“Can I interrupt you for a moment? It will only be for a second.”

A second. Isn’t it difficult to rise above any interruptions even when it is short-lived? Yes!

I find this especially challenging as a freelancer, to be in the midst of focusing on a task when I hear the ping of an instant message. When I stop to read the message, even if I pause for only a few minutes, it requires a much longer time to get back into the groove of what I was working on. I do not yet know how to resolve this issue with instant messaging (with humor – are you ready to create the next million-dollar invention?). What if instant messaging came with a mode of notification that lets us know—without looking at our phone—that the sender clicked the option “no need to respond to me right away.” Doesn’t that sound like having an “easy” button on our desktop? Ha.

Email? An email comes with a lesser sense of urgency. I’ve noticed comments and articles that email is going out of style, especially with the younger generation, but seriously, instant connection creates crunchiness in our day, and the old dinosaur—email—doesn’t hold the urgency that instant messaging does. We might peruse our email basket once or twice a day, no more than 3-4 (and that’s too much for productivity).

“Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions. And yet amid all of this we still assume we can rise about it and do what has to be done within our deadlines.” (via Gary Keller, The One Thing)

This post isn’t a complaint. The question is, “How do we handle interruptions?”  The best choice, in my estimation, is to communicate our needs to others. Ask your clients, and clients ask your contractors, how do you want to be reached? What is your preferred form of communication when it is not an emergency?

So, as I map out my to-do list for the day I also include time for interruptions. Of course, we wouldn’t be in business if we weren’t being interrupted at some point, right? But, what is the solution to staying on track when we’ve been pulled away? Again, I believe it is communication. I also believe it is collaboration—an agreement of sorts between client/contractor/employee, and this is an integral piece of a smooth-operating team, especially when remote team members are part of the picture.

Last, but not least, be prepared to create a landmark. I worked for a refrigeration service company in Central Texas. From May through late September, we were inundated with data and interruptions. As the full-charge bookkeeper, my office was my territory, yet, when people lined up at the customer service desk, or when the phones rang off the hook, I knew when to set everything down and jump out to help. What I learned was how to landmark. I wrote down where I was in my task, and I carefully took a moment to do so. I responded to customers right away, but only after politely saying, “I will be with you in one moment.” Customers appreciate knowing that you care about your own work, and they love the full service and attention they receive once you’ve cleared your mind for them. Always make the “one moment” a quick moment, don’t delay the customer for long!

How do you handle interruptions? How do you bookmark your thoughts when you are interrupted?