Step-by-Step: Scheduling time for daily interruptions

By Melanie Nelson

We live in a world of distractions. These distractions can be very disruptive in our lives if we let them. When the “breaking news” in the world is so readily at our fingertips, it is sometimes hard to focus on the tasks we have in front of us.

Although things like cell phones, email, telephones, Facebook, and other technological and social networking tools are wonderful and a necessary means of communication, they can also suck the sand right out of our hourglasses. They can cause interruptions that can distract us from our priorities at the time, diminish the quality of time set aside for family interaction (i.e., reading stories with children, family vacations, outings, family night activities, etc.), or simply knock us off the project we were working on long enough that we forget to come back to it.

I’m sure if you thought about it hard enough, you could think of at least one day in your life where you did nothing but deal with phone calls, unexpected visitors, and children needing short but frequent bursts of your attention. When you fall into bed at the end of a day like that, you feel as though you ran around all day but have nothing to show for the energy you spent. A recent Friday was that kind of day for me. It felt like my house was Grand Central Station — everyone rushing around, playing, working, etc. People dropping in and out or calling non-stop. It was very overwhelming and stressful.

Since I know my day is not all that uncommon among mothers, I thought I would share some ideas that might help you schedule time to deal with interruptions and take back control of your time.

Scheduling Time for Interruptions Step-by-Step

I know what you’re thinking… “How in the world do you schedule unexpected events?” Well, I’m no expert, but I think you will find some of the tips I share will be helpful in relieving the stress that comes from interruptions.

Step 1: First, you need to recognize that interruptions and distractions are both part of life and you need to be okay with it. Once you have come to terms with that, you are ready for step 2.

Step 2: Realize that you can control how often you are interrupted. Thanks to the same technological advances that cause interruptions, we can capture the information being communicated without a lot of time or effort on our part. Things like voice mail, email and text messages are designed to capture information. They do it very well, so let them do their job. By letting them capture what is trying to be communicated, you can finish what you are doing and then get back to them when YOUR schedule allows.

Step 3: Schedule time throughout your day to respond to these captured interruptions. If you will set aside 5-10 minutes after each meal to return phone calls, messages, and/or emails, you will find that you can accomplish more during the day, reduce the stress you feel, and deal with the interruptions more efficiently. You will also find that it takes much less time to respond to these things when you do them all at once. This is because you are focused on just one thing.

Step 4: If your interruptions result in accepting a task, make sure you set your priorities first. About 3 years ago, I was working as an office manager for a small but very busy non-profit agency. One day my boss noticed that I was particularly busy with interruptions. She called me into her office and told me that she was concerned about the amount of interruptions I was dealing with. She gave me a wonderful piece of advice that I’d like to share with you. She said that when your plate is already full with your own priorities and projects, and someone else solicits your help to do something they could do without you, just say “NO!” If you are asked to do something that they cannot do without your help, do not say yes. Simply respond with the following reply. “I have 5 projects to be done before I can get to yours. Are you sure you want to wait 3 days for me to get to it?”

I have found that when other people are aware of time commitments you already have, they find other ways to do what needs to be done without your help. This works great if you are the type of person who has a bit of trouble saying no to people.

A Word About Face-to-Face Interruptions

Dealing with “face-to-face” interruptions like those that happen with family members can be a little bit trickier to deal with. Here’s a list of interruptions that happen face-to-face and some suggestions for what you can do to remain in control of your time in these situations.

Interruption Response
A spouse or child looking for a lost item YES – but don’t leave your post. You can give them instructions that will help them find what they are looking for without leaving your current activity.
A friend who drops in unexpectedly YES – Be courteous but clear that you are in the middle of something. You can also just not answer the door if it is not the best timing.
A spouse, friend, or child that is soliciting your help because they have forgotten a deadline Remember, “Poor planning on the part of another, does NOT constitute and emergency on your part.” Handle these situations as you see fit. Valuable lessons can be taught in these circumstances.
A scraped knee or first-aid emergency YES – Always err on the side of caution.
A door-to-door salesman If the answer needs to be given now, the answer is always NO.
A child needing help tying a shoe YES – These interruptions are short enough to not be too distracting.
A child needing help with homework Always have a specific time set aside each day for helping children with their homework. Homework gets done more efficiently when it is done under adult supervision.
A child asking permission to do something YES – Unless you feel as though the timing or activity is not appropriate. We often say “no” to our kids when we are busy for no good reason. Make sure you know why you are saying “no” before you do so.

In conclusion: your time is valuable. Turning off your phone, computer, and other interruptions can help you be more efficient and less distracted. Let your voice mail, email, etc. capture the information for you. Then, after each meal, take a few minutes to get back with people. That way, their needs are met, and you can accomplish more of the things that are important to you.

Melanie Nelson is co-owner at

Idaho Family Magazine