How Do You Handle Interruptions?

In my consulting role, I’m often asked how to handle interruptions.  I watch.  It’s amazing what I find.

Interruptions are what you set up.  If you set it up that you are open to interruptions any time, anywhere, that’s what you’ll get.  If you set it up that people need to respect your time, then that’s what the result will be. 

I can hear you now – I’ve heard it so many times before – the big BUT – I know – I don’t understand!  I do – only too well.  I promise you that, if I watched you operate, I could find many ways to stop the interruptions.  Mainly, it’s about one thing.

It’s called boundaries.  It’s not something I understood very well either at one point in my career.  As a manager, I thought I had to have my door open all the time and accept interruptions from anyone and everyone – after all, my boss was important, my clients were important, my staff was important, my personal connections were important – everyone was important!  The one I forgot about was me – I was important too and so was my work.

Who taught me that lesson?  A boss I had once.  Couldn’t stand him and I was glad it was a short contract.  The worst boss I ever had and yet I learned this important rule from him – me first and then everyone else.

Sounds quite egotistical, doesn’t it?  It isn’t.  It’s sound time management practice! 

Who is the most important person in your life?  YOU.  If it isn’t, then I urge you to reconsider.

It’s critical to your mental health, physical health, career health, personal and business relationship health and your stress levels that you begin to embrace this idea.  You first and everyone and everything else a far second! 

Hard to do?  You bet.  For most people, this is especially difficult to do especially women.  Women have been trained to subjugate themselves to everyone else’s needs – husband, children, parents, bosses, colleagues, etc.   It’s time to stop!  Now!

When you think of time, think with you first – your sanity.  Many people think they have a lot of time – they don’t!  No one has. 

Think about it – 24 hours in a day – out of those 24 hours, we spend 8 hours sleeping or getting ready for bed and sleeping.  That leaves 16 hours in a day.  Our preparing food and  eating takes at least 2 hours. That leaves 14 hours.  Out of 14 hours, most people spend 10 hours commuting to work, working and community back from work.  That leaves 4 hours.  Where will you put “Me” in that 4 hours?

At work, let’s say you work 8 hours.  Out of the 8 hours. there is an hour spend on lunch, two 15-minute breaks, leaving 6.5 hours to get work done.  That’s a lot of hours you say.   Really? 

Let’s say you go to the bathroom or get a glass of water or tea 5 times for 4 minutes each – 20 minutes gone – so now we have 6 hours and 10 minutes.  

Now, let’s say you want to get a report done but . . . .

  • someone has just had a tragedy occur and they need to leave early – they’re crying in your office and you know you have to calm them down before they leave – that’s an hour gone.  5 hours 10 minutes left
  • then, your boss wants to talk to you and so does your colleague about a project you’re doing together – that’s another hour gone.  4 hours 10 minutes left

 Good chunk right? 

  • well, you discover that you are missing some information you thought you had.  It takes you a half hour to track it down.  3 hours 40 minutes left

Ready?  Write. 

  • But the phone rings and you answer it. 
  • An email comes in from your spouse, you answer that. 
  • Three people come in to ask a question. 
  • You search for something on the internet and find that you’ve forgotten some data you should really put into your report – it’s important. 
  • A colleague comes in to talk about something personal  POOF!  3 hours gone! 

Now you have 40 minutes – you barely get through the introduction. 

You either stay late or take it home (remember, you only have 4 hours left in your day) or hope that tomorrow it’ll get done in-between everything else you have scheduled.

It happens all the time – how do you deal with it?

1.  Close the door.  If you don’t have a door, create a makeshift one – a ribbon across your cubicle entrance – “I can’t right now” or “Busy” or “Can we talk later”.  If you don’t have a door and someone knocks, don’t answer!  That’s right – don’t answer.  If someone unsticks your ribbon, just say, “Hey.  I just can’t talk right now.  Do you want to make an appointment with me?  Would you email me?”  (yes, I know, it’s tough when they’ve “invaded” your territory and insist on disrespecting your space and time)

2.  Teach people to respect your boundaries – train them to set appointments with you.  Block off time when you’ll accept appointments and set appointments with people during that time – yes, even your boss!  The rest of the time, you schedule the work that needs to get done.

3.  As a manager, you must connect with each team member.  Set appointments throughout the week to meet with each of them for updates and discussions.  I like the idea of having a staff meeting every single Friday morning too with an agenda, time allocation for each agenda item and sticking with the time allocated.

4.  Don’t answer emails, phone calls, etc. while you are working on something such as a report.  Focus.  Set particular times to answer emails, phone calls, etc.

5.  Respect yourself and your time.  If you do, others will too.  Why?  Because if you respect yourself and your time, you’ll have the fortitude to “train” people to respect your time by making appointments, not interrupting you and not expecting them to be at their disposal whenever they wish.  Set the boundaries.  The first one is always the hardest.  Start by getting people to set appointments with you, letting everyone know you’ll be answering emails 3 times per day, you’ll be taking calls between such and such hours, and your working hours are between such and such.  Will they think you’ve gone goofy?  Yes.  So what.  In the end, you’ll have their respect and you’ll have time to get your work done!  What a novel idea!  Less stress – more peace – wouldn’t that be nice!  It can be.


Lorraine Arams

Hannibal on Determination: We will either find a way or make one.


How do you make time for education?  Easy.  Time management in this area has many benefits.

This is one task that you can do in “bites”.  I personally hate thinking about cutting down a task into “bite sized pieces” because it usually doesn’t work.  Often, it takes me more time to cut down the project then to actually do it.  I’m a “blocker” – I prefer to block off good chunks of time and feel I’ve made progress in the project rather than splitting my attention.  However, as with all time management practices, there is a time and place to use them where they suit you. 

