Dealing With Interruptions: ADHD at Work

Q:

"I'm an ADHD adult and interruptions destroy my train of thought. I've considered locking my office door and telling people not to bother me unless it's an emergency! How do I maintain concentration?"

Holly Uverity
A:

My assumption is that you are talking about interruptions at a corporate workplace and not a home office. This is a very common problem and the best solution is to "Say what you mean and mean what you say."

First of all, you need to tell everyone that you are working on changing your habits to become more effective and you need their help. Tell them that during certain times or when your door is closed, you are simply not available and are not to be disturbed.

Obviously, there would be exceptions to this rule, and if you can clearly identify those exceptions, so much the better. Saying 'unless it's an emergency' may not be clear enough—what is an emergency to one person may not be an emergency to you. It's also a good idea to have someone who can cover for you or to whom you can refer questions while you are not available, and you can do the same for that person when he needs uninterrupted time.

After having explained that these are the new rules, it is now up to you to enforce them. If your door is closed and someone knocks, do not automatically allow them admittance, make them justify the interruption. When they ask if you have a minute, tell them no, and ask them to come back later or refer them to someone else.

If your door is open and you are working on a project and someone interrupts, before they can begin, explain you're working on something important now and ask them if this can be discussed at a later/better time.

This can be very uncomfortable at first, changing habits always is, but if you are serious about limiting your interruptions so you can focus on the task at hand, it's up to you to back up what you told everyone. It does no good at all if you tell your office mates that you don't want to be disturbed when the door is closed and then allow them to disturb you anyway; it's all talk and not taken seriously.

The key here is consistency—you must be firm and consistent, exactly as if you were dealing with children. Your office mates must understand that while you want to be cooperative and helpful to them, constant interruptions defeat the purpose; you can't be effective or efficient if you can't stay focused.

Other options for drop in visitors:

  • Ask if you can go to their office when you get a minute; you are now in control because you can leave when you've finished the conversation.

  • Stand as drop in visitors enter your office; they will be less inclined tovisit with you if you're standing.

  • Remove guest chairs from your office if you don't need them; if there's no place for 'chatters' to sit, they won't stay as long. If you need guestchairs in your office for clients or meetings, consider moving the chairs to a wall so they are not opposite your desk. They will be available if you need to use them, but a 'chatter' won't drag a chair across a room just so he can sit and visit.

  • As someone walks into your office, pick up the phone as if you are about to make a phone call; again, a chatter will be less inclined to stay knowing that you are about to call someone else.
Holly Uverity is an organization expert who runs the Houston-based firm Office Organizers. She is the founding president of Houston Professional Organizers and is a very active member of NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers.

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