This is What 'Interrupt Work' Is — And How to Manage It

It's easy to let this kind of work derail your day, but not impossible to fight back.

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
April 12, 2024 at 8:52PM UTC

Busy work. Work about work. These are those annoying types of work that eat up your day and frustrate you, without seeming to contribute to the big picture — your professional goals and the organization’s objectives. Now, we’re recognizing a new kind of work that detracts from, rather than contributes to, your schedule — interrupt work.

“It's not the kind of work where you get up in the morning and you know exactly what you're doing for the day,” said PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada. “It's unstructured, unplanned and generally comes at us in a time-sensitive manner.”

How do you deal with interrupt work and prevent it from derailing your day? Here are some ideas.

Make a strategy and to-do list.

Don’t go into your day without having any type of structure. Know what it is you want and need to get done, and create a to-do list (no need to go into a lot of detail) to meet your objectives. 

This is a two-fold solution. First, you will have a clear picture of what you need to accomplish, so you’ll understand what, exactly, you’re putting aside if interrupt work occurs. Second, if these truly are priorities, you can point to your list and explain why these items need your attention, taking precedent over interrupt work.

Reduce “work about work.”

You may well find that a large amount of your interrupt work is actually work about work. These are tasks that aren’t actually furthering your goals — checking and responding to your emails, for instance.

According to an Asana report, 41% of respondents are spending more time on emails and 43% are spending more time on video calls than a year ago. While there are certainly emails that need to be answered and meetings that need to be had, chances are, many people are spending more time on this work about work than is necessary.

When you take strides to reduce this type of work, you will more than likely find your day flows much more smoothly — without interruption.

Do not disturb.

You have “do not disturb” tools on platforms like Slack and Outlook (and even your phone) — so use them! This tells others that unless it’s an emergency, they shouldn’t be bothering you. You’d be surprised at how many people respect this — and that way, you’ll be able to get work done without interruption.

Of course, these platforms usually come equipped with options for getting around “do not disturb” in case of emergency

Prioritize.

Finally, it’s up to you to prioritize. You’re the professional, and you know what’s most important to tackle immediately.

If you’re contending with a manager who’s presenting you with interrupt work, politely explain what else you have on your plate and discuss what’s most pressing to deal with first.

And, of course, respect your own time. Know that you don’t have to drop everything the minute something else comes up — it’s your job to set limits on others AND yourself.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for dealing with interrupt work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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