Are Relentless Interruptions Killing Your Productivity?

Five Sneaky Culprits in the Workplace That Scuttle Deep Work and Three Solutions

You have a presentation due in three weeks, and you’ve developed a project plan and scheduled time to get it done.  You know you need uninterrupted time every day to perform at an exceptional professional level.  This work will move the organization forward in multiple ways, will be a highlight of your year and will gain you recognition.  However, you find yourself ten days from the due date and behind in your preparations.  You are starting to feel the slow burn of stress and pressure; and are concerned that you will be unprepared. 

Why is carving out and protecting time for deep work so difficult? 

Here are five culprits:

1.       Scheduling the time to focus, but not being disciplined in honoring the appointment.  Something else that is urgent takes precedence over the important.  This becomes the habit, and the deep work suffers.   

2.       Shutting the door:  The door is a symbol, and in different cultures, a door carries different symbolic weight.  One of the things learned in a long-ago Anthropology class was that in Germany, the doors are very heavy, and when shut, others know they are to knock first.  Privacy is taken seriously.  This is often not true in today’s work environment.

3.       Culture of interrupting.  We are all accustomed to immediate answers, and no-one wants to be the bottleneck in their organization, so to keep work moving for others, we allow interruptions.  This reduces effectiveness and productivity. 

4.       Open office environment.  Many organizations today have offices in which there several people working in close proximity.  Boundaries are blurred or non-existent.  This can encourage collaboration, but it can also be extremely distracting. 

5.       Too many projects and a lack of understanding what to prioritize.  Business has always shifted quickly, this is not new.  Even when there is a strategic plan, it behooves leadership to be ready to pivot when opportunity arises.  But the decks aren’t cleared, projects and tasks are added on without prioritizing and without letting go of the dead weight. 

Three Solutions:

1.       Develop Ground Rules:  Determine how you work best, and outline two or three practices that will help your work flow and will be acceptable in the workplace.  If many others depend on you or you don’t have a lot of “juice,” you can propose some solutions to your manager and team and request help in getting your needs met.  This managing up will likely be appreciated as it will improve your productivity and can inspire others to consider and advocate for their needs.  Whatever station you are in your career, communicating these practices can improve the likelihood of carving out the time to get bigger projects done. 

2.       Training Others:  Once you’ve figured out a few ground rules that can work for you and have been agreed upon with your team or manager, you must kindly and patiently communicate that you are serious.  This may take several tries.  New habits always take perseverance and time to become natural, so keep this as a vision for yourself, and remain firmly patient throughout the process. 

3.       Keep Questioning:
If you are the leader faced with opportunities, (great problem to have!), resources must always be marshalled.  Is this opportunity in line with the vision?  Is the ROI high enough to merit allotting resources?  What other projects are in the works right now, and who can take this on?  What are the possible outcomes?  If you are the employee with a full plate, it is important that you are prepared to manage on multiple levels:  self, sideways, up and down.  If you or your team is already overwhelmed, it is acceptable to discuss priorities with your boss, ask what should get your attention, and what can be either put aside or removed from the list. 


Hi all! I love to write on leadership, development and finding clarity at home and in the workplace.  

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  1. Charlene Webster

    Hi Kris,
    I find your work inspirational and informational. I currently lead a special education dept made up of approximately 40 staff members. I am always grabbing at time. But I also find that the fast pace I work at is addicting. And you are right, I acknowledge that others’ time is so valuable that I will stop midstream every time there is another problem to solve. A few times I put a sign such as ‘Meeting in Progress’ or ‘Testing’ to stop staff and students from walking in.

    You give us much food for thought.
    Take care.

    1. (Post author)

      Hi Charlene, I agree – it is hard to strike the right balance, even within ourselves. I can only imagine what it is like in the school environment, with all the competing demands. Thank you for your thoughts – I love the idea of putting up a sign. (I need to implement this!)


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