I work in an organization where my job is usually a Desk job. Many a times when I am busy, some of my team members seeks for some help related to work. Being a professional, I always leave my work/task in-between and at once look into their queries.

Sometimes I am doing very important tasks which require concentration, but I still can't find a way to say 'NO' to their queries. I have faced NO many times from others when I seek help, they very rudely deny my request. I feel bad but I don't do this to anyone. Sometimes I am distracted by non-work related communication, which has a negative impact on effective time management and productivity?

How to handle interruptions/distractions by others at work?

  • 1
    @JanDoggen I think this question is considerably different for when you are a team lead vs an individual contributor. One role has a much higher responsibility to handle distractions/interruptions than the other. – enderland Sep 24 '14 at 11:39
  • @enderland Retracted my close vote, although it is not sure that 'my team members' means Emp1 is 'team lead'. – user8036 Sep 24 '14 at 11:47
  • @enderland meta.stackexchange.com/a/194495/165773 – gnat Sep 24 '14 at 18:49

There are a few ways you can approach this problem.

First, wear headphones. This can often eliminate the casual non-business related conversation because while people might be able to start chatting, most people won't interrupt you or tap you on the shoulder to say "hey! let's talk about non-work stuff." If they do, say "hey this really isn't a good time - I'm in the middle of something, want to catch up at lunch?"

Second, get in the habit of saying "I'm in the middle of something, can we talk in 10 minutes?" or something similar. Depending on the importance of what's being asked increase the time. Maybe say, "I'm pretty busy until Friday - set something up on our calendars for Friday" (I literally did this yesterday). This has the added benefit of giving the requestor more time to figure out what they really need.

You are right that saying "no" without anything else will be poorly received. But almost everyone will react positively to a "no, but" statement here. Whether it's talking a lunch, 10 minutes, or later in the week.

Sometimes though you are going to have to deal with these distractions. This is life. The higher your responsibilities the more important it is to interrupt your day for others, especially if you are a key decision maker.

It can make for interesting conversations with your boss (my boss allowed me to move to a corner of my office space after talking through how detrimental these sorts of distractions are, this has had a significant effect on the quantity of team member distractions).

To, to summarize:

  • Wear headphones to avoid non-work related discussion
  • Get used to pushing back the time
  • Never just say "no" without a "but" suggestion
  • Accept some interruptions are part of work
  • Talk with your boss
| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Even putting someone off for five or ten minutes is extremely helpful. You don't want to derail your train of thought, and often that's enough time to get to a more natural point to pause; and additionally, if people learn that interrupting you will get them their answers in 5-10 minutes, they won't interrupt you for things they can figure out faster than that themselves! – Carson63000 Sep 25 '14 at 0:21

Being a professional, I always leave my work/task in-between and at once look into their queries.

That's not being professional. That's just being accommodating - and in this case perhaps overly-so.

Sometimes I am doing very important tasks which require concentration, but I still can't find a way to say 'NO' to their queries.

How to handle interruptions/distractions by others at work?

I suspect you already know this, but you simply have to learn to say "No" when it is warranted.

If you truly have very important tasks, you can either say something like "No, I can't help you this time, I have to concentrate on the task I have." or "No, I can't help you right now. Perhaps later, once I have finished my task."

Sometimes, you can use your boss as the excuse - "Sorry, [boss] wants me to get this task done, so I can't help you. If you think it's important enough, we could go to [boss] and ask if things should be re-prioritized."

Depending on personalities, experience, and the work hierarchy, it can often be uncomfortable turning down a request for help. Additionally we sometimes unconsciously want to be known in the office as "the guy or gal who helps everyone". But if doing so gets in the way of completing your tasks, then you are shortchanging both yourself and the company.

Try saying "No" a few times. It will be hard at first, but you'll learn that it gets easier with time. And you'll likely also find that your colleagues will understand.

| improve this answer | |

Being a professional you interrupt your work? That's not what professional means. What about saying "I have some very important work that I need to concentrate on, can you wait until later"? This has nothing to do with rudeness. You are responsible for your work, not theirs, so its very rude to your employer if you say "Yes" to these people and don't get your own work done.

There may be a cultural difference here. I have no problem asking a colleague for an opinion or for help, and I have no problem if they say that they have no time to help me. That's me. There are other people who would find it very rude to interrupt a colleague, and who would also find it very rude to not help if asked. That's you. Everything works fine if all the people involved play by the same rules. Just like everything works fine as long as all cars drive on the same side of the road, no matter whether they choose the left or right side.

But when two different cultures clash, you get into trouble. You then have to be aware of this and act accordingly. If you had a colleague like me, I don't think it's rude if I don't help you, and I don't think it's rude at all if I ask you for help and you refuse. I wouldn't be the slightest offended if you have no time to help me, and it wouldn't even cross my mind that it was rude. That's most likely what happens with your colleagues. So they won't mind and they won't find it rude if you stop giving in to their demands. More likely they will have more respect for you.

| improve this answer | |

I can usually handle being interrupted to do something that takes very little time. If the time commitment for the interrupting task is essential and it could affect my deadline, I'll tell them that I have to clear their request with the person who gave me the deadline and the priority for the Task A that I am working on and I am not doing anything for them until I get the clearance. If the person who gave me the deadline/priority won't budge or I can't reach them, the request will have to wait until I find a suitable time window.

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .