Are you often interrupted during the day?


Are you interrupted constantly?

Did you know that it takes 20-30 minutes to return to a task after an interruption? The more complex a task is; the more time it takes. Often, we do not return to the task we were interrupted doing, because we are interrupted again by something new. There lies a large time saving potential in taking a closer look at the interruptions.

Many interruptions in the grey zone area

Interruptions are one of the most difficult time-consumers to get rid of. When is the interruption a part of the job’s terms, and when is it basically a time waster?

Example 1:

The customer calling to order a service is easy. Of course it is a part of your job to answer customer inquiries

Example 2:

A colleague asks if you have time to spar with him reg. a specific case. Also a part of your job, right?

Example 3:

The colleague that tells you about his/her weekend. Well, social small talk is part of being in a workplace. But when is it too much?

Example 4:

The colleague that calls or writes you for the fifth time to get your help solving a task that you have explained four times previously. Tasks go where they are solved! Of course we should be helpful, but is there a limit for the service level?

I could go on with examples of interruptions. Some are obvious time-consumers while a large part is in the grey zone area, and we especially need to relate to these. When is it okay to say no to an interruption or say: ”I’ll get back to you, once I have finished the task I’m working on”?

A concerted effort to reduce interruptions

To bring down the number of interruptions during a workday demands a concerted effort. Some companies e.g. have a culture full of interruptions, where managers and employees have gotten used to interrupting each other all the time. It is necessary to join efforts. Is it okay to ask questions in the open office, or do you go to the person you are asking? Should you say good morning to everyone when arriving in the morning, or is it sufficient to say it to the desk neighbour? Do you have facilities for many small meetings during the day? Etc.

An easy place to start – yourself

It is usually easiest to start with yourself. When are you your own worst enemy? Do you still have a pop-up or a little icon indicating when a new mail has arrived? Surprisingly many people have not deactivated the functionality, simple because they do not know how to do it! If you are among these, you can now decide if you want to interrupt your IT support with the question or spend time on finding the answer yourself.

Are you are ”a case surfer”? Do you jump from task to task and case to case and have difficulties staying focused on one thing at a time? This can be the result of interruptions over a longer period of time. We simply get out of practice of working focused. Train yourself in starting one thing at a time, and hold on to it as long as possible.

Are you disorganised? Piles and many post its on the screen, or a desk sorted after the term ”eye noise”, visual interruptions stealing focus from what we are doing.

Are you a time-consumer for others? Maybe you belong to the group of people that is afraid of cracking, if they do not say their thoughts, good ideas and other things out loud immediately. Not everything needs to be shared right away. Train yourself in piling up: Have a note pad ready where you can note down all your amazing thoughts, and when you have collected a certain number, you can move on to call or write the person in question.

There are many places to start, if you want a workday with less interruptions.


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Trine Kolding
Expert in planning and efficiency,

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