You’re in the middle of working on a report at work, and one of your colleagues comes into your office and launches into a conversation. Then you get back to work and see emails piling up in your inbox you feel you need to respond to right away.
Happens, right? Yet, you may get frustrated or even angry when you have to stop and switch gears. While interruptions can be annoying, for sure, you may wonder why you respond the way you do.
Read on to learn why interruptions may be so frustrating for you and what you can do to manage them.
Why Interruptions at Work Are a Challenge for ADHD Adults
First, it is important to understand that transitions — stopping, starting, and switching gears — are hard for adults with ADHD. And when someone interrupts you, you need to stop your original task, switch your focus and start a new conversation / thought in an instant.
So, interruptions, like other transitions, can be hard for adults with ADHD to manage.
Second, when you need to transition frequently due to interruptions you are less productive as you may:
- forget where you left off.
- need time to ramp up and re-engage in the task each time you need to start again.
- not do your best work because you don’t have enough time to be creative and thoughtful.
- lose time to other distractions because it is more difficult to tune them out as you transition back and forth.
- become overwhelmed.
Then, because managing your emotions is also a challenge for adults with ADHD, you may become frustrated or even angry. And, if being impulsive is also one of your challenges, as is true for many adults with ADHD, you may impulsively do or say something you later regret.
Are You Choosing to Allow Interruptions at Work?
When a colleague comes to your office or contacts you via email, text or other messaging apps, like Slack, do you allow them to intrude on your work because:
- you think it would be rude if you do not immediately respond?
- what they need must be important so you decide your work can wait?
- you have no choice?
- you worry you might forget to respond and so decide it is better to take care of it right away?
- it would be too much of a hassle to arrange another time to talk to the person?
- you don’t want the messages to pile up?
- you are attracted to the stimuli of a new conversation text or email?!
Any of the above sound familiar?
While how responsive you need to be depends on the culture of your office and your preferences, if interruptions are a challenge for you, it is worthwhile looking at how you can minimize them.
Minimizing the Number of Interruptions
Interruptions are obviously inevitable when you work with other people and sometimes allowing others to interrupt your work may be the right decision. The key is to learn how to manage them so that you don’t allow interruptions to run your day.
And this entails setting boundaries, as well adopting rules that will help guide your decisions throughout the day. Because, if you want to do your best work and really be a team player, you need to make sure you have the time and space to focus and attend to one task at a time.
To do this you might:
- say to your colleague when she pops into your office, “I really would like to discuss this with you, but I need to get this report done. Could we talk later this afternoon at 3 or 4?”
- set aside 2 to 3 times a day to answer emails that are not urgent.
- review the in-house messaging app, such as slack, once an hour.
- likewise, review your text once an hour.
In doing the above you can take more control over when and how you respond so you can have fewer interruptions, be more productive and still be a team player. Nice, right?
Deciding Whether an Immediate Response Is Needed
Since making decisions is often hard for adults with ADHD you may have a difficult time deciding when something needs an immediate response or not. I get it.
Creating your own rules, like the examples below, can help make it easier for you to make decisions in the moment:
- I will wait until the time I put aside for texting, emailing etc. unless it seems like a true emergency.
- If it is from my boss, I’ll answer right away.
- I’ll answer clients within 24 hours.
- If it is about a meeting today, I’ll answer it right away.
You get the idea.
Creating rules that apply to most types of possible interruptions can help you decide in the moment whether it is necessary to respond right away or whether you can wait.
Pausing When an Interruption Is Necessary
As I’ve noted above, sometimes you will want to allow for interruptions. In those instances, the question then becomes “How do I do so gracefully?”
Remind yourself that switching gears is a challenge for you, and, with that in mind, give yourself a moment to transition when there is an interruption.
- If someone stops by your office, ask them to hold on a moment while you make notes about where you’re leaving off in your work.
- Likewise, if you need to respond to an email immediately, make a note about what you’re working on before switching to the email.
The idea is to pause, rather than ricocheting from one interruption to another.
Next Steps for You
Choose one type of interruption that is most challenging for you. Then choose one of the strategies above to better manage this type of interruption.