6 Ways to Minimize Interruptions When You Need to Focus

You’re racing through your work, totally in the zone, when…

… the phone rings.

You stop, and answer it. Wrong number.

After a few minutes, you manage to get back into your work. You’re back in the zone when…

… a colleague wanders past and strikes up a conversation.

It takes you ten minutes to get rid of him. And by this point, you’ve lost the thread of what you were doing.

In almost every sort of work, we need periods of highly-focused concentration. Perhaps you have to analyze some complex figures, or write an important report, or put together a presentation: whatever it is, you need to be able to sit down, uninterrupted, and get it done.

The problem is, in most workplaces, it’s hard to get a few hours of uninterrupted time. If you work from home, it can be even worse: you don’t just have potential interruptions from colleagues and clients, you also have a partner, kids or housemates.

It might seem like interruptions are out of your control: after all, you can’t get rid of your colleagues, or stop clients from phoning. But even if you can’t eliminate interruptions entirely, you can definitely minimize them.

Here’s how:

#1: Close the Door While You’re Working

Okay, this one only works if you have your own room with a door – but if you do, then make sure you close the door when you want to focus. (And let the folks around you know that a closed door means that they should only interrupt in an emergency.)

Closing the door also helps reduce noise from outside your office – and it can help encourage you to stay at your desk and work, when you might otherwise be tempted to get up and wander around.

#2: Wear Headphones to Prevent Colleagues Chatting

If you’re constantly being interrupted by colleagues or housemates who want to chat, then wear headphones. (You don’t have to actually put any music on, unless you want to!) That way, people are less likely to engage you in casual conversation.

Again, this also helps reduce any outside noise – and if your headphones are plugged into your computer, they’ll keep you tethered to your desk!

#3: Say “Could You Come Back in Ten Minutes?”

Sometimes, of course, a colleague or family member will interrupt with a legitimate problem. If this happens when you’re in the middle of something, say: “I just need to finish this off, could you come back in ten minutes?”

Chances are, they won’t mind at all, and they may well go away and find a solution to the problem in the meantime – eliminating the interruption entirely. Even if they do come back, you’ve at least postponed the full interruption until a more convenient time.

#4: Let Your Phone Go to Voice-Mail

Do you really have to pick up the phone every single time it rings? We often think of phone calls as requiring an immediate response – but if the same message came in by email, we probably wouldn’t reply instantly. Don’t confuse the urgency of the medium with the urgency of the message.

Let your phone go to voice-mail. After all, if you were in a meeting, you wouldn’t be able to answer it instantly. If you’re worried about missing something urgent, check the name or number of the incoming call – and only answer if you really need to.

#5: Turn Off Skype/Email/Facebook/Twitter etc…

Nowadays, many of us use technology other than phones. Chances are, you’ve got a Skype account, several social media accounts, and definitely an email inbox. All of these can pop up notifications on your computer – which is very distracting when you’re working.

Don’t let Skype and other programs auto-login when you switch on your computer: instead, make a conscious decision about whether or not you want people to be able to contact you at this particular moment.

#6: Get Into the Office Early

This is a little more drastic, so I left it until last! If you’re still struggling to find enough uninterrupted time to complete your work, consider getting into the office early. (Or, if you work from home, getting up before the rest of your household.)

An hour of quiet, uninterrupted time first thing in the morning can set you up for a great day. If you’re struggling to work on a big, long-term task, then try devoting the first hour of your work-day to it.

Do you have any other tips on minimizing interruptions? Or has one of the above ideas already worked well for you?



Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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