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Organizing Work Around the Interruptions

May 08, 1986|BONNIE McCULLOUGH | McCullough, based in Colorado, is the author of five books on home management. McCullough's latest book, "Totally Organized, the Bonnie McCullough Way" (St. Martin's Press: $10.95, paperback), is now available in book stores. The book features easy-to-use techniques for getting control of your time and home. and

Interruptions are a roadblock to work, but they come all day long. Life involves learning to accomplish things despite interruptions.

Don't wait to organize until the interruptions are gone. There are three strategies: Work around them, eliminate some and manage others.

When you are stopped for one reason or another, train yourself to go right back to the job you were doing. When the task is well defined, it is easy. For example, if your first housekeeping goal for the day is to clean a bathroom, when an interruption comes, it's easy to go back to the original chore. Otherwise, you may waste time or risk being sidetracked.

Keep a log for two days. Make a brief entry of what is happening every 15 minutes. Efficiency experts do this analysis in businesses to pinpoint time leaks and problem times. Is there a time that is worse than others? What was needed when you were interrupted? With this insight, you can start improvement.

Some interruptions are caused by lack of order: runs to the dryer for socks, trips to the store for forgotten ingredients, hunts for shoes. Devise a way for children to get their own drinks of water. Install a pet door so animals can get in and out without help. A little organization can save a lot of hassle.

Sometimes we interrupt ourselves. Perhaps you are not very dedicated to the task and can be easily sidetracked. You might think of a phone call that needs to be made, remember to take something out of the freezer, or get an urge for a snack. There is a difference between a break and an interruption. To stop in the middle of a job with an unnecessary interruption is a defeating work habit. It takes time after each interruption to start up and build momentum again. Next time you are tempted to jump from what you are doing, ask yourself if you could wait a little longer until you finish the project or until you get to a better stopping point. Plan periodic breaks to refresh yourself and take care of such needs.

The biggest interrupter is probably the phone. There are people who think the solution is to take it off the hook. I don't care for that option because then I forfeit the advantage of being available should someone I care for need me.

Manage Your Calls

An answering machine might be the answer to help screen calls. I prefer to answer the phone and manage the caller. If it's a salesperson, I tell them no right off. Most of my calls for business, church or volunteer work can be handled within five or 10 minutes. If it requires more time, I request that the call be rescheduled; I can't give up my work time or I also lose my fun time. For a friend, I can always take out 10 minutes, but during high-priority work hours, I don't allow myself the luxury of a lengthy chat. Another secret: Don't arrange for them to phone back; initiate the call yourself because the one who makes the call has more control over the conversation.

The telephone is a wonderful invention. It helps keep friendships alive and saves hours of shopping and working on service projects, but it can gobble up work time. You can't get much done with the receiver propped on your shoulder. By all means, have a long cord on the kitchen phone. If you can polish the refrigerator or clean out a drawer while talking on the phone, fine, but count it as recreation, not efficient work time. Organization comes by learning to manage small and simple things.

If you have young children, stay flexible and expect interruptions because that's part of parenting. A child's needs can be managed somewhat. For example, taking care of a child's physical needs early in the day--bathing, feeding and dressing--can eliminate intrusions later. Start the day your way. Get up on time and fix breakfast. When you sleep in, the kids are likely to get up on their own, get out the cereal and milk with a few spills and start watching TV. It will take time to clean up their mess, a hassle about turning off the TV once they are into their show and a battle to get them started on their grooming chores.

There are good and bad times to work. Do not try to work too long into child-care time, particularly eating times or bedtime routine. A parent of young children probably cannot do anything for more than 30 or 45 minutes without attending to the child in some way. Discover and accept your limitations.

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