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Work is a Symphony of Interruptions

Midday on a Monday, I’m sitting at work, working at my computer with my office door open.  Note that much of my work requires thought. If checking email requires 10% cranial capacity, this work was like 80%.  In the span of 15 seconds:

1.  I received a mobile phone call that could have waited until later.  Yup, I answered it.

2. While on the mobile phone, a loud overhead page was made at work that could have been easily avoided (just get up and go see the person, we work in a small office. Damn, that speaker on my office phone is loud!)

3.  A person came to my door and knocked, took a few steps in, expecting me to talk to them (yo, I’m holding a phone near my ear! And talking!)

4. An urgent email came in. I often stare at my computer screen while talking on the phone. Of course it was urgent and sort of made my heart skip.

5.  Someone then buzzed me on my office phone – this came in after the overhead page, although an incoming office call can interrupt an overhead page on my phone. When that happens, hopefully the overhead page isn’t for me!

What was I working on again?  Calling this 15-second chain of events a “symphony” is being generous – all of this incoming work and personal stimuli is nothing more than a cacophany of productivity destroyers.

I’m not even qualified (yet) to give you advice on this – I am struggling with this mightily right now, and I’m losing.  People often say, “How are you getting all of this done,” and the answer is that I’m chopping through it like those rainforest explorer dudes chop through the underbrush with machetes (I’m convinced this only happens in the movies).  It’s ugly, and all of this is turning my brain into a rewired mess of scrambled eggs, but I’m getting stuff done.

However, I don’t want my brain rewired in such a way. I want to return to a simpler, quieter time, where my creative brain can work unfettered.  I want to break through and harness the power of big ideas.  Can I do it?  The answer might be no – with a full-time job, Rizzo Tees, this blog, Social Media Club of St. Louis, a 4-family apartment building I own, a wife and two kids, and then maybe a wee bit of time for doing things that actually interest me….. I’m busier than ever.

After reading some Tim Ferriss, I’m starting to take steps to cut down on the incoming email.  Here are two other recent articles that got me thinking more about this subject:

Chris Brogan’s blogpost on The Assault On Anywhen

Jason Fried’s awesome video and transcript on Why You Can’t Work At Work (God I love this)

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Am I just full of excuses here, or can we take steps to restructure our workday to get more done?


  1. Work early and work late — the mid day is a zoo.

  2. I've been up since 4am. Makes me a zombie by 9pm or so, but I get much done in the early morning. Can't wait for summer – my body is more willing to stay up late and get up early during the summer months.

  3. That is a great video by Jason Fried, and good blog to see it in action. Is it possible this interruption phenomena is a good reason for remote working? As a small company, we have a few employees scattered across the country. I would have to say everyone is very focused, we follow a simplified meeting schedule, and we use tools such as our service, my.OnSIP, and Basecamp.

    Of course, this could be too difficult to maintain on a large scale – many working from home. So, perhaps there should be a restructure of the office. For one, I would suggest someone be a meeting hall monitor, checking the necessity of meetings and providing other options. Reviewing insignificant progress isn't significant! As for how to deal with the email & phone interruptions, that's an interesting question…

  4. Yep — I use to work early then I started working late too — then I had two kids — getting crazy.

  5. petesalsich says:

    Great post, Chris — you're describing my life, too! It's a constant challenge — some part of me seems to thrive on the interruptions, as if I'm actually more productive the busier I get. When it really matters, though, like when I'm researching and writing a brief, I have to close the door, turn off my phone and put some music on to drown out everything but the task at hand. You just have to trust that the true, real emergencies will find you, and everything else can wait.

  6. I love this post–it's so true, whether you work in an office or at home. I think it's about setting priorities and establishing boundaries, things that have been very much on my mind lately. Letting the call go to voicemail, shutting off email or Twitter when you're working on an intense project, and then being ready to leave it all behind when it's time to be a good spouse or parent, or simply when you need to decompress. Good luck!

  7. Thank you Laura! So glad you're here on TBE.

    The establishment of boundaries is TOUGH! Should one of the boundaries be that my wife can't call my mobile phone unless it's an absolute emergency? I love my wife (not sure if she's a reader here yet LOL), but when she calls, when ANYONE calls, it's an interruption. Tim Ferriss says something to the effect of never answer your phone – always call them back. There are wifes, bosses, clients….. they may not want to be placed behind an impenetrable boundary. Therein lies the challenge

  8. For me, the worst part of shutting down all forms of communication (mobile phone, Twitter, email, etc etc etc) is what's waiting for you when you return. Driving thru a pile of emails, DMs, voicemails, etc – it sucks! That's one of the reasons I try to stay on top of it all. But then the BIG THING (whatever that is) doesn't get done. That has to change.

  9. Oh, most definitely. I'm notorious for not answering my phone, and last year, my mom ended up calling my husband after she was in a car accident because I wasn't available. Which I was, except my ringer was turned off. Now, I use google voice, so I can at least screen and know who and why people are calling. But like you said, there are ALWAYS exceptions. I always pick up when my husband calls, and yes, even that's an interruption. I think for me, it's more about setting up blocks of time for certain activities, and allowing interruptions to be the exception, rather than the rule. Great thoughts here!

  10. Absolutely agree. This is why I'm known to answer emails on my bberry just as I roll out of bed or before the food comes at a restaurant. Sad, but true. “Dealing with it sooner than later” is a trait of a go-getter… So we're the plagued ones!

  11. Chris,

    Be joyful that you are staying busy with your work. Yes I know that you are being brain fried by plenty of business opportunities but that is a GREAT thing. Hope you can work everything out and still reply to everyone's email's ;).

  12. Chris,
    I happened by here and also on to Laura Scholz's because Chris Brogan suggested that both of your posts were worth reading. He was, as usual, correct. While reading your Symphony of Interruptions and Laura's Boundaries discussion the pain you are both experiencing was palpable. The truth is sometimes any given moment in our lives can resemble Dilbert or the Family Circus. I have been in the work force now for 42 years. I have owned two successful businesses and all along the way I tried to live and conduct my business life with this basic tenet: Treat others the way you want to be treated. It doesn't matter if you are in IT, Social Media, banking, innkeeping, teaching…you give respect, you receive respect and people ( including your family members) learn by your example. We make choices. I try to write on our company blog once per week, but I don't always make it. You are Laura might enjoy these three posts.
    It was nice meeting you both and I hope when you both need a break from it all, you will click on one of these links and learn about me…a person who you met through Chris Brogan.


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