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 http://dilbert.com/strip/2017-01-05 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.
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