They say the first step to solving a problem is to recognize that you have one.
When contemplating the idea of being addicted to interruptions, many people might say, “Me? Not possible." They will say they have too much work and not enough time for it, so why would they even tolerate interruptions, let alone develop an addiction to them.
But when businesspeople in my training programs are asked to do a self-assessment about how much time they lose to interruptions, they routinely come up with three to five hours a day. That’s right, roughly half of their working day is lost to interruptions.
So they are evidently doing something they're in denial about. Check yourself for these signs:
1. Frequently scanning your usual sources of interruptions.
When you're stymied by your work or mildly bored with the task at hand, do you tend to seek out stimulation on your phone, the Internet or email inbox? Perhaps you think, "Maybe there’s some major breaking news."
Or you imagine that maybe somebody replied to your tweet, liked your web post or wants your opinion.
AdTruth found that smartphone users check their phones 150 times a day.
2. Letting your focus stray when you closet yourself in.
If you have set aside some dedicated time (an hour or two) for an important task, do you start focusing on things like "I hope this project leads to a promotion" or do you speculate, "I wonder if anybody is trying to reach me"?
Or perhaps you are the type to start ruminating on "How will I ever lose this weight? I’m hungry."
Many people are so accustomed to being interrupted that even when they have made themselves impervious to interruptions by others, they might interrupt themselves.
3. Welcoming someone who wanders by.
When a colleague asks, "Got a minute?" even when you're on a tight, important deadline, do you automatically respond, "Sure, what’s up?"
Many people do so unthinkingly and habitually even though they know the consequences will be bad for them. They just feel driven to make this choice.
If you’re addicted to interruptions, you need to embed some new behaviors in your repertoire that spare you disruptions to your work. This means developing insights and skills.
First, recognize the damage that interruptions cause, the time they steal from you. As I have explained in my book, The Time Bandit Solution, the fallout is a lot more than forfeiting the time of the interruption itself. That’s just the tip of the time-loss iceberg, considering the fact you can lose your entire train of thought.
To stave off those who would interrupt you ("time bandits" I call them), learn how to deter them politely and carefully by negotiating with them and making it in their best interest for you to continue working without interruption for a specified period of time.
And to ward off your own tendency to interrupt yourself, try some techniques to improve your ability to concentrate and avoid leakage in your flow of ideas.
As a recovering interruption addict myself, I promise you that when you change these behaviors and find yourself blessed with the precious gift of time that used to be stolen by old behaviors, your work and personal life will prosper.