When I survey attorneys at CLE and in-house seminars on time management about their top 25 productivity blockers, interruptions almost always comes in at the top of the list.
The main categories of interruption are well known and typically include: email and text alerts, phone calls, and drop-in visitors or hallway intercepts.
The rationales (i.e., the excuses) for tolerating interruptions are also well known:
- I have to be accessible to clients
- I don’t want to be rude
- I can’t say No to more senior attorneys
- I can’t risk missing an important communication from someone
What’s less well known – at least less acknowledged – are the psychological and emotional drivers that keep us tolerating constant time, attention, and revenue robbers (a.k.a. interruptions).
- Fear: I’ll get fired by a client or my boss; I’ll miss out on a significant opportunity
- Ego: I like feeling knowledgeable and important (and maybe even saving the day)
- Immediate Gratification: the interruption is exciting, interesting, or lets me procrastinate
- Angst: I’m lost if I’m untethered from both my desktop and my mobile device
The truth is, we usually get something out of our persistent behaviors even if they’re counter-productive – otherwise we’d change those behaviors. So as much as you may complain about interruptions and their negative impact on your practice and your stress level, the question is: Why DO you continue to allow so many of them?
Think back to a recent interruption you allowed but wish you hadn’t (you probably only have to go back to earlier today or yesterday) and see if any of the above drivers ring true.
Then, try coaching yourself around the question of what you could have done differently. Imagine that a friend were describing the situation to you and asking for your help figuring out how he or she could have prevented or minimized the interruption – while also ameliorating the fear associated with doing so.
You might counsel your friend that it’s OK to close her door for an hour or to put the phone on DND (or inform her assistant to hold all calls for a designated block of time). Or you might reassure your friend that as long as he gets back to that VIP client within three hours, no harm will be done to the relationship. You see, you have more wisdom about the issue than you give yourself credit for; it’s just easier to access when you step out of your own shoes (and scripts).
Successfully reducing interruptions involves communicating proactively with your top interrupters, re-framing expectations, planning your day effectively, and a handful of other non-rocket-science level skills.
But it starts with awareness and honesty and is built on the courage to face the truth that if YOU don’t put boundaries on the interruptions you allow, no one else will on your behalf.