In computer science, an interruption is a signal to a computing device that halts the execution of a program in progress so that some other action can proceed. In electrical engineering, an interruption comes in the form of a circuit that conveys a signal that stops the execution of a running program.
In everyday life, an interruption is a break in the action and is derived from the Latin words inter, which is to go between, and ruptus, which is to break off. Hence, an interruption can be described as something that comes between entities and separates them, such as you and the task you’re attempting to complete! Curiously, ruptus is related to the word rupture, which in biology is defined as a tearing apart of tissue; in politics, a breach of the peace; or in everyday affairs, a state of being broken apart.
Interruptions impede productivity
For meeting professionals seeking to be highly productive, interruptions represent a “breaking apart” of their ability to stay focused and strive for completion of the task at hand. In many work environments today—the traditional office as well as in mobile settings—each one of us is prone to too many interruptions to approach our potential level of productivity. Why? We are subjected to more potential interruptions than any previous workforce since homo erectus emerged from caves.
Unprecedented challenges call for unprecedented solutions. It is not enough to turn your cell phone ringer or vibrator off. It is insufficient to believe that merely closing your office door will safeguard you from intruders. It is folly to believe that tomorrow is somehow going to be better than today if we don’t take a certain number of measures that guarantee we can work for 30, 60, or 90 minutes undisturbed when we need to.
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Many years ago, I met with the CEO of the Planning Research Corporation in his office on the top floor of a building on K Street in Washington, D.C. From this vantage point, he was able to look out of large picture windows in three directions, including to the west for dozens of miles into Virginia. His office, the foyer leading into it, the receptionist’s area prior to that, the hallway leading to that and the entire floor were notably quieter than any of the floors under it. Like so many other top executives, he knew the importance of being able to marinade in his own thoughts.
The quiet to reflect
Those reaching the top rungs of organizations and who aspire to high achievement, instinctively understand the importance of safeguarding their environment. They understand the value of being able to reflect upon the challenges before them, to utilize the full measure of their cerebral capabilities and craft a plan or devise a solution to meet that challenge.
In our own lives and careers, sometimes we don’t have the choice of working on a quiet floor with barriers surrounding our work space that ensure the quiet we need to concentrate on the challenges before us. We do, however, have options regardless of our working environment that can increase the probability we will have vital stretches throughout the day and the week, where we are free of disturbances and can safely predict that interruptions will not take us off course.
Most meeting professional, sometime throughout the week, have the opportunity to take command of their immediate environment through a variety of procedures that are well known but unfortunately not put into practice as often as one might wish.
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Interruption-proof your environment
In my book Breathing Space, I offer some suggestions for safeguarding your working environment and minimizing interruptions.
- Surround yourself with everything you need to fully engage in the change process, which also might involve assembling resources, people and space, as well as ensuring that you have a quiet environment free of distractions.
- Give yourself the hours or days you need to read, study and absorb what is occurring, and to make decisions about how you’ll apply new ways of doing things and new technology to your career and firm.
- Go “cold turkey,” although this is not recommended for most people. Suspend whatever else you’re doing and engage in whatever it takes to incorporate a new way of doing things. This is enhanced by ensuring that you’ll have no disturbances, bringing in outside experts and assembling any other resources you need to succeed.
As the AllState commercial used to say, “Life comes at you fast.” In the future, today will seem like an era of peace and tranquility. Life will come at us ever-faster as our technology and mobile devices connect us with more and more people, and information sources around the world. We have to establish effective habits and procedures to buttress ourselves against what we know is coming: more information, more communication, more to sift through, more to learn and more to respond to.
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Our work week and our lives are finite. We can only cram in so much information in a given period of time. The ability to understand and absorb what we need to, and keep at bay all the extraneous information that competes for our attention is a skill which must be developed, honed and refined now. It won’t get any easier later.
The sooner we recognize that our interruption-based society is here to stay, at least for now, the sooner we can embrace and securely put into place those measures that will ensure that we can be at our best for today and for the long run.