5 ways to reduce office interruptions

With more companies opting for open plan style offices, more interruptions are happening in the workplace. In fact, in a recent study, researchers at the University of California, Irvine found that the typical office worker is interrupted about every three minutes and it can take up to 23 minutes to resume work following a disruption.

Offices with no walls or even low-walled cubicles can reduce productivity by about 15% and have added issues with noise control or sound privacy. As many of us are too polite and don't know how to fend off interruptions, here are five tips you can use immediately to help reduce interruptions:


1. Avoid eye contact.

You know the routine; someone walks past your desk and you make eye contact with them which indicates you are open to a conversation. One that probably wouldn't have happened had you not made eye contact. So first on the list is to avoid making eye contact with people as they walk past (unless you want to). Just concentrate on what you are doing.

2. Tell people when you will be free

This one is pretty simple. Tell those people who are serial interrupters when you will be free that day. Let them know you are busy working on something specific and that if they need you today the best time to come and see you will be 'x' o'clock or 'y' o'clock. You will find that most people will either sort out their own issues or respect the fact that you have given them a window of time in which to visit you. If you are a manager, you do need to be available to your team and help them realise that they can interrupt you during your 'unavailable' time if it's urgent.

3. Have signal that says you're busy

Create a signal that says you're busy or don't want to be interrupted. However, everyone needs to know the signal otherwise it won't work. A Danish-company called Plenom has a product called 'BusyLight', which is a red-green light that can connect to your calendar and automatically switches colours depending whether you’re busy or not. More than 10,000 companies use this worldwide. A Latvia-based company called Luxafor launched a USB Flag in 2015. This is an LED light that changes colours depending on whether you're busy or not and includes a pomodoro timer for productivity gains. You could use headphones or even a hat - something that everyone knows means you don't want to be interrupted.

4. Turn off notifiers

This one is useful for any office layout. Unless your job depends on you responding immediately to emails and messages, turn off email and other notifiers and set aside a proactive time to check on them. You can even set an auto-responder message to say that you will be checking emails at a certain time. This helps your productivity by grouping or batching tasks to be done at the same time and reduces the lost time contstantly moving from task to task.

5. Move location

Sometimes you may need to actually work from a different location. If your work requires full concentration then an open plan office or a really social workplace may be highly counterproductive in certain circumstances. Consider working from home occasionally if that's possible. Try a different desk or find a meeting room that's free. Physically moving can also create a spur of energy by being in new surroundings.


Interruptions are part of work life but we can do things to help reduce them. These are just five tips that can work well. For more ideas consider looking at LearningPlanet - for some 1 minute and 10 minute videos on time management, productivity tips and much more.


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