your time, energy and commitments. Ill-timed interruptions can blow your entire morning, if not your whole day.

So the next time you find yourself getting ready to be trapped in a conversation you don’t have time for, try these tips and tricks for stopping interruptions:

  1. Approach interrupters and say, “Walk with me.” Being mobile means they can’t put down roots in your office side chair and settle in for a long conversation.
  2. Put a sign on your chair that says what you’re working on.interruptions
  3. Hang your in-basket outside your cube or office.
  4. Say, specifically, what you’re working on and what value it has.
  5. Ask, “How much time do you want me to take away from this project so we can discuss the issue you have raised?”
  6. Schedule another time to meet with the interrupter in his or her work area.
  7. Use secret routes. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, or park at the other end of the building.
  8. Carry something important-looking in your hand, and frown at it as you walk.
  9. Hand the drop-in coworker something to deliver for you.
  10. Hold stand-up huddle meetings instead of sit-down discussions.
  11. Instead of motioning for people to come into your office, shake your head and mouth, “Need two hours more to get this done.”
  12. Persuade a coworker to call you if a regular interrupter enters the area.
  13. Take work from the interrupter with a comment that you want to review it tomorrow, when you’re fresh, and that you’ll schedule an appointment to discuss it with him or her.
  14. Get rid of the guest chairs near your desk.


  15. If you see an interrupter coming, pick up your phone and say, “Yes, I will finish that and get back to you in five minutes.”
  16. Duck into the restroom. Works best if interrupter is opposite gender, but be warned, they may hang outside the door to wait for you to come out.
  17. Use your email to specify meeting locations so people don’t keep asking you where the meeting is going to be.
  18. If someone says, “Do you have five minutes?” say, “No, but I have two” and stand up.
  19. Remove the candy dish from your office.
  20. Put pictures of your kids on your keyboard tray or on the back of your door. You’ll be able to see them, but they won’t invite people to converse.

I once channeled the parental side of my personality (I have four kids) when I was on two tight writing deadlines at the office. I hung a sign from the ceiling tile leading to my cubicle that read, “Do NOT bother me unless you’re bleeding. Otherwise, go ask your mother for help!”  I heard a few chuckles of laughter, but the only person who interrupted me was the company president. She had a huge grin on her face and asked me if she could borrow my sign for her office door, but change “mother” to “father.” I told her if she left me alone for another two hours, the sign was hers. Luckily, she got the joke.


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