By in Writing

Don't Interrupt

Difficult Job

Sometimes, you have a difficult job to do. Maybe it's your great novel or tutorial book or homework or college studies or a long-overdue report. It's hard enough getting started into it but generally once you get started, it flows and you can keep it going. But then along comes the interrupter!
"Would you like a cup of tea?", "Can I just take a minute of your time?", "I just need you to ...., it won't take long.", or maybe the telephone rings, a text appears on your mobile / cell phone or the postman calls at the door. No matter what the interruption, nor how important it is, it breaks your flow, interrupts your concentration and often means you have to start all over again, not on the entire job but to get back into that flow state, where the thoughts were flooding out, the ideas coming together and the report taking shape. The same happens in sport or when you're exercising. Allowing your mobile phone to ring just as a golfer is about to hit the ball or the tennis player about to serve can be considered a major crime!

People Who Interrupt

For me, some of the biggest interrupters are my grown children who "just want child care for a few minutes, while they .... ". One of my children has been nicknamed "hold the baby". The grandchildren are not babies any more but they still need close supervision. Other interrupters can be those caring people who want to offer a cup of tea or coffee, to "keep me going" but who in reality, want to talk and are using the cup of tea as an excuse to gain your attention.

Of course, there are interrupters at work too. The boss can be one - breaking into your concentration in order to hand over another job. There was an excellent Dilbert cartoon about that where Dilbert's concentration on programming was being interrupted by the boss. Sometimes the interrupter is a co worker, ready to visit the canteen or needing a break from their own work.

It's all too easy to interrupt ourselves too, it isn't always other people who "force" us to lose our focus. With those difficult jobs, it's easy to succumb to the temptation to get yourself a cup of coffee or take a break, losing focus.

Overcome Interruptions

So how can you overcome interruptions? Some possible ways of avoiding interruptions and recovering quickly from them are given below.


Professional sports people often create a ritual that gets them into the flow condition for performing. Tennis players, footballers, weightlifters and many others have special rituals that they follow closely, so they can perform at their peak in a competition. That's a good technique to use in other situations too, such as homework, writing your novel, doing the annual accounts or tax returns or even coding. Create a short ritual, such as laying out your pens, tidying a corner of your desk, putting your sports gear on, etc and use this ritual each time you get stuck into a difficult job. Soon, performing that ritual will get you ready for that work, a lot more easily. This is NOT the same as procrastination, where you do the dishes, mow the lawn or any other hated job, in order to put off getting started!

Warn The People

People who interrupt often do not understand about the flow of concentration or think it applies only to them - other people's concentration doesn't matter. I used to have a notice I stuck on my door saying "Do not interrupt, except in case of World War 3". I had to add a line to it that read, "And YES! This DOES mean you". Line 1 worked with my children, Line 2 sometimes worked with my husband. It's unlikely to work at the office unless you are the boss.

At the office, you can train your co workers and staff that when your office door is open, you are open to meetings or interruptions but when it is closed, you do not want to be interrupted. If you work in an open plan office, you can wear headphones with white noise playing and set a flag on your desk, green for "open" and red for "don't interrupt".

Break It To Pieces

If the job is really hard and you can't get the flow going, then break it into small pieces. I hate accounts and tax returns, so I download information in chunks and deal with it in chunks. That makes it easier, even if I can't get a flow going.

Use Your Own Techniques

You may have other jobs you dislike but you get them done. For instance, doing laundry or ironing or even getting out to get some exercise. You may have already worked out your own techniques for getting these done, such as allowing the pressure of a deadline to push you to work, or setting out your exercise clothes, so they are the first things you put on in the morning. What techniques do you already use that you could adapt to overcoming interruptions?

If Interruptions Are Unavoidable?

If I have to look after my grandchildren for a while, there is no chance of working while they are there, there are constant interruptions and it would only lead to mistakes of frustration, so I find something else to do, for instance, I can tidy or declutter when they are there.

Do Something Else Or Is It Procrastination?

Sometimes, the "something else" is just a means of procrastinating longer. For instance, that is why this article has been written. I started it while my grandchildren were playing but they are away now and my other work still HAS to be done. OK, I got interrupted: once it's over, I need to find a means of getting back to work and back into the flow. Sometimes, it's necessary to make a bargain with yourself, "If I get back to work as soon as X is over, I will get a cup of coffee at 3pm". Promise yourself a reward for getting back into work and make sure you keep that promise!

Are You Interrupting? Or Are You Being Interrupted?

Image Credit » My own design and work. (c) MegL

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Colibry21 wrote on March 26, 2017, 7:21 AM

I will sometimes interrupt, although I don't always mean to. Sometimes, my kids will interrupt me as well, although I know they don't always mean to. I guess we all need to find ways to deal with these situations.

MegL wrote on March 26, 2017, 9:28 AM

I don't mind interruptions in the normal course of the day too much. It's when you are trying to concentrate on something that needs ALL your attention and when you are going well with the project (that is, you are "in flow") that an interruption just completely throws you out of the zone and it takes a lot of effort to get back in.

lookatdesktop wrote on March 26, 2017, 2:57 PM

I am definitely a PROCRASTINATOR! Your article hit it right dead center on my forehead. It is hard for me to get started with a project especially when I am unable to find all the right tools and have them right at my immediate disposal. My procrastination is placing a new air conditioner window unit on an OLD WOODEN WINDOW sill that had to have old wood removed, new wood cut and nailed and screwed into it's place, putty, paint and caulk. But I've never used a center mount bracket and I never had to really deal with an old window before. I procrastinate because I simply can't find my electric drill anywhere. I know it's probably safe in the closet in one of many boxes, or perhaps in the shed, in one of a number of totes. I have taken the better part of a week to get it ready even before putting the Air Conditioner in it's proper place. I use the following excuses not to finish the task. 1. The Air Conditioner is too heavy for me to lift. 2. I can't find my electric drill. 3. I need help and my help is working and has not called in several days so I have to wait for him to come over with a drill of his own, since mine is hidden in a hard to find place or maybe I am just too lazy to look for it. I have been taking my time with reading the instructions on that bracket. I have still not managed to fully resolve the placement of that bracket as to exactly where the screw goes. I have decided to PUT IT OFF UNTIL HE COMES OVER while my wife is anxious that a squirrel might crawl into the room from outside or the rain MIGHT RUIN our chances at getting it put up in time for warmer weather. It is sometimes even difficult to motivate myself to get a second cup of coffee. By the way, that ideas sounds like a plan I will get to work on after I finish this long and drawn out comment. lol

Colibry21 wrote on March 27, 2017, 6:46 AM

When you're trying to concentrate, interruptions can be frustrating for sure. I don't always like it when I'm in these situations.

MegL wrote on March 28, 2017, 3:32 AM

LOL, a cup of coffee is always a good idea.

VinceSummers wrote on May 18, 2017, 10:54 PM

I get interrupted all the time. If I was hard-working and did more, I might feel irritated. But I am lazy. I have no right to be irritated.

MegL wrote on May 19, 2017, 6:18 AM

Resting and cogitating are valuable uses of time and I believe we also have to ensure we have uninterrupted periods of rest wherever possible, though with small children or sick people, that is not always possible. Time to think is important. "They also serve, who also stand and wait" (Milton) and "What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?" (Davies)

Last Edited: May 19, 2017, 6:21 AM

VinceSummers wrote on May 19, 2017, 7:15 AM

I know Milton (of course) but who is Davies? Of the two, his words are the more poetic, if not of greater weight.

MegL wrote on May 19, 2017, 7:49 AM

Welsh poet W. H. Davies, poem, "Leisure".