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Ignore those interruptions

It sometimes feels like the world is trying to stop us from doing our jobs, with endless phone calls, emails and meetings. Here Andrea Osborne gives her best advice for avoiding common distractions

Emails, Pinterest, Twitter, phone calls, favours for a colleague or client – all examples of the many distractions and interruptions that challenge PAs during a typical working day.

On average, your brain takes 20 minutes to get back to the state it was in before that call, that colleague wanting a chat, or your phone pinging a new message. This equates to 28% of your working week – time that could be better spent furthering your career.

Fewer distractions = higher IQ. The Institute of Psychology at University of London’s research shows that constantly fielding calls, emails and text messages can have the same detrimental effect as a bad night’s sleep, adding up to a loss equivalent to 10 IQ points – something few of us can afford to lose.

The strategies below are tried and tested techniques to help you break the distraction habit and achieve more in your day.

Keep a time log
Write down everything you do in a day and the time taken: answering the phone, the sneaky five minutes on Twitter, the chats with colleagues. Be honest. This is an exercise to help you recognise all your distractions. At the end of the day, collate time spent on each type of activity, including non work-related tasks. You will probably be surprised. Not only will you see patterns in distractions, but also your work behaviour, which will help you plan your day more efficiently.

Question each distraction
Is it important?
Does it improve what I was doing?
Does it impact what I was doing?
Could my time be better spent elsewhere on other tasks?

Accept that the worst distraction is yourself
No matter what comes your way, you are distracted only if you allow it. You don’t have to force yourself to quit social media or water cooler chats; set aside time to indulge when it won’t affect your work, or when planning your day, schedule some down time. Use 10 minutes on Pinterest as a reward after doing something you don’t like.

Turn off your email notifications
Stop the flashing icon on your monitor or phone. It will make a huge change to the way you work. Many believe it’s the most important technique to being more productive. There are few jobs that require emails to be checked the second they arrive. If you have to check regularly, set a timer for every 30 minutes and take five minutes to deal with anything vital, ignoring the rest. Set up a longer time to catch up every two to three hours, but again use a timer so you can get back to other work that needs to be done.

Calls and texts
Turn off your phone or turn it over so you don’t see messages or calls arriving. If possible, change your voicemail, saying you’ll be free after a specific time. Make sure you change the message back after that time, as colleagues, friends and even most bosses will take you more seriously if they know you are concentrating on something specific but that you will be available for them later. If someone comes to your desk, try using phrases such as “I’m busy with ‘x’ at the moment, but I’m all yours at ‘y’.”

Remember not all distractions are bad. You need breaks – just don’t be tempted to let them run over. The trick is to plan your day and schedule time for everything, from managing emails to taking a break. Be strict with yourself when you’re tempted to deviate from it.

Andrea Osborne is the founder and Director of Cushion the Impact, a lifestyle management and concierge service provider. She also travels the country teaching admin professionals valuable skills. Find out more at