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Being an Intelligent Interrupter

Being an Intelligent Interrupter

Interrupting a colleague can be necessary at times while it is vital we all understand the disruption this can cause and work to mitigate the negative impacts an interruption is likely to create. The impact of interruptions on productivity can vary depending on the nature of the interruption and the individual's ability to refocus after being interrupted.


Research on these topics proves just how damaging interruptions are for everyone.

Basex, a research firm, estimated that knowledge workers lose up to 2.1 hours per day due to interruptions and distractions. This amounts to 28% of the average workday, more when in an open plan office. Another notable study conducted by Gloria Mark and her colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, found that the average knowledge worker is interrupted every three minutes and five seconds. Gloria also found in a collaboration with researchers from Humboldt University in Berlin, that on average we spend 11 minutes on a task before being interrupted. And moreover, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully return to productive levels on the original task.

From the above example and other research projects we know that interruptions do have a significant impact on productivity, efficiency, and overall well-being in the workplace. Minimizing unnecessary interruptions and creating an environment that supports focused work can help mitigate these costs and improve productivity.

Interruptions at work can vary widely depending on the nature of the job, the workplace environment, and individual work habits.


Here are some common types of interruptions experienced in many workplaces:

  • Colleague Interruptions: These interruptions occur when coworkers stop by your desk or office to ask questions, discuss projects, or engage in casual conversation.
  • Phone Calls: Incoming phone calls, whether from colleagues, clients, or external parties, can disrupt workflow and concentration.
  • Emails and Instant Messages: Notifications from emails and instant messaging platforms can constantly interrupt workflow as individuals feel compelled to respond immediately.
  • Technical Issues: Technical problems such as computer crashes, software glitches, or network failures can disrupt workflow and require troubleshooting time.
  • Unexpected Tasks or Requests: Sudden requests from supervisors or unexpected tasks can disrupt planned work and require immediate attention.
  • Environmental Distractions: Noise, office chatter, and other environmental factors can interrupt concentration and focus on tasks.
  • Personal Interruptions: Personal matters such as phone calls, texts, or family emergencies can interrupt work and require immediate attention.


The costs and productivity losses associated with interruptions in the workplace can be significant.


Here are some of the key ways interruptions can impact productivity and efficiency:

  • Loss of Focus: Interruptions disrupt concentration and focus on the task at hand. When employees are interrupted, they often need time to refocus their attention, which can lead to decreased productivity and quality of work.
  • Time Wasted: Interruptions consume valuable time, both for the person being interrupted and the person initiating the interruption. Studies have shown that it can take several minutes to regain full concentration after an interruption, leading to time wasted on task-switching.
  • Decreased Efficiency: Constant interruptions can disrupt workflow and hinder the completion of tasks in a timely manner. Employees may find it challenging to work efficiently when they are constantly interrupted throughout the day.
  • Increased Errors: Interruptions can lead to errors and mistakes in work. When employees are distracted or have their train of thought disrupted, they may overlook important details or make errors that could have been avoided.
  • Stress and Frustration: Constant interruptions can cause stress and frustration among employees. Feeling constantly interrupted can lead to feelings of overwhelm and decrease job satisfaction and morale.
  • Impact on Creativity and Problem-Solving: Interruptions can disrupt the creative process and hinder problem-solving abilities. Employees need uninterrupted time to think critically and come up with innovative solutions to challenges.
  • Missed Deadlines and Goals: If interruptions prevent employees from focusing on their tasks, it can lead to missed deadlines and failure to meet goals. This can have broader implications for the organization's overall performance and success.
  • Negative Impact on Relationships: Constantly interrupting colleagues can strain relationships and communication within teams. It can create a sense of disrespect and lack of consideration for each other's time and priorities.
  • Long-Term Effects on Health and Wellbeing: Chronic interruptions can contribute to increased stress levels and burnout among employees. Over time, this can have negative effects on their mental and physical health, as well as their overall job satisfaction.


What to do about interruptions.

To mitigate the impact of interruptions, organizations can implement strategies such as setting aside uninterrupted work time, establishing clear communication protocols, and providing training on time management and prioritization skills. Individuals can also take steps to minimize interruptions by setting boundaries, managing their workload effectively, and using tools and techniques to maintain focus and concentration.

Being an intelligent interrupter of colleagues involves finding a balance between respecting their time and priorities while also ensuring that necessary communication and collaboration can occur efficiently.


