Brainfood: Your route to the top - Handling interruptions

Find out if it's necessary. Ask what they want, whether it has to be you, and if it has to be now. How we treat an interruption affects not only how our time is spent now, but also the likelihood that we will be interrupted later.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Relish the right interruptions. They can be a source of great insight, creativity and strong relationships. Or they can simply wake us up. The trick is to spot quickly whether it's a good or bad interruption and act accordingly.

Recognise what's in it for you. Does it make you feel helpful or supportive when people come to ask for your advice or approval? You have a choice: you can get acknowledgment of your positive qualities from another source, or you can be happy with all the interruptions.

Help people to help themselves. When someone asks you for guidance, coach them to solve the problem alone rather than taking on the task yourself. It may take longer now, but it will save you time later.

Change your default setting. If you always say yes immediately, leave a pause before you agree. Use those moments to ask yourself whether it's in your own best interests to do so.

Do unto others ... Be sensitive about how and when you interrupt other people. If you aren't being a great role model, don't be surprised if others follow your poor example.

Explain your position. For those who persist in interrupting, make sure they are aware of the effect their behaviour has on your time. Then fix a specific point in the day or week to discuss all their issues.

Be firm. Get used to saying 'no' or at least 'not now' every once in a while. The interrupters may then seek out someone who is a softer touch.

- The Mind Gym: Give Me Time is published by Time Warner at £12.99 (

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