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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

How to Reduce Interruptions

Dear Sue: I am frequently interrupted while trying to do my work. I think people should attempt to find the information they are looking for before asking for my help, but many do not. Some days I am so busy helping others, I have a difficult time getting my own work done. I donít want to be rude and want to be helpful, but I donít want to see my own work suffer. What should I do?

- Interrupted

Sue Says: Youíve done something already; youíve recognized interruptions are a problem for you. Rather than wait until you are interrupted again, you are looking for more effective ways to handle the interruptions when they occur.

Interruptions are more disruptive than you may think. When someone calls or comes to you to with a question, the amount of time it takes you to respond may be minimal compared to the time it takes for you to get back to doing what you were doing before you were interrupted.

Interruptions, no matter how brief, interfere with your thought process and can affect your ability to get things done on time. Youíll never be able to eliminate all interruptions, and depending on your job, responding to others may be required. You can, however, take steps to reduce the number of needless interruptions you have.

Most people donít realize how much time in their day is wasted time. The amount of time you spend on the telephone or e-mail may take up more of your time than you think. Unless you must personally answer all calls or immediately respond to e-mail, if you are working on something and donít want to be interrupted, think twice before answering the phone or reading e-mail whenever it arrives. Turn off the ringer and the sound on your computer. Let the calls roll over into voice mail, and return them at a time more convenient for you and check your e-mail at designated times throughout the day. For the benefit of those who expect an immediate response, leave an outgoing voicemail greeting stating when you will return calls, or use the ďout of office" reply on your e-mail.

Consider hanging a ďDo not disturbĒ or other sign on your door, wall, or desk during the times you prefer not to be interrupted. Tell people in advance what it means and request they honor it unless it is an emergency.

Establish set hours for interruptions. Continue to be available, but during specific times of the day instead of randomly throughout the day. Notify your coworkers and tell them the reason why. People will respect your desire to work more efficiently.

Do what you must to make your work area less inviting. Remove candy sitting out in candy dishes and extra chairs near your desk.

When someone enters your office, stand up and ask, ďWhat can I do for you?Ē This will be less inviting to the person who might typically plop in to a chair and gab for awhile, and force him or her to identify the real reason for stopping by. If itís a request that is easier to take care of on the spot, then do. Otherwise, tell the person you canít talk right now, and offer to set a time to meet and talk with him or her later in the day.

When all else fails and youíve got work to do, but too many interruptions to get it done, find another place to do your work and leave your office.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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