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Managing Interruptions – Making The Most Of Your Time

Written by: Prakash Rao, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Prakash Rao

In George Orwell's classic novel, "Animal Farm," he famously wrote, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." This quote can be aptly applied to the world of interruptions as well. Not all interruptions are created equal, and understanding their significance can help you manage them more effectively. By evaluating the importance and criticality of interruptions and applying David Allen's "delete, defer, delegate, do" filter, you can significantly improve your productivity and focus.

An illustration of cellphone notfication.

The nature of interruptions

In our busy lives, interruptions are frequent. Whether it's a colleague posing a sudden query or a high-priority email from your superior, they can throw us off our game. But understanding and categorizing these interruptions can help us deal with them better.

Firstly, let's be clear about what an interruption really means. Think of it as an external trigger that demands your immediate attention. This doesn't mean a mild suggestion or a passive hint; it's more of a direct, unavoidable prompt. It's the sudden phone call during a deep work session, the unexpected visitor during a meeting, or an unplanned task popping up on a tightly packed day.

There are five key things to remember about interruptions:

  1. Origin: They always come from outside your current task or thought process.

  2. Nature: Interruptions act as triggers or catalysts, sparking an immediate reaction from you.

  3. Urgency: They don't ask gently or hint. Interruptions usually have an urgent tone, demanding swift acknowledgment.

  4. Response Time: They require a prompt reaction. Delaying or putting them off might escalate the situation.

  5. Impact: Most importantly, they disrupt. Even if momentarily, they divert your attention, break your flow, and often require some time to get back on track.

But remember, not every interruption is a crisis. Being able to differentiate between the crucial and the manageable can be the key to maintaining productivity amidst daily disruptions.

Evaluating the importance and criticality of interruptions

To effectively manage interruptions, it's essential to evaluate their importance and criticality. Important interruptions have a direct impact on your goals and objectives, while critical interruptions require immediate attention to prevent negative consequences. By understanding the significance of the interruption, you can make informed decisions about how to address it, allowing you to maintain focus and productivity.

To evaluate the importance and criticality of interruptions, consider the following factors:

  1. Relevance: Is the interruption directly related to your current task or a high-priority project?

  2. Urgency: Does the interruption require immediate action, or can it be addressed later?

  3. Consequences: What are the potential negative outcomes if the interruption is not addressed promptly?

Applying David Allen's "delete, defer, delegate, do" filter

Once you've assessed the importance and criticality of an interruption, you can apply David Allen's "delete, defer, delegate, do" filter to determine the best course of action. This simple yet powerful approach can help you effectively manage interruptions and maintain your focus on high-priority tasks.

  1. Delete: If an interruption is neither important nor critical, consider deleting it altogether. This might involve ignoring an irrelevant email or politely declining a non-essential meeting invitation.

  2. Defer: If an interruption is important but not critical, consider deferring it until a more appropriate time. For example, you might schedule a time to address the issue later in the day or week.

  3. Delegate: If an interruption is critical but not important to your specific role or objectives, consider delegating it to someone else who is better equipped to handle the issue. This might involve asking a colleague to assist with a task or seeking support from a manager.

  4. Do: If an interruption is both important and critical, address it immediately. While this might temporarily disrupt your focus, it's essential to prioritize tasks that have a direct impact on your goals and objectives.

Tips for managing interruptions effectively

In addition to evaluating interruptions and applying the "delete, defer, delegate, do" filter, there are several strategies you can use to manage interruptions more effectively:

  1. Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries with colleagues and communicate your need for uninterrupted time to focus on high-priority tasks. This might involve setting specific "office hours" or implementing a "do not disturb" policy during certain times of the day.

  2. Prioritize tasks: Begin each day by prioritizing your tasks and allocating time for each one. By focusing on your most important tasks first, you can minimize the impact of interruptions on your productivity.

  3. Use technology wisely: Leverage technology to help manage interruptions, such as using "do not disturb" settings on your devices or scheduling email notifications to only come through at specific times. Additionally, consider using productivity apps or tools that help you stay focused and organized.

  4. Create a conducive work environment: Minimize distractions in your workspace by keeping it clean, organized, and free of unnecessary clutter. If possible, designate a specific area for focused work, where you can minimize interruptions from colleagues or other external factors.

  5. Practice mindfulness: Develop mindfulness techniques to help you stay present and focused on your tasks, even when interruptions arise. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can help you remain calm and centered, making it easier to return to your task after an interruption.

  6. Plan for interruptions: Accept that interruptions are a natural part of work and life, and plan for them accordingly. Allocate extra time in your schedule to account for potential interruptions, and be prepared to adjust your plans as needed.

The benefits of effective interruption management

By evaluating interruptions and applying the "delete, defer, delegate, do" filter, you can reap numerous benefits, including:

  1. Improved productivity: By addressing only the most important and critical interruptions, you can maintain your focus on high-priority tasks and complete them more efficiently.

  2. Better time management: Understanding the significance of interruptions allows you to make informed decisions about how to allocate your time, ensuring that you spend your time on the most valuable tasks.

  3. Enhanced work-life balance: Effectively managing interruptions can help you maintain a healthy work-life balance by reducing stress, burnout, and the feeling of being overwhelmed by constant demands on your time.

  4. Increased job satisfaction: When you're able to stay focused and productive at work, you're more likely to feel satisfied and accomplished in your job, leading to a happier and more fulfilling work experience.


In today's fast-paced work environment, interruptions are inevitable. However, by evaluating the importance and criticality of these disruptions and applying David Allen's "delete, defer, delegate, do" filter, you can effectively manage interruptions and maintain your focus on high-priority tasks. By implementing these strategies, you can improve your productivity, time management, and overall job satisfaction, while also promoting a healthier work-life balance.

[The author’s new book, Interruption Buster, will soon be available in all bookstores and online.]

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Prakash Rao Brainz Magazine

Prakash Rao, Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Prakash Rao is learning skills guru. He transforms middle school and high school students into super learners. After a career in software development and consulting, Prakash pursued his interest in self development and helping children learn to learn. In this, he is following in his mother's footsteps – Dr. Indira S. Rao developed this methodology as part of her Ph.D. program with Prakash as the subject. Prakash is now the preeminent expert in Dr. Rao's methodology and has made it his mission to unlock children's learning potential and unleash the inner genius.



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