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Don’t let self-interruptions derail you

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in Workplace Communication

How many hours do you think workers spend on average at the office every week? Would you believe 60 hours? And some employees actually brag about working 100-hour weeks. 

These people believe that the longer they work, the more impressive they look.

But the true superheroes are those who work reasonable hours and manage their workloads like pros; get away from the office to recharge, then come back energized and creative; and don’t make careless mistakes because they’re tired and overworked.

The first step to managing your workload is handling the interruptions that derail your day.

Here’s how:

Schedule time to work on top-priority projects—uninterrupted. Let co-workers know about your “do not disturb” time, and tell them when you’ll be available again. Ask them not to request “just a minute” of your time during those hours.

Address small irritants head on instead of letting them get under your skin. For example, turn off the “ping!” that alerts you to new e-mail. Ask a nearby co-worker to stop putting all his calls on speakerphone, or another colleague to use headphones to listen to his music.

Use “conversation enders” at the ready. It’s important to know how to bring a rambling conversation to an end. Not everyone will feel a sense of urgency about work when you do.

Example: “I’d love to hear more, but this project is due in 20 minutes. Can we talk tomorrow?”

Don’t interrupt yourself. Productivity suffers when you think, “Oh, before I forget, I need to tell Bob …,” and dash off to find him. Or, “I’d better do X before I forget.”

Tip: Write down little tasks or thoughts that distract you, so you can revisit them later that day. Once you’ve written it down, put it out of your head. Tell yourself: “This isn’t my priority right now. Thinking about it isn’t productive.”

Get a head start. Come into work 45 minutes earlier than normal, three times a week. With a quiet office and no one to interrupt you, you’ll plow through your work.

Bonus tip: Ask yourself, “Am I able to say “no” to the unimportant tasks, and “yes” to the important ones?” Post this sign in your office: “What’s the most important thing to do right now?” First, do what’s both urgent and important. Then spend as much time as possible doing important things that aren’t urgent.

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