Time Management Interruptions
Time Management Interruptions
Unwanted telephone calls and drop-in visitors cut into high-priority tasks like a meat cleaver. Time management interruptions can be so frustrating. Any interruption into our day and what we are trying to accomplish is annoying. While we outwardly endure time management interruptions, we most often inwardly resent the intrusion on our time.
When asked to suggest ways of handling time management interruptions or any interruption, most people produce a long list of tactics designed to ward off, ignore, or cut short any infringement on their time. They assume that handling interruptions is the same as getting rid of people. But while some interruptions are unnecessary and unwarranted, even annoying, others are very necessary. For most of us, if we din’t have an interruption for two straight days, we wouldn’t have a job. The real question is: “How can I tell a high-priority interruption from a dysfunctional interruption?” Time management interruptions generally fall under one of three categories:
1. Unnecessary Time Management Interruptions
These occur when someone drops in unannounced or calls on the phone, mistakenly assuming that you care, that you have the required information, or that you are responsible. If none of these is true, then this is an unnecessary intrusion- a waste of time. This interruption is to be avoided or terminated quickly.
2. Necessary Time Management Interruptions
These interruptions are those about which you do care, for which you have information or responsibility. A necessary interruption has value, and you should handle it at once- unless it is untimely.
3. Untimely Time Management Interruptions
These interruptions are necessary, but come at an inconvenient or inappropriate time. These should be rescheduled to a more suitable time.
The Point Question Tool
An effective tool for determining quickly the type of an interruption is the ‘point question.’ The point question is simply a nonthreatening query designed to get to the point of the time management interruption. “Carol, nice to see you. How can I help you today?” “What brings you around today?” “What can I do for you?”
When a person interrupts you, they never begin by telling you what type of interruption they are. So you ask the point questions to find out. In essence, you are transferring ‘ownership’ of the conversation to the interrupting person. The subtle, underlying
message is for them to quickly justify their intrusion. They respond with a need or question, you instantly evaluate the priority and the time necessary to respond to the question or need, then act accordingly. Let me illustrate.
Janet is sitting at her desk involved in an urgent an important task that will take up the remainder of the afternoon. Suddenly the phone rings. She answers it, and on the other end is a co-worker from another department.
“Janet, this is Tom. How are you doing?”
“Fine Tom. What can I do for you?”
“Well, at lunch last week you said you wanted to get together to discuss a proposal for coordinating activities between our departments. I’ve got an hour or so right now. I thought it might be a good time for you.”
“Tom, we definitely need to meet, but at the moment I’m up against an important deadline. Can we make it tomorrow at two?”
“I think I’m free at two. Let’s make it tomorrow, then.”
“Fine. See you then.”
Notice that this conversation started with a comment that could have led practically anywhere. Janet’s question got Tom to the point, and Janet was then able to determine what type of interruption it was (untimely) and respond accordingly (reschedule).
Many time management interruptions can be avoided by scheduling a regular one-on-one meeting with people who frequently come to you with concerns or questions. By doing this, you can prevent them from interrupting you unless it’s an urgent, high-priority matter, in other words, a necessary interruption.
Time management interruptions are not all bad, of course. Sometimes the interruption is more important than whatever it is you’ve been working on. Sometimes opportunity knocks unannounced and at untimely moments. If you are in control of how you handle interruptions and, consequently, view them in a positive light, you will better prepared to seize these opportunities and put them to work for you.
If you want to learn more about good time management skills, consider reading my book, “The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management.“