Whether you work in a typical office job, alone in an art studio, or always on the go, the goal you have is just to do your work. Simple enough, right?
Dealing with Interruptions
That is, until the interruptions come. People whose deadlines are approaching and need your input, urgent tasks that suddenly arrive, parts of a project that take much longer than expected, family commitments, etc. We all get interrupted, and it can really take a toll on our work and increase our stress level.
So, how does one deal with interruptions? We need to get our composing in. We still have our own deadlines. And we do need to interrupt others, too, because that is how life happens.
Yes, interruptions are annoying. But, the first step to dealing with them is practicing patience. One book that helped me hone my patience was Buddhism Plain and Simple: The Practice of Being Aware, Right Now, Every Day. (You can ignore the “Buddhism” part, for most purposes.)
This book helped me practice and establish a habit of observing myself, my emotions, and my actions. By practicing being an observer, I am able to recognize my emotions when interrupted, how jarred my focus is when I am interrupted, and how I react to those around me when they interrupt me.
So, when I am interrupted, I take a breath in and out, observe my initial anxiety, realize that the person is likely coming to me for a good reason, realize that I can get my work done if I manage things right, and not make the person who interrupted me feel like they are being a burden. Granted, I am still really bad at the last part (not making the person who interrupted me feel like they are being a burden). My face gives away my anxiety and I do make the person feel like they are a burden even as I work to readjust to the (usually pressing) issue causing the interruption.
But, if you are interrupted for not a good reason, or if you are constantly being interrupted, it is time to set boundaries.
Yes, other people have problems. But, lack of planning on someone else’s part does not constitute an emergency on your part. Mistakes made by others are not a reason to interrupt your entire workflow. Cleaning up messes made by others is likely not your primary job.
So, when someone keeps interrupting you, interrupts you for frivolous reasons, and is relying on you to solve their problems/do their work for them, set a boundary. Here are some common phrases you can use to set those boundaries.
- “Yes, I can do that, but…” (egs. I need more time, I will take care of it later today, I can do it after X project or Y task, I have a pressing deadline, etc.)
- “Yes, I can do that, and…” (egs. I think there is an easier way to do this, I think you actually can do this faster than me, I can show you how do to this for the future)
- “Why don’t you check in X resource/website/directions? I can show you where they are or give you the link.”
- “I think we (or X coworker) went over this in Y training; perhaps you can review your notes, or check in with X coworker? I think you can do this.”
- “I agree that this needs to get done, but since it isn’t critical at the moment, perhaps we can back-burner it for a while?”
Keep Things in Perspective
Dealing with interruptions is a prime exercise in determining what to worry about and what not to. Frankly, there are some hills to die on in battle, and some hills to steer away from. One book that really helped me establish a practice of choosing what to care about versus what to not, based on examining my values and choosing good values, is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.
The book is actually not as crass as it seems. It really is a values-based approach to living a fuller life through choosing what you care about and what isn’t worth your worries. When you are interrupted and don’t let other people’s sense of urgency stress you (because you have chosen what to worry about and what not to), the interruptions are much more manageable. These things happen, and it is better to stick to your values than have a knee-jerk reaction and get super stressed right away.
Dealing with interruptions sucks, plain and simple. They are a normal aspect of life, though. By being patient, setting boundaries, and keeping things in perspective they become less and less of a problem. You can still get your work done through managing your coworkers, workload, and by being an advocate for yourself. And don’t forget that you cause interruptions as well.