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A bucket for interrupted actions

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  • A bucket for interrupted actions

    Something that's been subliminally irritating me for months is that lack of a protocol for handling interruptions. Psychologically, I need a totally zen desktop to work with a clear mind. Stray paperwork is an anathema to me.

    So when I would be processing paperwork and the phone would ring, I'd have a gnawing sense of anxiety about what to do with the paperwork I was just working on. Even though it's right in front of me, if I think about it at all when I'm on a phone call, I'm not fully present with the person on the other end of the line.

    So I would throw it back into my in-basket and try to focus on the call, but that was never satisfying since it implied that an action hadn't been decided on it. Then I tried telling myself I'd leave the paperwork exactly where it was before the call, and that I'd return to it immediately afterward, but sometimes the call itself would become a priority, implicitly relegating the previous item to "stuff."

    For a while this seemed like a relatively minor issue; I didn't even identify it as a problem. But the more keeping an empty head became a priority, the more I sensed how much of my focus was being pulled away by the very last thing I was doing before being interrupted.

    So a couple of days ago I grabbed my labeller and created a folder called "On Deck" (a working title; I'll probably change it). Now whenever someone tries to grab my attention, I stick the interrupted paperwork in that folder, and know that I'll return to after the interruption has been addressed.

    What amazed me was the sense of relief I felt afterwards. Now I can talk to people who've interrupted me and really listen to them instead of unconsciously resenting the interruption. This is especially important where I work, because the culture is one that refuses to use in-baskets (consistently), email, voicemail, or written notes to hand off work; and I'm bored with bemoaning the fact that they "don't get it." I needed to get my own house in order first.

    Does anyone else have some best practices for dealing with interruptions (other than unrealistically trying to block them)?

  • #2
    I think your "On Deck" inbox is a very good idea.

    Without getting into all the specifics, I wear several hats simultaneously and cannot afford to refuse interruptions - it simply isn't an option for me. I don't have a problem leaving whatever is "On Deck" sitting on my desk while dealing with an interruption, but if that were a problem for me I'd probably adopt your strategy.

    In the final analysis, I don't view GTD as a rigid system which must be followed to the tiniest detail. I view it as an overall conceptual approach with certain key elements, but the individual steps sometimes need to be modified to fit one's unique situation. If whatever modifications you adopt serve the ultimate result of getting non-actionable things out of your head wihtout losing anything in the process, then you're sticking to the main goal.

    I also share your frustration with people who refuse to follow even the most basic concepts of using inboxes and email (especially email) and prefer instead to spew their confusion around in the hopes that someone else will helop them organize their thoughts or bail them out when they get in trouble. I wish there were a way to demonstrate to these interruptive personalities how much they cost their companies and how arcane their old-fashioned lazy ways really are.

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    • #3
      It's embarrassing . Sometimes the simplest ideas aren't the most obvious. I mean this is such a great, simple, idea that will suit me perfectly. Like spectecGTD I wear a number of hats at work and can't avoid interruptions but I never knew what to do with the paperwork I had in front of me at the time of the interruption. It's embarassing that I haven't thought of this myself. Thanks for idea.

      Edward

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      • #4
        "On Deck"! What a slick idea! Very smooth transition from Paper Now => Paper On Deck while On Phone => Paper Again.

        Thank you so much.

        CKH

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        • #5
          Re: A bucket for interrupted actions

          Originally posted by Gameboy70
          So a couple of days ago I grabbed my labeller and created a folder called "On Deck" (a working title; I'll probably change it). Now whenever someone tries to grab my attention, I stick the interrupted paperwork in that folder, and know that I'll return to after the interruption has been addressed.

          What amazed me was the sense of relief I felt afterwards. Now I can talk to people who've interrupted me and really listen to them instead of unconsciously resenting the interruption.
          I really like this idea. I have long since lost count of how many times I have been urgently interrupted by some one who needs a detailed analysis and explanation, and then when they leave I sit wondering, "What was I doing before they came in?" I really resented the interruptions, not for their content but for the stress they caused me as I tried to reload my mental model and get back to where I was in my thinking and processing before the interruptor arrived.

          I really like the "On Deck" tray or box next to my "In Box". Excellent idea. Thank you!

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          • #6
            I've been doing something similar and for the same reason. In addition to an inbox and outbox I have a "todo" box that sits on my side of the desk to my right. Anything I intend to work on today sits there. Anything I'm holding during an interuption gets tossed on top so I can quickly get back to it when (if?) the interuption goes away.

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            • #7
              Digital On-Deck

              I use something similar, it's two-pronged and it's digital or paper, depending on the medium I'm working in at the time.

              On my computer desktop I have a text file that's always open. It's the first thing I open in the morning, and it only contains what I'm working on at the moment. When I sit down to perform a task, I type out a few lines about the steps I need to do to perform the task, even if it's only ten minutes. I delete the lines when I'm finished. This file is blank when I'm leaving for lunch or for the day, because if something isn't complete, it goes onto my context lists.

              The non-digital component is for paperwork. When I'm working on paper and someone comes in, I place the papers back into their folder and stick the folder on top of my laptop keyboard. I can't help but see them, and I know they need to be processed before I return to my hectic digital life. This also helps me complete that paperwork task before I check email after an extended absence from my office, which is a big advantage.

