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With my job, I often feel unproductive due to having multiple interruptions per day that drain my time. I do not want to seem like I am not doing anything (if my productivity is look at in terms of pure output), but I cannot do many tasks (which require phone calls) due to the interruptions. These include training people on how to use equipment, fixing document errors made by these individuals, answering questions for these individuals, fixing office equipment/replenishing, etc. My boss also spends time training me on specific skills and even more time is drained.

These are all on the phone and can take anywhere between 2 - 25 minutes (due to language barriers, repetition, and multiple questions). A lot of these interruptions are unstructured which causes time delays. One of my responsibilities is to assist these individuals, so I cannot "ignore" these people (if I did, other...more severe...problems would arise). My phone is practically glued to my ear during the day. These interruptions often require my entire attention so I am unable to multitask with them.

How do I avoid being perceived as being unproductive due to low physical output? How do I achieve showing results (not excuses) if my time is strained? How can I shorten these interruptions to do other tasks?

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    It sounds like these "interruptions" are your job, or at least a significant part of it. Handling them well could be considered productive work. – Dan Pichelman Mar 30 '16 at 22:01
  • @DanPichelman Absolutely! I just do not have any physical way to justify them (record them and prove what is done). Trying to do so is often burdensome and messy. – B1313 Mar 30 '16 at 22:05
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    @JoeStrazzere Actually, I am worried he might be seeing me as unproductive and if I approach him about it, it would confirm it (in his mind). I can't avoid them and actually he/we want to increase them. – B1313 Mar 30 '16 at 22:07
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    @B1313 - if your company doesn't use a ticket/issue/task tracker with time fields, you could just note the caller, subject, and time taken in a word document? – HorusKol Mar 31 '16 at 2:12
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    Possible duplicate of Should I Just Deal With Interruptions? – Jan Doggen Mar 31 '16 at 7:25
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Document visibly.

Keep a visible record of your time. There are great tools that are often used in agile development, that are free, and really not tied directly to software development or any particular task. You can use this to generate automated reports that show where you time goes by category. This will help you plan better, and will allow others to see what you've done.

Agile is divided into different flavors, like scrum and kanban. Kanban is a simple list showing the tasks you have to do, what you're working on, and what you've done. It isn't a big planning exercise, just an effective to-do list that communicates how your time is spent to others and yourself. I would recommend that, and it is often used personally (as opposed to in a group). Scrum and other methods are more overhead than you need.

  • You went on a tangent. – Xavier J Apr 1 '16 at 17:18
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One suggestion is schedule meetings on your calendar, probably they will say "IMPORTANT - DO NOT SCHEDULE" or possibly the name of your project, where you will devote time to work on your own projects. People who like interrupting tend to respect meetings, and this is a way to use the meeting / interruption culture against itself.

Also try to work from home as much as possible. This helps.

The interruptions are clearly an important part of your job so I would not write them off as unproductive, exactly. But they are out of control, and should persist, under control.

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I don't know how your productivity is measured, but you need to have a conversation with your boss. For a few days, keep track of what you're doing and who you're talking to on the phone and for how long.

Any number of things could come out of this:

  1. You're handling problems you shouldn't or your boss may be under the impression some of these people should be asking someone else.
  2. Taking all of these calls is exactly what you should be doing and if you don't get other things done, so be it. Either they get put off or your boss can have someone else do it.
  3. Your boss may think these calls shouldn't take this long. He could be right. You may have to justify why the calls take so long.
  4. Don't be surprised if your boss doesn't expect you to perfectly handle all these call all the time.

One strategy is to block off some time to not take any calls. Everything can't be an emergency. What do people do when you're on the phone with someone else? Use this time to get focused and be more productive and get some of the other stuff done. Work-around critical times. With the support of your boss, you don't have to worry about complaints from people who expected you to be available. He should stick up for you.

The key is to know what your boss expects and work within those constraints. You may be putting more stress on yourself than necessary.

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Document the frequency and nature of the interruptions. You can actually create two categories for most interruptions: reasonable and unreasonable. Reasonable interruptions are those that are defined in the scope of your job but also that a given employee cannot on their own accomplish with their skills, time or effort. Unreasonable interruptions would be those that don't fit your criteria: okay so you have to help people, they ask you a question and you answer it. Then, the same person keeps asking you about the same thing over and over. This is an example of unreasonable!

Take the unreasonable interruptions and put together some tutorials/FAQ/manuals either in a server folder or a binder, and get everyone into a team meeting. Tell them exactly what kind of interruptions are unreasonable, and in the aforementioned materials they can find most of their answers without having to come find you.

Reasonable interruptions, however, no matter how many you get will still need to be tackled based on their priority.

You can also implement a sort of ticket system. Tell people they will need to email you with their questions or issues so that you can make structured time to go out and help them.

IMO these are good steps you can take without escalating the issue to management and essentially take control of the issue yourself.

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