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Wednesday / May 22.
HomemilastwordThe Last Word: Sorry to Interrupt You

The Last Word: Sorry to Interrupt You

The patient in front of you has a pretty complex set of problems, and you’re engrossed in a difficult eye examination. Then there’s a knock at the consult room door. “Excuse me; do you remember where that order form is? The rep is here and I need it now.”

A few moments later, after retrieving the form, you’re back focussing on your patient. But are you? Studies on interruptions and loss of productivity estimate it takes about five minutes to deal with the average interruption, and about 20 minutes to get back to that same level of concentration.

Those same studies tell us that the average office worker is interrupted 73 times a day. Many interruptions are work-related – an email, a patient phone call, or a colleague wanting advice. Some are social – an SMS from a friend, or a co-worker wanting to show you an online video. It could just be that particularly irritating mobile phone ringtone…

But let’s be conservative. Maybe you’re interrupted only 50 times a day. Five minutes to deal with each interruption. Hang on, that’s 250 minutes, or just over half of the average eight-hour day! That’s not even taking into consideration the 20-minutes we need to get “back into the zone”.

It’s jaw dropping when you consider the number of interruptions to your day and how many of them are in your control…

Some interruptions are crucial to business survival – like patients booking appointments or asking questions. Other times you can lose hours a day to emails, unprioritised tasks and workplace chat. No wonder we feel like we’re busy all day but haven’t achieved anything.

Many companies, including the CSIRO, have had “no email days” and European IT company Atos Origin, who employ 74,000 people in 42 countries, recently announced plans to ban internal emails within the next two years. While that may seem a huge ask, have you considered turning off your “new email” notification, or instead, just logging in at set times to check and respond to emails at your convenience – not at the convenience of your inbox?

It’s jaw dropping when you consider the number of interruptions to your day and how many of them are in your control. Aside from email, how can we reduce other interruptions? While we can’t get away from answering the work phone, maybe you’re able to turn off, or mute, your personal mobile.

Let those around you know when you need to concentrate. Make it a rule to never be interrupted when you’re with a patient, and tell people you’d prefer not to be disturbed if your door is closed when doing admin.

Develop a system of ‘triage’ for interruptions – prioritise what can be done later and which things need to be dealt with immediately! Say “no” – or at least “not now”.

The same is true for others. We need to be mindful of interrupting people around us. Do you really need to ask your colleagues about drinks on Friday afternoon right now? Or can it wait until later? Multi-tasking is a myth. None of us can really focus on more than one thing at a time – at least not if the task requires our full attention.