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Addressing distractions and interruptions caused by other people

We have talked about dealing with webinar jeo coming from your environment, your body, and your mind. This was a warm-up to the next part—managing distractions caused by others. Ifyou think dealing with yourselfand things around you was hard, here is an even harder task for you. At least you have control or influence over yourselfor your environment; it’s not so easy and straightforward with other people.

Whether it’s your colleagues, your friends, family, or even your flatmates, managing interpersonal relationships is usually more complex and delicate than simply rearranging your desk or turning your phone off. You cannot simply ‘shut off’ people who are close to you, because your actions may be

perceived as rude and upsetting. Plus, more often than not, their support and help are invaluable and important to your webinar jeo. But ifyou spend so much time dealing with your nearest and dearest that it’s affecting the quality of

your work or your academic performance, you need to look at it honestly and consider what to do. Here are a few tips on addressing distractions and interruptions caused by other people.

Don’t work in a living/communal/public space

That’s my husband’s favourite line when I complain that I can’t concentrate on what I’m doing while working on my laptop on the dining table.

Ifyou want to focus on your task, don’t work on it in a communal or living area. Communal areas, such as living and dining rooms, hallways, launderettes, shops, open office space, etc., are designed to facilitate human interaction, and there is usually a tacit agreement that whoever is there does not mind the noise and chatter, or being approached.

There are obviously some exceptions to it, such as libraries, reading/study rooms, churches/places ofworship. But generally, you are more likely to be interrupted or distracted by other people and their coming and goings.

If you have to work in a communal area, create a distraction-free oasis

Sometimes we don’t have a choice—be it because oflimited space available, or because an open-plan office is what you get at work.

During my first year as a medical student I was boarding with a very nice lady who loved having her friends round for coffee once a week. Sadly, the walls in the apartment were very thin and I couldn’t

help but hear all the conversations and laughter. I didn’t want to upset the otherwise super-nice landlady, so I started spending those afternoons poring over my textbooks at a local botanical garden. You may say ‘out ofthe frying pan into the fire.’ A botanical garden is a public space, but because it is

an open space, where passing cars, people, dogs, and other sources ofnoise generally move around, the noise is easier to ignore. Even ifthere are people talking nearby, it may be easier to tune out and treat it as white noise.

To help myself‘tune out’ and avoid distractions from passers-by (and crazily chirping birds), I was listening to classical music. It worked wonders (but only as long as the weather was good). Ifwell prepared, a public/communal space can be less distracting than your own home.

Wear headphones, earplugs, etc. Whether you are listening to music (as explained before,

I’d recommend instrumental over anything with lyrics), or just trying to block webinar jeo, wearing a set ofhead- or earphones, or earmuffs, not only will help you focus on your task, but will also deter anyone who may consider approaching you.

This technique can work well in an open-space office when you need to concentrate on your job without getting distracted by what your colleagues are doing. Many ofmy fellow introverts use noise-cancelling headphones/earmuffs when traveling on planes, trains, and any other means ofpublic transport where the person next to you may want to strike up a conversation. I must admit, as an introvert, I have used this technique successfully numerous times to avoid being dragged into a conversation I did not want to have.

Word ofwarning—obviously, by deterring people from approaching you, you may be risking not meeting or talking to someone interesting, or losing a potential or existing friend. Bear that in mind and make your choice according to your current priorities.

Use your environment to screen yourselfoffthe rest ofthe room/world

Ifyou cannot bear sitting in an open space, use your environment to create a separation between you and the rest ofthe world. Books, papers, or magazines held right in front ofthe face, although uncomfortable after a

while, can provide an excellent screen. The screen ofyour computer/laptop can play a similar role. Ifany ofthose things are not available, or not appropriate, find a spot where a piece of furniture can provide a separation. Potted plants, bookcases, open doors (be careful and mind

the door!) can work as screens.

You can also sit with your back to the rest ofthe room, facing the wall.

Put up a ‘Do Not Disturb—Work In Progress’ notice

Our home office has a ‘Work In Progress—Do Not Enter’ notice with a piece ofsticky tape by the door. Ifyou want to concentrate on your work, stick it on and close the door. Otherwise, anyone can enter at any time.

It took me a few conversations with my family, and particularly with my curious 6-year-old, but it works, at least most ofthe time. I definitely recommend explaining to your nearest and dearest (and flatmates) why you may need to put the notice on your door at times. Try to frame it in such a way that they can see what’s in it from them (see below for tips).

I have worked in open-space offices and seen ‘Do Not Disturb’ notices on cubicle walls, people’s desks, and even own backs (or chair backs). However ridiculous it may sound to you, these little pieces ofpaper do work. Most colleagues respected them, understanding this is the reality ofa shared working space.

Talk to people on your own terms

The purpose ofaddressing distractions and interruptions caused by other people is to enable you to focus without damaging any relationships. This is why it’s important that you communicate your intentions clearly to those around you. Be polite but assertive.

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