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Interruption Management

Interruption management is the life management area that gathers the processes to minimize the time and willpower toll consumed by interruptions.

We've come to accept that we need to be available 24/7 and answer immediately, that makes us slaves of the interruptions, it drives our work and personal relations. I feel that out of respect of ourselves and the other's time, we need to change that perspective. Most of the times interruptions can wait 20 or 60 minutes, and many of them can be avoided with better task and time planning.

Interruptions are one of the main productivity killers. Not only they unexpectedly break your workflow, they also add undesired mental load as you are waiting for them to happen, and need to check them often. As we've seen previously, to be productive you need to be able to work on a task for 20 minutes without checking the interruption channels.

Interruption analysis

The interruption analysis is the main input to do interruption management. With it you consider what are the sources of the interruptions, and for each of them you classify the different source events in categories evaluating:

  • How many interruption events does the source or category create.
  • How many of the events require an action, and if it can be automated.
  • How many hold information that don't need any action, and what do you want to do with that information.
  • How many could be automatically filtered out.
  • What priority do the events have, and if it's the same for all events.
  • How long can the associated action be delayed.

Once you have that list, think if you can reduce it. Can you merge or directly remove one of the sources? The less channels to check, the better.

Then think which of them you have no control over and think of ways to regain it. If you decide when to address the interruptions, your mind will have less load and will perform better when you're actually working.

The ultimate goal of the analysis is to safely define the maximum amount of time you can spend without looking at the channels. Checking them continuously makes no sense, you're breaking your workflow for no good reason, as most times there is nothing new, and if there is, you feel the urge to act upon them, even though they could wait.

In some teams, the situation doesn't allow you not to check them frequently. In those cases you can define the interruption manager role. A figure that is rotated by the team's members so that only one human needs to be monitoring the interruption channels, while the rest of them are able to work continuously on their tasks.

If you want to see the analysis in action, check my work analysis or my personal one.

Workflow

Once you have all the interruption sources identified, classified, and defined the checking periodicity, you need to decide how to handle them.

Define your interruption events

To minimize the times you interrupt your workflow, aggregate the different sources and schedule when are you want to check them. For example, if the analysis gave the next sources:

  • Source A: check each 4 hours.
  • Source B: check each 5 hours.
  • Source C: check each 20 minutes.

You can schedule the next interruption events:

  • Check sources A, B and C: when you start working, before lunch and before the end of the day.
  • Check C: after each Pomodoro iteration.

Process the interruption event information

When an interruption event arrives, process sequentially each source following the inbox emptying guidelines.