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In today’s episode of ‘From the eLearning Trenches,’ we asked one of our learners, a partner in public practice, to consider what they could to reduce interruptions during their workday. Consider email and phone communication, meetings, office conversations, urgent matters arising, other distractions.

Learner Reflection

A normal day for me is out at client premises. During these times the interruptions are usually from the client or staff on the job but is usually minimal. On days when we work out of the office, I am easily able to achieve 85-90% productivity.

Depending on what other jobs are going on around the same time phone calls and emails can also be minimal. I find it is easier to respond to client emails and phone calls when we are at client premises as once the call is over or i have responded to the email my focus turns back to the client we are working on as we are at their premises.

However, I find when I am in the office, I am interrupted regularly. It can be a challenge managing this as staff need support and clients need to be managed,

As an example, last week, we worked at a client premises Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday was spent back in the office. On Thursday, in the office I spent 2 hours on client work. The other 5.5 hours of the day were spent on staff issues as a staff member threatened to resign. Meetings were then held with this staff member and then the firm partners to inform them of the outcomes of discussions. On Friday I spent half the day at the client and the second half of the day back in the office. This time was spent sitting with the audit trainees and assisting them with client work that they were unable to complete themselves.

To reduce these interruptions, I could ask the receptionist to take messages instead of putting phone calls through during times when I am in the office. I could also put my phone on do not disturb so that staff do not contact me continuously. Regular team meetings could be held with the team to discuss issues in a group setting rather than having the same conversations with multiple people. I could also not open emails on my computer so that alerts do not pop up of emails being received. I already have my mobile phone on silent during work hours, so I don’t hear emails arriving.

Feedback from our experts

The more senior the role, the more challenging it can be to get things done. Interruptions are unavoidable when managers and partners have an open-door policy. It can be difficult to shut yourself away for a period of time when there are urgent matters to be dealt with. Even accountants can get caught up in the cycle of putting things down and picking them up again when interruptions take over.

One effective strategy to combat this is blocking off periods of time each day, typically 2-3 hours, dedicated solely to focused work. During these blocks, it’s essential to minimize distractions by silencing notifications and informing colleagues of your unavailability. This uninterrupted time allows for deep work and can significantly enhance productivity.

Another approach is setting up a triage system for managing urgent matters. This involves assessing the urgency and importance of interruptions and delegating tasks to appropriate team members. By empowering your team to handle certain issues, you can focus on high-priority tasks without constant disruptions.

Starting the day with a team huddle is another practical solution. A brief meeting to discuss the day’s priorities and potential issues can help identify and address problems early. This proactive approach ensures that everyone is on the same page and reduces the likelihood of unexpected interruptions later in the day.

In the post-COVID era, finding a quiet space outside the office has become more acceptable and can be a valuable strategy. Working remotely or in a quiet corner of a café can provide the solitude needed to tackle complex tasks without the usual office distractions. This flexibility can lead to higher productivity and better work-life balance.

5 key steps to reducing interruptions:

  1. Implement Time Blocking:

Dedicate specific periods, such as 2-3 hours each day, to focused, uninterrupted work. Communicate these blocks to your team and use tools like calendar apps to mark this time as unavailable. This practice helps in creating a consistent routine and signals to others when you are not to be disturbed.

  1. Establish a Triage System:

Develop a system to assess the urgency and importance of tasks and interruptions. Train your team to handle less critical issues and escalate only the most urgent matters to you. This empowers your team and reduces the frequency of interruptions for non-critical matters.

  1. Conduct Daily Team Huddles:

Start the day with a brief team meeting to discuss priorities, identify potential issues, and allocate tasks. This proactive approach ensures that everyone is aligned and aware of their responsibilities, reducing the need for ad-hoc interruptions throughout the day.

  1. Create a Distraction-Free Workspace:

Set up a workspace that minimizes distractions, whether it’s a quiet room in the office or a remote location like a café or home office. Ensure that this space is conducive to focused work, with limited access to interruptions and a clear signal to others that you are in a “do not disturb” mode.

  1. Leverage Technology for Communication:

Use communication tools and project management software to streamline information sharing and task management. Encourage the use of these platforms for non-urgent communications and updates, allowing you to review and respond at appropriate times without constant interruptions.

Key takeaway: Managing interruptions in a professional service environment requires a combination of strategic time management, effective delegation, proactive communication, and leveraging remote work opportunities.

This assessment task and response is taken from the Path to Partnership eLearning course (assessment task 4.2). Click here to explore this course

Also, take a look at the Getting Things Done eLearning course.

Discover the pulse of our eLearning community as we unveil daily feedback from enrolled learners. Exciting times ahead as we share this valuable information with the accounting, advisory, and administrative experts in public practice!