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Schedule Time for Interruptions
by On February 22, 2008

Eric PlantenbergOne of the most challenging situations people face when planning their day is how to stick to their schedule when they are constantly being interrupted. Just when your activities are organized, someone else’s emergency seems to get in the way. A client has a crisis, co-workers are in a jam, your boss is breathing down your neck, a friend calls, or any of the dozens of other interruptions you face on any given day.

So what can you do to keep your day on track?

Schedule time for interruptions.

That’s right, just as you would schedule a meeting with a customer or event with your boss, scheduling a specific time in your day for interruptions is a technique that our students nation wide continually tell us is one of the most powerful time management tips they have ever used.

How does this work?

There are two components.

1. As you are planning your day or week, allot a certain amount of time for the sole purpose of dealing with ‘other people’s emergencies.’

What normally happens when someone calls or comes running into your office with something that they need your immediate help with? You drop whatever you are in the middle of and rush to their attention. Not only is their issue something that may not be of any importance to you, but I recently heard that it takes most people around 20 minutes to return to the level of focus they had before being interrupted.

Wonder where those ‘lost hours’ go each day? Rebounding from all your interruptions!

But we do not want to tell our clients, managers, and co-workers that we aren’t there for them… so now you can have the best of both. You have a specific time predetermined in your day that you are available for ‘scheduled interruptions.’ Instead to denying the requests of others, you can simply say, “I would happy to help at 3:00 pm (or what ever time you have scheduled for interruptions.)” And then stick to that commitment. Interestingly, most of the time, the person will find a solution in the time he or she waits for you to be available.

2. The second component is to stick to your schedule and communicate to others when you are available for them and when you are not.

For instance, you can send an email or leave a note on your office door that says, “I will be working diligently on XYZ from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm, if you have any questions for me, contact me after 3:00 pm.” If this seems unrealistic or impractical, that is because you have never tried it! In the long run, your boss with be impressed that you are getting more done, you will have more quality time to prevent most of your clients’ crises, and your coworkers will learn that you are not at their beck and call.

A frequent question people ask is: “How much interruption time do I need to schedule and when should I schedule it?”

That, of course, is going to vary from person to person, but as a general rule, I say as much as you need and when it is convenient for you. If you are the manager of a large group of people, you are going to have more people knocking on your door for help with their challenges than if you are just getting started with a company.

Try out the amount you think will be adequate and you will quickly realize if it’s the right amount for your needs. Most people find that right before or after lunch makes sense, as that is an easy breaking time in the middle of the day.

After you have tried this technique of a week or so, share your experience by posting a comment below.

Feel free post any questions regarding handling interruptions as well.

Be Free!

Eric Plantenberg

  1. Loren

    As a working mom of small children, I can say that this is really a worthwhile practice! I am used to feeling pulled in many directions with other people’s emergencies-husband, kids, work, parents, dog…sometimes I find my self standing in the middle of the room not knowing which direction I should head first. I am sure many of you know what I mean! Scheduling time for inturruptions is a HUGE stress reliever. I know when unexpected tasks pop up, I already have time for that. Quite opposite from the usual negative reaction which makes me feel like I am barely keeping my head above water. As a Mom, it is a bit hard to include kids (especially the littler ones!) in that group. There is not much you can to to prepare for the unexpected school nurse call when your child is throwing up at school. But if you allow time for the rest of the inturruptions, those instances are less overwhelming. When creating your schedule, schedule time with you kids. I have homework time, reading time, meals, and playing time worked into my day. Knowing the family time schedule AND scheduling everything else to happen outside of that time keeps the kid-related inturruptions to a minimum. They can’t inturrupt you when you are with them!

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