5 Tips to Manage Interruptions in Your Work Day

5 Tips to Manage Interruptions in Your Work Day

By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN

“The average American worker has fifty interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with work.”  W. Edwards Deming

interruptionFor the past two years, we have been placing new emerging leaders with experienced nurse managers for administrative practicums.  Students often tell us that they are surprised at how frequently their nurse manager preceptors are interrupted during the day.  Indeed, these managers in recent research told us that this is one of their biggest challenges in working with students – getting uninterrupted time to hold a conversation.  Many managers find that they work evening and weekends to catch up on work because their day is reacting to minor emergencies or answering questions.   Getting back on track can be challenging.  Career Builder reports from their research that the average manager receives six interruptions an hour.  One of the most frustrating parts of being interrupted is that you can lose your train of thought and focus.

Avoiding Interruptions

Interruptions to our work flow are routine especially in health care settings but are they really acceptable?  Increasingly in clinical practice, it is recognized that they can present risks to patient safety.

Hall, Pedersen and Fairley in recent research conducted in Canadian hospitals found that workplace interruptions are a significant issue on nursing units.  Interestingly, the majority of the interruptions came from unexpected interactions with other health care team members most often communication related to patient care issues.  Most of the interruptions observed could have had a negative effect on patient safety versus improving patients care.

Researchers have found that it can take between 10 and 20 minutes to get back on track after an interruption so they also need to be viewed as significant time wasters.  In clinical environments, we have seen the introduction of interruption-free zones in medication rooms.  Nurse leaders have been more reluctant to set these boundaries for their own work.  The best way to minimize interruptions at work is to be proactive in the steps you take to avoid them.

Five tips to avoid interruptions and reduce distractions in your environment include the following:

  1. Develop an awareness of the negative issues with interruptions.
  2. Abstain from being the cause of an interruption….ask  Is this a good time for You?
  3. If you need a distraction free zone – close the door and put a sign on it.
  4. If you have only five minutes to talk – say that up front so the conversation can be focused.
  5. If you need to finish a task you have started, say so let the person know when you will be free.
  6. Let your phone go to voice mail, turn off your email, text messages or other communication devices when you are trying to focus.

Everyday interruptions at work can be a key barrier to managing your time effectively and, ultimately, can be a barrier to your success.  Learning how to manage these interruptions more effectively is a key leadership skill.

Read to Lead

Covey, S. (2004). Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Free Press

Hall, L.M., Pedersen, C. & Fairley, L. (2010). Losing the Moment: Understanding Interruptions to Nurses’ Work.  Journal of Nursing Administration, 40(4). 169-176.

© emergingrnleader.com 2013