Avoiding Unwanted Project Interruptions
By Brad Egeland
Are you productive working around others? Do you work well with interruptions and are you able to easily get back on track and focused on issues and tasks you were working on before the interruption? Or can an interruption at a critical point stop your forward progress and send you chasing rabbits on something that may not be nearly as important just because you want to get this new issue off your plate as quickly as possible?
I’ll be the first to admit that I am an easily distracted person. That’s probably why the virtual team or remote project management model works so well for me. Casual interruptions don’t happen as often and I can stay focused and complete the tasks and issues that I’m currently working on more easily than if I was physically co-located with various project team members across the several projects I’m usually managing at any given point in time.
Whether we are easily distracted or not, we still need to figure out productive ways to avoid the interruptions that can happen on our projects that can throw off our thought processes, disrupt key meetings and conversations, and unwittingly alter the paths we are on during critical points in our projects. For me, I usually try to take some proactive action to stay focused on the issues at hand and to make my time and my environment more productive for me…and my team, if applicable. The actions usually include these:
Start off by making sure that those who might interrupt you know that you’re going to be unavailable, and make sure they know how to get in touch with you. No matter how unavailable you think you need to make yourself, there are those specific things that you would still want and need to be interrupted for…And also give everyone at least an idea or estimate of how long you expect to be unavailable.
Next, if the situation warrants it, go offsite. For me that means going to Starbucks. But for a co-located project team working through issues together that may mean setting up a war room in an offsite location like a rented office space building or a team member’s house or even onsite at a rarely used room in the basement of the corporate headquarters. Or it may mean Starbucks.
Just as important as stating you’re unavailable, you must also let key people know when you are once again available. Even I – when I’m working remotely at my home office…which is most of the time – must do this with my family. If all I do is shut my office door then no one really knows if I’m unavailable or available…and the default is ‘available.’ Be accurate and consistent with each – put out a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign like I do but make sure you remove it when you’re done. If you are consistent then others will respect your periods of unavailability and wait for you to announce your availability before interrupting you again. It works, trust me.
Our teams, our customers and our projects in general need us. That’s good, that’s understood and expected and that’s our role as project managers. But that doesn’t mean we have to be available 24/7 for everyone and there are going to be times when we are working ‘heads down’ on critical issues and any interruption can cause a major problem. Use these methods to protect yourselves and your work processes during those critical points and you’re likely to come out the other side a more productive decision maker and issue resolution specialist and everyone will benefit more for it. Don’t be afraid to say, “Not now – I’m busy.”