Mental Resilience Under Fire: Tackling The Challenge of Workplace Interruption

Workplace stress, in addition to diminishing our productivity, is one of the more common destructive forces that carve away at our mental resilience. Fortunately, for those business leaders who are in the know, stress is also one of the more avoidable workplace roadblocks. A move as simple as managers and reports joining forces to acknowledge the underlying causes of stress in their unique setting can stimulate real progress.

One area where an effective solution is achievable starting immediately is Workplace Interruptions. In corporate cultures where managers are burdened with endless interruptions, productivity crises soon unfold, and are destined to snowball if not addressed. Astoundingly, studies reveal that the average manager gets interrupted nearly every 3 minutes, and that (hold on for this one) we interrupt ourselves as much as others interrupt us! Even more troubling is that, once interrupted or distracted, it takes up to 23 minutes to regain our full focus on the project at hand.

One major culprit for creating distractions is the open-door policy. Another is the open office space model, replete with cubicles. These setups are fatal, particularly for introverts, as they leave us open for the perpetual “do you have a second” sort of interruption. This whole paradigm takes on a more concerning dimension when we consider that, as business professionals, we’re knowledge workers being paid for our brains. Mental energy is finite, and the brain’s prefrontal cortex is the first to become taxed. This prompts a default to the amygdala, causing us to slip into reactive patterns instead of remaining professionally engaged.

Managing our workplace interruptions is crucial for the preservation and conservation of our precious mental energy that keeps us moving forward in our careers. And turning disorder into harmony can be more practical than you might suspect. The solution to the distraction dilemma is in plain sight, so long as we are willing to embrace some cultural agreements. This can be demonstrated through the success story of one DRIVEN client who took a shot. Enter: Cathy C, the subject of today’s case study, whose name is changed to protect her identity.

The Story of Cathy

As a manager, Cathy C had become overwhelmed. She manages a staff of 20, and as part of her company’s culture, maintains an open-door policy. This approach to managing is an important part of her job, and it keeps her team in high gear. The policy, however, had been burdening her with constant interruption by folks utilizing it. For months on end, she’d look back on each day and discover that her OWN goals were being neglected. She reached out to me for direction on how to remain accessible to her staff and still manage to excel in her own work.

Together, Cathy and I devised a plan for her to escape from the productivity black hole and start tackling her own assignments, without sacrificing her commitment to her staff or diminishing her mental energy. Here’s what we devised:

First, we “boxed out” 2 time segments during each workday when it would be realistic for Cathy to “hide away” and crank out some work.

Next, Cathy schooled her team by laying out her challenge, reassuring them that their needs would still be a priority to her. The sign that she needed some unimpeded space would be as simple as a closed office door, which would not last more than 40 minutes at a clip.

Then, she explained to her team what constitutes as interruption-worthy, reminding them not to feel cut off from her when urgent matters came up.

Additionally, each of her direct reports agreed to keep a list of important, but not urgent, matters and questions. This would save time and provide focus, since she could then address many details in a single interaction.

As a substitute for these quick meetings, each direct report could wait for a one-on-one session, held twice a month, specifically designed for list review and ongoing feedback.

Finally, Cathy created an individual Google Doc with each team member for the meetings, with the option for reports to add non-urgent details to the document as they arose, thereby keeping everything in one place and the agenda in real time.

Resilience, Reclaimed.

After six months of implementing her new plan, Cathy reported some promising news regarding her strategy and her resulting mental energy. She informed me that, “I now receive more praise about my focus and organization at work” and “I am able to take on more assignments than ever before.” She went on to imply that the plan should work long-term, when she said, “My colleagues are more respectful of my time and schedule.”

Cathy’s positive experience with eliminating distractions and bolstering her productivity is one that I’m witnessing more often in today’s business workplace. When change becomes a priority, the stress melts away, and mental resilience is yours to reclaim.