Unless we seriously have nothing to do, introverts hate interruptions when they’re trying to work. Interruptions not only temporarily take us away from the task we’re trying to complete, they destroy our concentration and may set us back hours trying to get back to where we left off. Some interruptions are important, such as when our boss comes and says, “We need to talk.” Others, such as the guy who’s walking around looking for someone to talk to about nothing, should be prevented from ever making even a ripple in our focused attention to our work.
I used to think I had to be receptive to all interruptions, because I’m in IT and everyone else is my “customer,” but really I owe it to the company and to myself to concentrate and get my work done. What would it be like if you went to the dentist and he kept getting called away because someone had dropped by with “a quick question” or he had to answer his phone? You’d hate that, because it would take him three times as long to finish what he’s doing to you. And you also know that you can’t just drop by or call and interrupt him at will. He values his time to do his tasks. Likewise you and your task deserve respect too. We can’t afford to be unpleasant to coworkers, but we do teach people how to treat us, so we need to remember that our time is important too.
How can we avoid some interruptions entirely?
For the phone or email, we can simply ignore or even disconnect those things for a while. I do like to respond to email pretty quickly to avoid having it escalate to a phone call or deskside visit, but if I’m trying to get something done I’ll get it done fastest if I concentrate on that one thing and do it.
For in person interruptions, people are a lot less likely to start talking to you if you are on the phone, busily typing something and staring intently at your screen, or at least frowning to yourself a bit as you look at what you’re reading. Sometimes I’ll hear a known interruptor coming and actually pick up my phone for a quick fake call until he has passed by. I remember when my desk was in a cubicle area with other IT folks – everyone in the suite would come to tell us in person if they had the vaguest problem with anything that plugged in to the wall. “Jerry can’t print.” “My invoices won’t run..” I’d always look up as I heard an interruptor coming, thinking that it would all be over faster if I just met him head on and took care of the problem. But the guy who sat across from me started keeping his back turned to the opening of his cube and not turning around unless someone called his name specifically. Guess who almost never got interrupted?
We can’t sit and just do our work and refuse to look up when someone approaches and starts talking, but I have found that interruptions are a lot fewer and faster if I deliberately wait a few seconds before looking up. In other words, if you let someone catch your eye, they have your attention and the interruption has already occurred. Think about it – if you had to go tell a VP at your company something, when would you be most likely to go barging into his office? If he looks at you as you approach. If he doesn’t look up, is on the phone, or is otherwise obviously busy, I think I’d go back to my desk and email him!
How can we cut interruptions short?
To shorten an interruption, try to keep the person on the topic they came to ask you about. If they start off on a tangent, don’t ask them a question about the new subject or pursue the side conversation, even if it feels like that is expected. Politely determine what the person needs, then you can either take care of it or tell them that you have a deadline or other reason, and tell them what time you expect to address their issue.
If they just don’t seem to get it, go ahead and stand up, gathering your pen and notebook, as if you are about to go to another meeting. So what if that meeting is with the water fountain at the end of the hall? Don’t get angry or show your impatience (this is the hardest part for me) – just do this in a professional and pleasant manner and the hope is that they’ll thank you and walk away without even thinking about it.
I’ve always had a guest chair by my desk, but after many, many times of having a visitor who won’t leave, these days I have finally learned to put the guest chair almost out of sight or maybe even have some books or other things on it. The smart guy who kept his back to the room when we were in cubicles? When he was told he could get a guest chair to go with his new desk, he told the boss, “A guest chair sends the wrong message.” I’m learning!
Photo credit: lanuiop