How to Prevent Others From Interrupting Your Productivity

One of the top productivity excuses I hear in the workplace is… people keep interrupting me. 

After all, I could get my stuff done if others weren’t constantly disturbing me.

What do you do when co-workers are preventing you from getting things done?

Excuse Me, I’m Working Here…

One of the top cited sources of non-productivity in the workplace is interruptions.

Disorganized and noisy workplaces don’t make for productive teams.

In the name of teamwork, cost-savings, and openness, companies setup workspaces that actually encourage interruptions.

“Many companies set themselves up for failure by creating work environments that are counter-productive. 

Small cubicles, open meeting rooms, a limited offices may provide a team-like atmosphere…

But, they don’t lead to completed work or productive workers.”

Despite good intentions of team-friendly environments, many companies end up with chaos looking like a battle-scene from the movie Braveheart.

While socialization and teamwork is crucial to the workforce, so is getting actual work done.

Creativity and new ideas require long periods of uninterrupted work.

Does your workplace provide areas conducive to getting work done?

Or is it contributing to your team being unproductive?

Stop Interrupting Me!

What can you do if your workplace is a center of chaos and non-productivity?

Here are 7 Ways to Prevent Others From Interrupting Your Productivity:

  1. Go Someplace Quiet – Go to your Fortress of Solitude. It may be a quiet conference room. It may be on a floor away from your desk or office. Sometimes it is where you work. If your workplace allows a flexible work schedule, then work remotely for part of your time.
  2. Shut The Door – Doors were made for a reason, and sometimes they are intended to be shut. Don’t let misguided “Open Door Policies” prevent you from getting work done. And when you are finished, by all means, open that door!
  3. Signal Your Isolation – Your co-workers might not take kindly if you put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your desk. However, there are many great ways to signal to your co-workers that you are occupied at the moment. It could be as simple as putting on headphones. Your co-workers will be less likely to interrupt you if they understand you are busy.
  4. Work When Others Are Not – One of the best ways to avoid interruptions is work when there are less of them. If you can flex your time, then come in early or stay late and work when there are fewer interruptions.
  5. Turn Off the Interruptions – It is ironic when people get frustrated with interruptions, yet they continue to let them happen. No one said you had to answer that phone. Turn off the email notifications and phone chimes, too.
  6. Play That Music – Music is a great way to isolate yourself from disturbances and drive your productivity. Often, just the mere practice of wearing headphones will prevent others from disturbing you. (See #3.)
  7. Put On Your Blinders – When you must get work done, put on your productivity blinders. Concentrate on the task and hand and shut out the interruptions. Try working with you back to the door. Tell those that do stop by that you will have to get back to them in a short while. Stay on task unless you absolutely have to be stopped.

Work Without the Interruptions

Interruptions break your productivity flow and hard work.

Take steps to minimize the disturbances when you are doing important tasks.

By minimizing the interruptions in your day, you will complete your work that much sooner.

Perhaps, you can finish and head out while others are still interrupting each other.

Question: How do you prevent interruptions in the workplace?

24 thoughts on “How to Prevent Others From Interrupting Your Productivity

  1. I work from home, which has required me to have a slightly different approach to avoiding interruptions. The big thing for me is to set regular work hours and to communicate very clearly with your family that you are working and shouldn’t be interrupted. It takes a while, but eventually everyone (including you) learns that working from home doesn’t mean endless relaxation and video games all day.

    1. @Loren Pinilis Working at home can present even more interruptions.

      Now… the video games… those sound self-inflicted… 🙂

  2. Great stuff. Something else that I’ve found helpful has been a scheduled designated day for uninterrupted work. It’s done wonders for my productivity. It builds a “do not disturb” expectation in those around you for that particular day of the week, which avoids any feelings of rejection.

    1. @kurt_bennett Kurt, great idea. Some companies designate a day every other week that is a “Productivity Day.” They turn off the email, ban meetings, and turn off the interruptions for this one day. 🙂

  3. Awesome list! I might also add, make a point of being available professionally and being social with colleagues some of the time too. Choose times when you ARE willing to be interrupted and keep your door open, headphones off, etc. Try to make progress on work that needs to get done but doesn’t require a lot of focus – catching up on email, filing, whatever. Also, be sure to reach out to people socially at work during breaks, lunches etc. There is a fine line between managing interruptions and signalling that you don’t want to connect at all – vs just signalling that this isn’t the time for it.

    1. @thekla_richter Absolutely! Great point. It is important to get work done, but also to be there for your team and co-workers.

  4. If you’re in an office environment, it’s a good idea to schedule two separate “task hours” each day when you can close your office door, and hold yourself personally responsible for staying focused on one specific task or project during this time. Great list Craig.

  5. Craig,
    This is a very current topic.
    The way I handle interruptions is to book a meeting room or work at home.
    I think that the biggest issue is the current (and common) office design (no walls at all).
    Although it may be good in team environment (for example, it is useful in software development), it is not always working in other cases.
    In fact, the reason I signed an remote work contract with my boss was just this reason – constant interruptions.

    1. @TMNinja Thank YOU for some great advice. We should exchange ideas and chat about productivity sometime. 🙂 have a good one!

  6. I worked in the automotive industry as a Materials Coordinator for a Japanese company a few years ago. All of the salaried workers were in a big room with desks facing one another in pairs. While this was great at promoting communication, it was awful for concentration. At a whim, someone would ask “Hey did you see____ on tv last night?” or something like that. I was responsible for planning all the materials flowing through the plant and I HAD to focus on the numbers. I ordered a laptop and would go work in a conference room. I was chastised repeatedly for needing “my own office” or being “too good to work with everyone else”. It was a very difficult environment for me and just could never get used to it.

  7. Very interesting read! I never really minded having company, my situation was that I loved wearing headphones while I worked at my desk. So I invented the Desk Attention device and has worked perfectly everyday. let me know what you think! Thanks!

  8. When the person interrupting is your boss who calls from the highway insisting that everyone gather around the conference table “right now” so that when he walks in we will all be there waiting for him. Incessant meetings and busy work (read, tasks that are impossible to complete fully because they rely on others taking your call and giving you the information requested….not without pulling teeth and instigating a FOIA request which I was much too busy to deal with).

    Needless to say they were doing it on purpose in hopes that I would quit. It became so impossible to get the work done in an 8 hour time frame that I had to bring the work home and do it there….which of course is not something I will ever do again because they sure did not appreciate it.

    That job did teach me a lot though. The most important lesson is never teach any of your skills to your coworkers and never ever help anyone out in any way shape or form – let them die by their own sword. Should you do anything to help, they will only turn around and throw you under the bus.

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