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Friday, February 22, 2013

Interruptions & Disruptions

Visualize this: You’re finally into some complicated and challenging thing, and you’re making headway. Then a co-worker heaves into your cube, urgent with deadline-induced desperation. You care about the person, and you have the necessary answer.

The rescue may take just a few minutes, but you can almost physically feel the momentum being sucked out of your workday. When you wheel around to resume the more-important work, you face more than just reconnecting with the loose pieces. You have to reset this matter as a priority, and you have to patch a hole in your confidence. Can I EVER get anything done?

You feel somewhat depressed, and maybe borderline desperate yourself. This has happened before, too often. Demands, large and small, come streaming in a blizzard, obscuring whatever intentions you had established for progress on meaningful initiatives in your work.

Yeah, you’re good at what you do, but people just won’t leave you alone to do it. People come to you because one of the things you’re really good at is being a go-to person.

Be careful – it progresses

Interruptions haunt the hardworking person in search of improved productivity. It’s hard to get much done when someone or something is frequently demanding your attention for something entirely different. Something, quite often, immensely less important.

When you’re talking personal productivity in the workplace, and the conversation turns to what gets in the way or disrupts the process, the word “interruptions” frequently is at or near the top of the list.

The damage from an interruption often is much greater than the simple immediate loss of time. Yes, your focus is disrupted, and must be restored. Further, your momentum, enthusiasm and grasp of your point are gone, maybe forever. And then you may be quite irritated, undermining your ability to engage the challenges and opportunities of your work.

Besides, you may also have a now-unhappy co-worker who detected the discomfort or disapproval you felt at the interruption, and was offended.. Less-positive co-workers aren’t as eager to collaborate, triggering a descending spiral into inefficiency for you.

Over time, this whole syndrome can really erode one’s productivity. You give up, maybe a little, maybe a lot, over time. You drift into really not having an expectation that you’re going to get much of anywhere.

What can you do about it?

Start with this: Don’t fight the symptoms war. Don’t put in ever-longer hours. Don’t get mad at people who are just doing what has become accepted practice. Don’t stress out and don’t take your anxiety home with you. Don’t feel there’s nothing you can do – victimhood is the worst possible way of life for a person of potential.

Be an analyst instead. Become an observer of your workday. Look for causes. Look for kinds of interruptions. Pay attention to circumstances, and timing. There may be relatively simple and noncontroversial adjustments you can make in your schedule and location that can ease the problem.

Don’t stop there. Those changes can help, but they rarely are the whole story. So, while you’re exercising this new awareness, keep track of deeper, more powerful and more persistent drivers. That is where potential for real improvement lies, but you need to be prepared for some discomfort.

You may need to learn, practice and/or tune up some higher-level skills.

There usually are three major factors in an interrupt-driven work situation:

1.      Your co-workers’ expectations of you.

2.      Your management’s understanding of you and your job.

3.      Your expectations of yourself.

You get what you negotiate

The linchpin of your workstyle, your workload and your workplace relationships is the third point. Co-worker expectations often are developed and encouraged by your accommodating manner, your willingness to help. Managers often act toward you on unwritten, unspoken and undiscussed conclusions based on how you act and react.

You, believe it or not, are the architect of the entire set of arrangements. As you become better at what you do, and more valued by those around you, you tend to take pride in being the go-to person. You never say no.

You shouldn’t try to turn all this around by making a grand announcement, instantly remaking everything. Instead, you need to look first, objectively, at yourself. What do you think you’re doing here? How do you set and manage priorities among the people and the demands and opportunities that come your way every day?

Make it your business to become more conscious of just what is going on in your work, and how incoming demands are influenced by your behavior. Then you can become clear about your route to high achievement with a balanced workload and peace of mind.

There are two skill sets you want to become really good at. One is managing your personal workload sensibly. The other is building truly collaborative workplace relationships – alliances.

(More on this in a later post.)

In the words of Alex Karrass, the guru of negotiating skills: “In business as in life, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.”

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