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This question already has an answer here:

Throughout the working day is a common practice to communicate, I find it good until the point where we communicated all day long and all the work done is in a draft state, leading one to work after hours, home office or resign.

We had (my team) issued this problem numerous times into our retro, complaining about the massive interruptions we have to face during the day, but it never results in a permanent solution.

We tried

  • When it was critical, working from the cafeteria. Of course one cannot go missing like that.
  • Raising a finger up until the person waiting for your attention to say "I'll come back later.";
  • Scheduled talk time - we did the scheduled meetings and the normal interrupts, leading to more talk.
  • Home office;
  • After hours;

Drawback

As I already said, is important to communicate.

My questions are:

Is our leader soft ? Meaning, is this the kind of problem that our management should correct and enforce?

How to filter from the start, questions by their importance? Because for anyone their problem is more important than anything else.

marked as duplicate by The Wandering Dev Manager, David K, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Myles, enderland Oct 5 '15 at 19:30

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    Not sure what the question is? If you are being distracted, and are using Agile (you mentioned retro), your scrum master should be running offence to deflect these things from being a distraction, otherwise get your manager to ring-fence you if it means nothing is getting done. – The Wandering Dev Manager Oct 5 '15 at 14:36
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    Related question: Balance between quiet workplace and necessary discussion – sleske Oct 5 '15 at 14:44
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    workplace.stackexchange.com/q/34121/2322 is basically this exact question. I could copy/paste my answer from there to this question. Same with workplace.stackexchange.com/q/30411/2322 – enderland Oct 5 '15 at 15:02
  • Ups, I've posted from the mobile and it didn't showed up the existing questions when I added it. What to do now ? – user41848 Oct 5 '15 at 15:17
  • @tiberiu.corbu it's ok :) The "related questions" is pretty broken anyways... I think someone will probably vote to close it and then you should get a "did this answer your question?" link. – enderland Oct 5 '15 at 15:25
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1) Use 'Do Not Disturb' - If there is an IM system, don't be afraid to use the 'Do Not Disturb'. Perhaps make it a practice in your company to check before going to talk to someone if they are available. Maybe put up a sign indicating you are busy. Perhaps headphones could also be an indicator to not disturb someone.

2) Use priorities as an excuse - If someone still interrupts you, and you are working on something time sensitive, just say, "I am sorry I am working in a high priority issue right now". Be direct, but polite. If your boss assigns you tasks, he should be okay with you doing this if you are focusing on the things that are most important.

3) Log interruptions - Keep track of these interruptions. In my company, the standard is if we spend 15+ minutes on an unexpected issue to log it and keep track of who you were helping. There may be someone who recieves way too much help and isn't learning. This is a way to keep track of that.

4) Time box responses - At my company, any time I log should be spent on issue I have been assigned. If someone asks me a question to troubleshoot something that will take more than a few minutes I use the following. "I can help for {x} minutes, but I am afraid I don't have more time allocated for that right now. If it is a issue that is serious we should log it into our system and my manager will see I can work on it when approriate." If it is high priority, it will be sooner rather than later.

A problem, that may still exists, is losing that "train of thought". Without you manager's help enforcing the above suggestions, you will have to be flexible. Do what you can without over stepping your bounds.

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There are two main reasons why people interrupt each other all day long, to the extent that work does no get done:

  • interrupters can't be bothered to try to figure things out themselves and decide it's quicker to go interrupt someone for help
  • interrupters got started without critical information, and have no choice but to ask for that information when they are blocked

If you know which if the two is causing the majority of the interruptions in your office, what your manager needs to do will become clear. You can see how lecturing someone on "trying things yourself" will not help at all for the second kind of situation, for example.

One interesting approach would be to ask your manager just for a single day to agree that all interruptions go through the manager. Joe doesn't know the password to the new account Steve set up yesterday? Don't go to Steve and ask, go to the manager and ask. Of course that means Joe and the manager will go to Steve together and ask, but that is the point of the exercise. Steve doesn't know how to do something and believes that Kathy does? Don't go and ask Kathy how to do it, go to the manager and confess to not knowing how. The manager may give the task to Kathy, or schedule a time for Kathy to teach Steve, or find Steve some non-Kathy resource, or direct Steve to find a non-Kathy resource.

At the end of the day the "it's quicker to interrupt you" folks may be broken of the habit. (They may not: I had someone who said this very sentence out loud to coworkers and would not stop doing it, until that became incompatible with working for me.) Your manager may detect a pattern and be able to help prevent future interruptions. Or your manager may take all this communicating into account when planning workloads. Lots to be learned.

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There is a policy implemented in my company years ago to tackle exactly this problem, and now years after it still works, and quite well, I might add. And it's fairly simple, too.

  • First Rule: interrupt if blocker. No team member should be interrupted unless it's a) someone designated to be interrupted b) you are facing a critical issue absolutely nobody else can solve. Your work has stopped, you are loosing money etc.
  • Headphones on? Do not disturb unless a critical emergency (desk is on fire).
  • If you need to discuss something that is not emergency - do it in a daily stand-up meeting, or when you see the person you want to discuss it with is not busy.

This will not eliminate all noise, but it will certainly help tone it down a little.

Another very good thing is to have "operations master" in your team - someone who can be interrupted in emergencies and pretty much everything else that is not planned work for current planning iteration etc. For example, in my current company one team member is responsible for "noise" or disruptive tasks. This member rotates on a weekly basis. Everyone else works on planned tasks - external and internal unplanned work gets directed only to the given member. I guess that you are a development team, so the operations master should be one of the developers, not someone from management. Everyone should always know who the operations master is this week so not to rise confusion - some use small red flag at the desk, some something else. Up to you this, really.

At the end of the day, this boils down to internal culture for all stakeholders and everyone involved. You could try and implement and/or suggest management implement this as a department/team/company wide policy.