Interruptions: Tips to Reduce Their Impact to Your Workflow

Sep 23, 2010, Written by Sue Miley

I sit down with a fresh hot cup of coffee, mind ready to engage on my writing project  for Christian business owners that has now seemed almost done every week for the last two months.

The ideas have been percolating.  They are in the bubbling stage and are becoming clearer.  I begin to capture the ideas on my computer screen.

I always know when I am in the flow because I don’t stop.  It’s continuous typing.  Like I really know what I want to say.

Suddenly, it is like a giant 100 ft timber drops across the flow and the typing halts, the words stop, the ideas are suspended.

One of my kids has walked into the room, plopped down in front of me, for the very important purpose of telling me that he is bored.  Or my dog starts to whine and leap up and down like she is warning me about an impending disaster.  Or my partner at work sticks her head in and says do you have a minute.

Interruptions Kill Creativity

Regardless of the interruption, the most amazing idea a writer has ever come across has just been lost.  Have you ever felt that way?  If you had just not been interrupted those 329,482 times the award winning project would have come into being.

Because it is a habit whose frequency is out of control, the frustration level rises at the speed of light and your brain transmitters have re-routed to where you are either a.) using all of your concentration to not show the colossal frustration you are experiencing, or b.) you unload on the innocent cause of the interruption that derailed the great American novel.

Either way, the moment is gone.  The creative mood is gone.  You may as well engage with the interrupter…..NO!!!  Engaging will keep you in this circular cycle.

Instead  I have worked really hard (still perfecting) to stop this cycle.  Here are some things that have improved interruptions for me:

  1. Find a private place to work. Even though you say you don’t want to be interrupted, what do you expect in the den with the TV in the middle of it?  If I am at my office, I will shut my door so there is less likelihood of being interrupted.  Or I will stay at my office to work rather than come home and be more comfortable.  (Being your own boss entices you to work where you want, but sometimes it is just less effective.)
  2. Establish that you are working. Communicate that I will be working and need an hour without interruption.  This works better at the office, but helps with my kids.  Although if they remember that they forgot to tell me something, or they need a note for tomorrow, or they need money for something the thought of waiting an hour still doesn’t seem to be in the realm of their possibilities.
  3. Postpone the interruption. When the interruption occurs, ask if you can come find them in an hour or if you can call and make an appointment to talk when you will have more time.  I know we feel the flow has already been stopped, but really if we didn’t get so upset and just handled the interruption in a practical manner, we would be able to turn the faucet back on much easier than we think.
  4. Address specific interrupters directly. If the problem is with one or two people primarily, talk to them proactively.  Explain that once you get involved in the work you had scheduled for that time it is difficult to start and stop.  Tell them that if they can email or leave you a message you will get back to them as soon as possible to set up time to give them your full attention.
  5. Create an acceptable time for interruption. On a personal note with kids, I generally make dinner for the family at least 5 times a week.  I am cooking for at least an hour and then we all sit down as a family.  I have told them this is a great time to come tell me everything that is going on and to bring me stuff to sign.  These days I am not that much of a workaholic anymore, so they have many other opportunities, but this one is a given.  It is the proverbial win-win:  I have company while I get dinner ready, they have my ear, and we get dinner!

These Tips are Not Only for Writers 

I focused on writing because that is really the main type of work I do at home or between clients that requires a lot of concentration, but interruptions will effect almost any kind of work that is of substance.

I also find it important to pray for peace and patience as a general discipline.  I know for me that my reaction can be more distracting than the interruption.  As I have learned to be more proactive and purposeful in establishing these boundaries around my work I am less likely to react in a way that will totally rob me of concentration. 

How about you?  How do you keep the interruptions down and the work flowing?

Reader Interactions


  1. Jonathan says

    Even when working, we often don’t feel that we can ask not to be interrupted, especially when working at home. But you are right; it’s important to set those boundaries! I worked from home most of last week (something I rarely get to do) and had to set some very clear rules with the kids: Daddy working at home is just like Daddy going to the office to work, so you need to let Daddy work! That also meant that I had to learn to better ignore them, too, when they were going about their day. Unless you are in a totally quiet, isolated workspace, this can be difficult to do. I found turning on some non-distracting music helped with that.

    • S_Miley says

      It is hard for me to set the boundaries too, but I found it has been easier than seeing their faces when I don’t tell them I am working and I fuss at them for interrupting. I learned the hard way! “Non-distracting music” is a great idea! It makes the noise more consistent and blocks out intermittent noises from the rest of the house. Thanks for commenting Jonathan!

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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