You’re trying to finish a key project — due today! — but the phone keeps ringing. Whether you’re besieged with customer calls, employee questions, or client requests (that aren’t new orders), interruptions make it difficult for small-business owners to focus on important tasks.
To reduce distractions, start with the basics: Whether you work at home or in an office, find a space of your own, with doors, says Dr. Barnsley Brown, a professional speaker and coach and the president of Spirited Solutions. When Brown moved into her home, she converted a living room into an office. “It didn’t have any doors, so I put in French doors,” she explains. The result? Fewer interruptions.
Once you’ve established a private work space, deploy these four strategies to minimize non-urgent interruptions on the job:
1. Put your needs in writing. If you’re working on deadline and must concentrate, hang a “do not disturb” sign on your doorknob, Brown suggests. If you’re working on important — but not deadline-driven — projects and still get knocks on your door, make another sign. Post it at eye level, and jot down when you will be available. For instance, “I’m available from 3 to 4 p.m. for open-door conferences.” Then close the door. At 3 p.m., open it and be ready to deal with others. If you do this on a regular basis, employees (and family members) are likely to cooperate.
2. Use phones in a smart way. To avoid distractions, let your voice mail pick up. Set aside certain periods of time to return calls; for instance, from 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays. Give your cell phone number only to people who truly need to reach you privately, Brown advises. If you’ve already given it to someone who you’d now rather have call your office, say so. “Please use my business line to reach me — here’s the number” will suffice. Don’t answer your cell phone when they call.
3. Don’t multitask. When you’re multitasking, you end up interrupting yourself, Brown says. To counter juggling too many things at once, plan out your tasks for the day and group similar activities together. For instance, check email and Facebook during the same time period, return phone calls at the same hour every day, and set up client meetings in a specific window of time (for example, 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays).
4. Be frank with people. If you’re honest with others and explain your needs, people tend to be understanding, Brown notes. If someone still knocks on your door repeatedly after you’ve put up a sign, or if a client continues to leave messages on your voice mail every day, tell them that you would love to chat with them — just not at this moment.