Constant interruptions from people and devices are one of the biggest productivity killers. The most challenging interruption to manage from a relationship point of view are your superiors (bosses, managers etc.); or your clients, if you are an entrepreneur.
It’s hard to say “no”, “go away” or “leave me alone, I have work to do” to your boss or to a client. It also wouldn’t make sense to say anything like that. As always, you need to take a smarter approach.
A boss who constantly interrupts probably doesn't know much about productivity
Let’s start with the real source of the problem. Many managers take it as their self-evident right to interrupt any of their coworkers whenever something “urgent” comes up.
And if the manager is not a highly organized individual, letting themselves and others work in peace, these interruptions can be quite frequent. They can happen on an hourly basis over and over again. Impossible to get any real work done.
If that’s something that kills your daily productivity, here is what to do. Every manager, no matter how disorganized, values pro-activity or new creative ideas from their coworkers.
Every manager desires to have committed coworkers who contribute. If they don’t, they’re really lousy managers and maybe you should consider working for somebody else. So, let’s assume your manager is open to your ideas and suggestions.
Ask for help to work in peace or indirectly educate your boss
The worst way to approach your superior would be something along the lines “Mr. Boss, you interrupt me too frequently, could you pretty please do it less often”.
Such an approach can only backfire and cause tension in a relationship. There are two much better ways to set boundaries and minimize interruptions in such a professional relationship.
The first way is that you simply ask for their help, in the right kind of a way. Here’s how that would look: “Mr. Boss, I have currently so much on my plate. I need to find a way to work for 2 – 3 hours every day, without any distractions and interruptions. Could you please help me achieve that?
I have a few ideas how. What if I work at a remote location for 2 hours every day and send you the work I have completed?”
The second approach is to indirectly educate your manager. Share with them this awesome article you read on the destructive force of interruptions in general. Ask them if you can try this crazy idea that you read about to improve your productivity.
Most managers are very inclined towards trying new ideas, especially the ones that will improve individual and team productivity. They just might have no ideas how to achieve that. Be there to help them.
Convince them that you should work at a remote, peaceful location when spikes of work kick in and focused work is required. Then go to your favorite coffee shop or find an isolated place where you can work in peace.
Convince you manager you can put a “do not disturb” sign on your desk or on your door when you really can’t be distracted, because you have an important deadline to meet.
Share the feedback and show the progress
After every such session of uninterrupted work share with your superior how much you have done. Just tell them, “this is awesome, I’ve done more work in two hours than I usually do in two days. Can I please, please repeat it.” I’m sure not many managers would say no.
Above is an awesome TED talk about the issue. Jason Fried has a radical theory of working: that the office isn't a good place to do it. He calls out the two main offenders (call them the M&Ms) and offers three suggestions to make the workplace actually work. Enjoy watching!