Here are some tips to become an intelligent interrupter:

  • Assess the Urgency: Before interrupting a colleague, consider whether the matter is truly urgent and requires immediate attention. If it can wait, consider sending an email or scheduling a meeting instead.
  • Choose the Right Time: Interrupting a colleague at the wrong time can be disruptive and counterproductive. Look for opportune moments when they appear to be less busy or during designated collaboration periods. Look for a natural pause or break before interjecting.
  • Be Concise: Keep your interruption brief and to the point. State your message clearly and succinctly to minimize disruption to the conversation. Show respect to their current workload and priorities.
  • Provide Context: Clearly state the reason for the interruption to provide context for your colleague. This helps them understand the importance and urgency of the matter you're addressing.
  • Use Polite Language: Begin your interruption with polite language, such as "Excuse me," or "I'm sorry to interrupt." This demonstrates courtesy and consideration for your colleague.
  • Express Relevance: Provide a brief explanation of why your interruption is relevant to the focus of the business, and ideally their work also. This helps your colleague understand the purpose behind your interruption and its importance.
  • Be Open to Feedback: If your colleague seems busy or indicates that they prefer not to be interrupted at that moment, respect their boundaries and be open to scheduling a more appropriate time to discuss the matter.
  • Offer Solutions, Not Just Problems: If you're interrupting to address an issue or seek assistance, come prepared with potential solutions or suggestions. This demonstrates initiative and can streamline the problem-solving process.
  • Practice Active Listening: When interrupting, actively listen to your colleague's response and feedback. This shows respect for their input and fosters better communication and collaboration.
  • Use Nonverbal Cues: Pay attention to nonverbal cues that indicate whether your colleague is receptive to being interrupted. If they appear focused or busy, consider waiting for a more suitable time. Before speaking, make eye contact with your colleague to signal your intention to interrupt. This helps avoid catching them off guard and shows that you respect their attention.
  • Be Selective: Be selective about when you choose to interrupt your colleagues. Reserve interruptions for matters that genuinely require immediate attention or collaboration.
  • Follow Up if Necessary: If your interruption requires further discussion or follow-up, offer to continue the conversation at a more convenient time for your colleague. This shows consideration for their schedule and priorities.
  • Express Gratitude: After the interruption, express gratitude for your colleague's time and attention. Acknowledge their willingness to assist or address the matter and thank them for their cooperation.
  • Avoid Overusing Interruptions: Reserve interruptions for situations where they are truly necessary. Constantly interrupting can disrupt the flow of conversation and may be perceived as disrespectful.

By following these tips, you can become a more considerate and effective interrupter, fostering positive communication and collaboration with your colleagues.


Alternatives to interruptions.

If you think of something to ask a colleague but don't want to interrupt them, there are several alternatives you can consider:

  • Email or Instant Message: Send your colleague a brief email or instant message with your question. This allows them to respond at their convenience without interrupting their current tasks.
  • Schedule a Meeting: If your question requires a more in-depth discussion, consider scheduling a meeting with your colleague. This gives both of you dedicated time to address the issue without disrupting their workflow.
  • Use a Collaboration Tool: Many workplaces use collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or similar platforms. You can post your question in a relevant channel or send a direct message, allowing your colleague to respond when they have a moment.
  • Leave a Note: If your question is non-urgent, consider leaving a note on your colleague's desk or workspace. This way, they can see your inquiry when they return and respond at their convenience.
  • Ask Another Colleague: If your question is something that another colleague might know the answer to, consider asking them instead. This allows you to get the information you need without interrupting the colleague you initially thought of.
  • Utilize Shared Documents or Resources: If your question relates to a specific project or document, consider checking shared documents or resources first. You might find the information you need without needing to ask your colleague directly.
  • Save the Question for Later: If your question is not time-sensitive, consider jotting it down and revisiting it later. You can bring it up during your next meeting or conversation with your colleague when it's more appropriate.
  • Offer an Opportunity for Feedback: Sometimes, you can frame your question as seeking feedback rather than needing an immediate answer. This gives your colleague the option to respond when they have the time and capacity to do so.

By considering these alternatives, you can communicate effectively with your colleagues without disrupting their workflow or productivity.

In Summary.

Interruptions in the workplace can have a wide range of negative consequences, including decreased productivity, increased errors, and negative impacts on employee wellbeing. Minimizing unnecessary interruptions and fostering a culture of respect for focused work can help mitigate these effects and improve overall productivity and efficiency.

For more information please send a message via the Contact Us Page. Or you can register for an upcoming webinar.

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