Productive Mondays: 4 Ways to Deal With the Office “Timezapper”

Last week, we here at GovLoop hosted an online NextGen training called “Work Smarter, Faster and With Less Stress” where I and GovLoop Featured Blogger Chaeny Emanavin shared our best tools, tricks and advice for better office productivity. We expected the training to be popular — after all, who doesn’t want to be more effective with their personal and work time? — but attendance blew us out of the water. It was our most-attended online training of all time.

You guys really want to be more productive.

Realizing we’d hit on something, we’ve decided to start a regular blog series about productivity, where we answer your questions about how to excel at your role and the other many hats you juggle — and how to do it without feeling completely stressed or overwhelmed. We’re calling it “Productive Mondays.” As you might guess from the title, we’ll post every Monday, and we’ll answer your questions about how to do better and do more in the workplace. If you have a question you’d like us to tackle, place it in the comments below, tweet us @GovLoop, or email [email protected] — and we’ll make sure to address it in a future post.

Today, we’re starting off with a question from Tristan: “How do you handle people who are ‘timezappers’ and interrupt your day multiple times to chat? I appreciate the mental break — but it greatly derails my productivity.”

We’ve all dealt with a problem similar to Tristan’s. You’re in the flow, about to hit a deadline on a major project, when your colleague stops by just to chat. Or with an ‘urgent’ request. Or to see if you want coffee. Or to tell you a joke. You don’t want to be rude and you do enjoy their conversation, so you engage with them — and by the time they’re gone 10 minutes later, you’ve lost that great idea that you were going to close out your presentation with.

If only dealing with this particular problem was as easy as closing your office door. For one, most of us these days don’t even have an office door. Secondly, you don’t want to appear unapproachable. So how can you effectively communicate when you need to not be disturbed? Here are four tips we’ve used that work.

1. Be Proactive in Your Communication

The first recommendation is relatively simple: just ask your coworker not to interrupt you. People aren’t mindreaders, so the office ‘timezapper’ probably has no idea that what they’re doing is disruptive to you. In person (not via email; emails are a minefield for miscommunication) invite your coworker out for coffee, and tell him or her something along these lines: “I love chatting with you, and really look forward to the times during the day when we can take a break together. But lately I’ve been finding office distractions really difficult for me, and I’m the kind of person who needs to work without interruption to get anything done. So I’m wondering if we could schedule our mental breaks together ahead of time instead of you just dropping by, or if you could email or message me before dropping by to see what my status is. If I’m free, I’ll join you in a chat; if not, I’ll just message you back that I need to focus.”

You might fear having this conversation, but we bet it’ll actually work. Just remember to keep your boundaries: if the timezapper keeps on dropping by with no regard for your earlier conversation, just remind them: “Remember that talk we had last week? I’m in the middle of X project right now and need to focus — can we chat tomorrow? Thanks!”

2. Hide

There’s nothing wrong with pulling a disappearing act from time to time. In our open-seating plan offices here at GovLoop, one of our favorite methods for focusing and getting work done is scheduling an unused conference room and hiding out there for an hour or two, or leaving to go to the coffee shop across the street. This is sanctioned by managers as long as they have a heads up that you’re going into ‘stealth mode’ for an hour or three.

3. Consider Shifting Your Schedule

Are you working the normal 9 -5 schedule — just like everyone else in your office? If possible, consider an 8-4 or different time flexed schedule so that you’re working slightly different hours than most others in your office. You’d be surprised what an extra hour or two alone in the mornings or evenings will do for your productivity.

4. Follow the Golden Rule

You may be complaining about the office ‘timezapper’ who drops by constantly and unexpectedly — but is it possible that you’re being a ‘timezapper’ too, without even realizing it? Follow the golden rule of office etiquette: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Make sure you’re not constantly chatting with the woman whose cubicle is right by the printer (and who must deal with folks hanging out there all day, assuming she’s available for a chat while they wait for that document). Before you swing by somebody’s office, shoot them an email asking if they’re free, or start with “Is now an okay time to talk?” before launching into a request. Have you been unintentionally telling others that interruptions are just fine by you, because you do them too without realizing it? Take a close look at your own actions, then follow what you want.

If you have a question you’d like us to tackle for “Productive Mondays,” place it in the comments below, tweet us @GovLoop, or email [email protected] — and we’ll make sure to address it in a future post.

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Deborah Button

Thanks for the recognizing our need for “Productive Mondays.” I enjoyed this Q&A and look forward to the post next Monday.