Don’t Interrupt Me

Interruptions cost you dearly.

As a writer, I know that allowing myself to be interrupted by a client or vendor (“Hey Ray – got a minute to talk about the new logo?”) can seem harmless… but it isn't.

That interruption costs me (a) the state of “flow” I was in while working, maybe impossible to recover, (b) the time of the interruption itself, and (c) the time it takes me to get back into the “zone” with what I was working on… minimum 20 minutes, maybe longer.

I can't afford to let that happen. Especially not in the “New Economy”.

My clients and customers can't afford for me to let that happen.

I once had a client who loved to call me at 11pm at night and talk for two hours. I tried to tell him I worked set hours and was available at those times, but he didn't seem to understand. When our first project was finished, I fired him. His dysfunction did not automatically become my problem.

Be warned – people will waste your time, if you let them. Will you let them? Be polite, be loving… but don't be a victim.

In the end, if you guard your time, you are being most respectful of other people.

Think about it: if you allow yourself to be interrupted, or your time wasted when you should have been doing something else… who suffers? Your clients. Your customers. Your family (“Sorry honey, I have to stay late because I wasted 2 hours today listening to the web team make excuses…”).

You're not serving anyone by being a poor steward of your time.

Question: do you think it is important to carefully guard your time, and if so, how do you do it?

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at

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  • StuMcLaren

    Great post rayedwards .  I think the issue comes in that it can “feel” rude guarding our time because it can be hard setting (and keeping) boundaries with people who don’t have the same philosophy.
    But you’re right in that people will (intentionally or unintentionally) waste your time if you give them that opportunity.
    My question is, do you set aside time for “interrupted work”?
    Meaning, do you have a block of time for clients (who may not have a scheduled appointment) to connect?
    How do you handle “spur of the moment” requests?

    •  @StuMcLaren Stu, that is a great question. I actually do schedule my interruptions. Let me explain…
      I have blocks of time set apart in my calendar that I call “open time”. These are a few hours each week when I will take any call that comes in, and am prepared to allow any other sort of interruption (within reason).
      One challenge with these hours is that, as you can imagine, the calls do not come pouring in one after another. There are gaps. So what do I do during “open hours” to fill the moments when I’m not dealing with phone calls, ad hoc meetings, or other such “interruptions”?
      Simple. I have a list of what I think of as “brainless tasks”. These are things that I can be doing that, if interrupted, I can easily pick back up again without having to give it much thought or focus. This includes activities like purging files, organizing my office space, sorting mail, or even going for a walk.
      Now, what does one do about “spur of the moment” requests that come during hours that are blocked out for focus? I think this is one of the hardest parts of David Allen’s GTD methodology, one that he does not spend a lot of time talking about. He does address it, but I think he does not give it enough weight. I think most people don’t realize how much of a personal challenge it can be. What am I referring to?
      Integrity of choice, in the moment.
      Life does not happen in a neat, orderly, predictable fashion. Things happen at the most inconvenient times. In those moments, I have to trust my discernment and my personal integrity to make decisions about what to do with those “spur of the moment” requests.
      I find that most of them can be dealt with by simply saying something like, “I understand this is important to you. Can we schedule a time when I can give this my full attention?”
      Yes, some people will be offended by this. But that does not mean that it is offensive inherently. I believe it means most people are not accustomed to direct, honest, and non-manipulative communication.
      At other times, depending on the intimacy of the relationship, and what I know about the individual, I may simply decide to accept the interruption. 
      But this is a decision that is made consciously.
      Anytime I make such a decision, I try to make it without irritation, anger, or resentment.
      Because when we operate at this level of conscious choice, it is not possible to operate under the illusion that we are somehow a victim. It is only we are not consciously deciding what to do with our time that “victim thinking” comes into play.
      Basically, I’m operating under the assumption that we are all powerful people capable of making decisions about our lives. I think we owe it to one another to communicate clearly and honestly.
      Of course, not everyone follows these “rules”, or even understands them.
      You have to be prepared for that. As my son said to me recently, “Dad, now that I’ve started communicating clearly, it seems like nobody understands me.”

      • StuMcLaren

         @RayEdwards Thanks for this response Ray.  You helped confirm the concept of scheduling “interruption time” and I like the “response” you gave for someone who does want your time when you’re in “focus mode”.

  • Donnie Bryant

    I struggle with this one nearly on a daily basis. My toddler doesn’t seem to get it. 🙂
    In that respect, working from home is both a blessing and a challenge. As you mentioned, there are times when interruptions are no big deal. But at other times, any break in concentration is extremely costly.
    Funny you mentioned walking as a brainless task in your response to Stu. For me, walking or doing yard work are my best ideation times by far. When I absolutely have to have an idea, I go rake up leaves, shovel snow or take a stroll.
    Thanks for this thoughtful and helpful discussion!

  • williammcpeck

    You are absolutely right Ray about there being individuals out there who really do like to waste your time.  I have found that wearing a headset will often discourage interruptions as colleagues think I am either on the phone on in on-line training.
    Sometimes, I find that I am often my worst enemy.  I might hear a conversation or comment and I end up getting up and joining in which of course often becomes a time waster.

  • Indeed this is a real problem…my ‘solution’ has been to talk with my family (I work at home) and explain when my door is closed it means I am not to be interrupted unless the President of the US is at my door. He won’t be coming to Africa to see me…but then you never know. 🙂
    It works rather well…but in the end I have not found a way to stop every interruption. But just this simple step has taken the frustration away…I am responsible for closing my door. When I forget and get interrupted, it is my fault. 
    If there was a way of measuring the loss of focus from interruptions and the time needed to get back on track and in the flow…I am sure it would be shocking to anyone. 
    We all need a plan and then to work that plan.

  • Tonet

    Hi Ray,
    Great blog post. I must say your are very inspiring. Although I retired 5 years ago, i carried on working. However I have now had to stop due to bad back reasons and cannot get my A into Z. Wasting time!!!
    But having read one of your other posts where you talk about how to you dedicate time slots to various things including God, you have made me realise once again, that give time to God first and foremost, and He WILL (I know) give you back your time one hundred fold.
    I have made it my immediate project to do that in the morning rather than late at night and see if it will put me back on track.
    Thanks for that

  • How do you apply this specifically to individuals who take up too much of your time after a speech, a presentation, a workshop… someone who dominates your attention and time while there are others waiting to talk with you, too?

    • That can be tough. It’s why I try, whenever possible, to have an assistant present to help usher up the next person in line. Sometimes I just take the bull by the horns and say, “I need to talk to the next person now, so everyone gets a turn.”