              Both of these work for me because they are "in my face". I can't misplace them or forget them, so I don't think about them. One more thing - when going through a large file of reading or paperwork, I keep a colored sheet of copy paper (green, blue, etc) in the front of the file. If an interruption happens, I grab the first sheet, drop it in the middle, and close the file knowing I have a bookmark to return to.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by spectecGTD
                In the final analysis, I don't view GTD as a rigid system which must be followed to the tiniest detail. I view it as an overall conceptual approach with certain key elements, but the individual steps sometimes need to be modified to fit one's unique situation. If whatever modifications you adopt serve the ultimate result of getting non-actionable things out of your head wihtout losing anything in the process, then you're sticking to the main goal.
                I think the On Deck folder flows logically from GTD concepts. The idea was to create a "buffer" for psychic RAM. And you're right: once you grasp the internal logic of GTD, it's an easy enough system to customize to individual situations.

                I also share your frustration with people who refuse to follow even the most basic concepts of using inboxes and email (especially email) and prefer instead to spew their confusion around in the hopes that someone else will helop them organize their thoughts or bail them out when they get in trouble. I wish there were a way to demonstrate to these interruptive personalities how much they cost their companies and how arcane their old-fashioned lazy ways really are.
                I used the think that if I could model GTD practice by setting a good example, others in my office would follow. Instead what's happened is that they've rationalized their idiosycracies. They assume that since I have less paperwork on my desk than they do, I must have less work than they do. I try to explain to them that I work from action and project lists, and file my support materials rather than use them as reminders of what I have to do. Then they say that they have too much paperwork for that approach to work for them. I'd be willing to bet that if I could finish all their current work with the wave of a magic wand, their desks would look exactly the same within a week and a half. They're comfortable with their level of unprocessed work.

                Many office cultures have a level of anxiety they're comfortable with maintaining. Personalities in these cultures would rather walk over and interrupt coworkers instead of writing notes or emails because its as cathartic as it is counterproductive. They need to offload the latest and loudest issue as soon as it occurs to them, because they're trying to manage their work from psychic RAM. Using a medium with a higher signal-to-noise ratio like email would actually increase their anxiety, because it's not sufficiently catharic. So instead of being able to look at a list of emails and determine which takes priority, you're implicitly obliged to give the verbal interruption priority.

                My solution is to treat all inputs, written or verbal or thought, as inbox items to be processed. So if someone interrupts me, I slip my current paperwork into On Deck, give the interruptor my full attention, write down what they're telling me; then when they walk away I throw the new note into my inbox and return to whatever's in On Deck.

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                • #9
                  You said "Instead, they've rationalized their indiosyncracies".
                  That is absolutely correct - you nailed it!

                  When I get into a conversation with one of these types I try to point out that their main problem is a refusal to learn or adapt. The range of excuses offered is infiinite, but what it boils down to is "I'll make up any excuse to avoid changing my ways, and I'm naive enough to actually fool myself into believing it."

                  We had a string on this subject some weeks ago when discussing email, and I remember someone taking me to task over my disdain for interruptive personalities. We heard excuses about how they are just "more creative, think better on their feet, function better in verbal mode, yada yada yada". There was a strong resistance to my suggestion that these types are mostly just lazy communicators. I also suggested that one of their primary motivations is the fact that the ambiguity of verbal communication leaves them some wiggle room if things go wrong. Written communication not only forces us to organize our thoughts, but also leaves a paper trial of exactly what information, instructions, or opinions we interjected into the process. When I re-read my comments I first thought I had been a little hard on interruptive types, but then I replayed David's comments about them on the FAST cd and I came to the conclusion that I had actually been kinder to them that David was.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by spectecGTD
                    You said "Instead, they've rationalized their indiosyncracies".
                    That is absolutely correct - you nailed it!

                    When I get into a conversation with one of these types I try to point out that their main problem is a refusal to learn or adapt. The range of excuses offered is infiinite, but what it boils down to is "I'll make up any excuse to avoid changing my ways, and I'm naive enough to actually fool myself into believing it."

                    We had a string on this subject some weeks ago when discussing email, and I remember someone taking me to task over my disdain for interruptive personalities. We heard excuses about how they are just "more creative, think better on their feet, function better in verbal mode, yada yada yada". There was a strong resistance to my suggestion that these types are mostly just lazy communicators. I also suggested that one of their primary motivations is the fact that the ambiguity of verbal communication leaves them some wiggle room if things go wrong. Written communication not only forces us to organize our thoughts, but also leaves a paper trial of exactly what information, instructions, or opinions we interjected into the process. When I re-read my comments I first thought I had been a little hard on interruptive types, but then I replayed David's comments about them on the FAST cd and I came to the conclusion that I had actually been kinder to them that David was.
                    Sounds as if you are dealing with some extreme Myers-Briggs Extravert personalities, people who literally can not think unless they think out loud and with other people. Worse yet, they know that everybody else is just like them.

                    Even worse yet is if you are dealing with extremey Myers-Briggs Extraverted Sensors, people who "know" that if you are sitting quietly in your cubicle thinking that you are not actually doing anything (you are sitting still) and you are not actually thinking (they know that everyone else is just like them, capable only of thinking if thinking out loud in the presence of others). In fact, they know that they are doing you a huge favor by rescuing you from your unproductive inactivity by giving you the chance to think out loud with somebody else.

                    As an extreme Myers-Brigg Intravert myself, I am all too familiar with the extreme Extraverts blazing into my cubicle to "do me a favor" by interrupting me. They have no clue that they just blew several hours of my work, as it will take me that long to rebuild the mental model they just destroyed with their interruption. Aarrgghh!!

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