Seth Godin posted an insightful entry on customer and co-worker interaction today.  In it he observes, “when you do your work on someone else’s schedule, your productivity plummets, because you are responding to the urgent, not the important, and your rhythm is shot.”

How many people are dependent on someone else’s schedule?  My guess is higher than it has to be.  One reason is because we aren’t effective communicators.  We use email when a phone call would be faster.  We make a phone call when we don’t need an answer right away and email would get us the same information.

We allow ourselves to be interrupted by email, phone calls, etc (Notice I say “allow.”  Reading email and answering the phone are choices).  According to a Microsoft and University of Illinois study referenced in ‘it takes 17 minutes “for a worker interrupted by e-mail to get back to what she was doing.”‘  If this is true for email, to some degree it is true for phone calls, impromptu visits, and any of the myriad other interruptions you deal with every day.

What can you do to manage your interruptions? 

First, create a to-do list and follow it.  Having things written down will help you stay focused and provides evidence that you are getting things done regardless of how crazy your day gets.
Second, set priorities.  This is respectful of your time and others.  If you are less productive because of interruptions it stands to reason your co-workers are too.  Before you pick up the phone or pop over to someone’s office ask yourself if this is the best time or even necessary.  How else or when else can you get the information that will be less intrusive? 
, manage your email.  Don’t check it constantly.  Set aside time throughout the day to check it.  When you aren’t checking, close the window so its not tempting you.

From a organizational perspective, interruptions should be rare and short when they occur.  Circumstances cause us to be bad time managers from time to time.  These should be exceptions.  Every day should not be endless string of blind corners and crises.

If every work day is unpredictable consider the causes.  What regularly interrupts the flow in your workplace?  Do you feel pressure from others to respond or provide information?  Not everything can be priority 1.  Have you ever met with you co-workers to prioritize communication?  What is really urgent?  What is critical to your business?