How To Stay Cool And In Control When Dealing With Interruptions

“The effectiveness of work increases according to geometric progression if there are no interruptions.” André Maurois, 19th century author

Gee, thanks for the tip, André .

Under benign circumstances, interruptions are, at best, annoying. When you’re under the gun with a tight deadline, verging on panic, they can push you over the edge in a gritted-teeth-bulging-neck-vein “LEAVE. ME. ALONE.” kind of way.

Because they’re unpredictable, interruptions exacerbate our feeling of not being in control. Think about it: a phone call is less disruptive — even if it’s unscheduled and breaks the continuity of what you’re doing — if it’s expected.

So, since enraged and reactive is probably not where you wanna be, let’s talk about a few things you can do to regain and maintain a sense of control:

1. Limit potential inputs.

We’ll start with the obvious. Turn off the ringers and audible alerts on your email, texts and phone. Step away from the Book of Face. Close your office door if you have one.

2. Go on the offense.

Let your colleagues in on your game plan — give them some context: “I’m on a tight deadline and will be off-limits from 10:00 to 1:00. At 1:00, I’ll check my email and can address your urgent questions then…”

This has multiple benefits: one, it reduces the fear of being distracted by drive-by queries (which allows you to focus and get into the flow zone). Two, it reassures your colleagues that they will have access to you and lets them know when. And three, it forces them to evaluate the urgency of their issue and possibly resolve it on their own.

3. Choreograph your moves.

Still, we all know that some interruptions can’t be avoided – and they often do more damage when we let them affect us even after we’ve returned to our original task.

So how do you quickly get back on track?

Before turning your attention to the source of the interruption, make a note of what you’re doing. Then consciously make your transition by saying something like: “Now, I am going to [take this phone call]. Set another intention when you return to what you were doing. The more conscious you are, the more seamless it becomes.

Ultimately, it’s up to you how much you’re derailed by interruptions. As C.S. Lewis said: The great thing is, if one can, to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions in one’s “own” or “real” life. The truth is, of course, that what one regards as interruptions are precisely one’s life.”

Got thoughts? Share ‘em in the comments below.

Photo credit: Ha-Wee



  1. Matt Lossau September 7, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Thanks Renita, that was spot on! (I think you’ve been watching over my shoulder during some of my more stressful moments at work. 😉

    1. suyg September 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      Glad it was helpful, Matt. We’ve all been there!


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