Education is one of those tasks which can be cut up into pieces easily.  Why?  Because of the nature of education; education is not a one shot, one book, one course or even one class process.  It’s on-going.  Learning something new is a process which cannot be rushed – we need the facts or the rules or methodology, then we need to understand it, process the learning and assimilate it into our world to the point that we can actually use it.  Therefore, learning can only be done in small increments and that’s great for time management purposes.  Education or, if you prefer to call it learning, is a lifelong process which can be incorporated into your life forever. 

A day without learning is a day wasted – we need to be learning every day otherwise we become stale and set in our ways.  Ever notice some people who come out of university, land a job and never think of learning again unless their company sends them on a training course?  What happens?  They get very “old” very quickly – their energy becomes “un-vibrant” and they lose their spark.  Stop learning = start growing old really fast even at 25!  We’ve all met 25 year olds who seem as though they are 105!

Make it a point to learn every day.  Pick a topic or topics you want to learn about – eg hiking, reading financial statements, chess, HTML, website design, bridge, skating – whatever new interest you want to develop.  Schedule the learning – it could be as little as 15 minutes a day during your lunch hour but imagine, in a week, you’ve put in one hour and 15 minutes learning something new!  In a month, 5 hours, you’ll likely have learned what you need to know to put it into practice! 

Imagine if you learned even 6 new things every year of your life, how interesting your conversations would be, how many people you would meet and what a fascinating person you would become in conversation.     At work, every day learning can have huge impacts on your career when directed at continuously improving your knowledge and experience.  Experience is the most important learning.  The benefits are enormous.

Bite-size time management techniques work wonderfully in building an incredible background of knowledge and experience throughout your lifetime.


How Can You Become Aware of Time?

Someone asked me what was the best way of becoming aware of time.  Some people have internal clocks – they can tell you what time it is even without a watch, they know exactly when to leave to get to a meeting without physical reminders and no matter what they are doing, they can remember appointments.

Most people aren’t wired that way.  Becoming conscious of time takes a more physical approach. 

Here are three ways to train yourself in becoming more aware of time, time intervals, and the amount of time it takes to accomplish tasks:

1.  During the day, set your computer to remind you with sound of everything you do in a day.  For instance, on your computer calendar, put in some recurring instances as well as current day’s tasks.  This works for most people because it is tactile, audible and visual – the computer pops up a box telling you what to do at what time.  It is one of the most effective ways to become conscious of time and time intervals and, now with PDAs, it works even better because at meetings or in other places or situations in which you find yourself during the day, your PDA will at least vibrate to let you know what time it is and a visual of the reminder.

Recurring tasks could include:  8:30 am – start work/answer emails; 9 am make calls; 10 am coffee break; 10:15 am project work; 12 noon lunch; 1 pm resume work/emails; 2:30 pm coffee break;  3:00 pm clear desk; 3:30 pm project work; 5 pm workout 

2.   Get a watch with an alarm on it and set it go off every 15 minutes or half hour until you can start predicting when the watch will go off and your internal clock has been established.  This idea works for some people and for others, it just becomes a nuissance.  Either way, a person becomes aware of minutes ticking away and what a time span feels like.

3.   Set up time a series of small clocks in front of your computer or on your desk somewhere with a second hand or an electronic clock which reads hours, minutes and, if you can, seconds.  Set each clock to a time in another country.  For instance, if it is 3 pm in New York City where you live, then set one of the clocks to Los Angeles time which would be 6 pm.  This is of course very useful if you are working for a multi-national corporation but it is also an interesting way to become conscious of time.  It’s like a game in awareness.  The added bonus with this one is that it can give you a mental break for a few seconds.  For instance, let’s say you’d love to holiday in Switzerland, the Bahamas and China.  Set the clocks for those time zones, put a label on each clock and you get to have a mini-vacation every day throughout the day when you look at them – a goal reminder perhaps and an incentive to keep looking at them instead of their fading into the background of everything else on your desk.

Try one of these ways for time awareness, time consumption, and to help build an internal clock when it comes to time.  It just might help.  Let me know how it works out for you.

Lorraine Arams


Texting – A New Addiction! Has it taken over your life?

Texting – the new addiction!  Has it taken over your life?

People keep talking about how little time they have and how they can’t live without their cell phone.  But, if you simply watch people on the street, you’ll see that cell phone calling and texting has become an addiction.  How can you tell?

It’s that constant chatter – one call after another or the constant texting – an hour bus ride is completely consumed by texting!  It’s not just one person on the bus either and it’s not only a certain age group – it’s amazing how one gadget which was suppose to save time is actually eating up people’s time at an incredible rate!

Is it connecting?  Perhaps.  At some level, it’s connecting; at another level it’s just another way to shut out the world.  Gauge the reactions – if the cell phone dies, there are two reactions

  1. “I’m lost” look – what am I going to do with myself now?
  2. Anger – a raging look appears on their faces and they become very agitated

It doesn’t take a psychiatrist or psychologist to understand the reaction.

Oprah has asked people to sign a pledge not to text while driving!  Imagine, Oprah asking people to sign a pledge not to do something frighteningly dangerous! 

Driving today – you need to watch for bicycles, rollerbladers, pedestrians, children, animals, crazy drivers, skateboarders, motorcyclists and everyone else on the road – how can anyone in their right mind ever think that texting is a safe thing to do while driving?  That’s how pervasive texting has become – people texting while driving!  Is that reasonable?  Of course, not because they may kill themselves or someone else or both in the process.  Imagine texting even though it may cost you your life! 

Next time you pick up your cell phone to call or text, ask yourself:  “Is it really necessary that I make this call or send this text?”  Not only are you using up your time but you’re using up someone else’s time too.

Reality check:  Has texting taken over my life?

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