How to Focus Your Interruptions with Office Hours

Coalesce Quadrant 3 into Quadrant 2

by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)

A lightning rod is a piece of metal on top of a building that gives lightning an easy path to the ground. There’s no guarantee that lightning will hit the rod, but the height and effect on the local electrostatic field are often enough to protect (or at least reduce the damage to) the structure.

Interruptions can be detrimental to your productivity. After an interruption, it takes us 25 minutes to get back to our pre-interruption level of focus on a task. It’s no wonder we struggle to get deep work done!

Productivity isn’t on/off. It fluctuates wildly over the course of the day.

So why not create a lightning rod for interruptions? It won’t keep you from ever being interrupted on someone else’s schedule, but if it can redirect even one or two interruptions a week, it’s done its job.

  • Block out the time. When you’re blocking out your time for the week, include time that you’re going to designate as “office hours”. Start with an hour a day and adjust it up or down as necessary. Reserve it on your calendar before someone schedules random meetings with you.
  • Share your schedule. Let your team know what you’re doing. Publish your office hours on a digital calendar or put a sticky note on your door. Scheduling office hours for the same time every day will help establish trust—your coworkers will come to know that you really are going to be there when they need you.
  • Plan to be interrupted. Have a backup plan in case no one stops by. Select low-concentration tasks that can easily be resumed. It’s a good time to triage emails, water plants, and clean your desk.
  • Give your undivided attention. During office hours, your time is theirs. Your team can bounce ideas off of you, ask you to work on something with them, seek your advice, shoot the breeze, whatever. You’ve designed this time to be interrupted, so welcome them. Give them your full attention. Whatever they need is what you need to be doing right then.

Most coworkers want to be respectful of your time and not disturb you if you’re deep in the middle of something. Scheduling office hours is a signal you can use that now is an especially good time for you to be interrupted.

You’re always available to help with urgent issues when they arise, of course. A lightning rod may give lightning a convenient target, but lightning will strike anywhere it needs to.

Question: How do you let others know when it’s a good time to interrupt you? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.