If you’re like me and everybody else in the world, you face constant interruptions every day. In fact, one study reports that employees are interrupted at work every three minutes! Interruptions are just part of the high-performance life. It would be unrealistic to expect that we can stop them from happening; instead, the key to minimizing the disruption they cause lies in how we respond to those interruptions.

We can even use them to our advantage. Managed properly, they can help us become the very best version of ourselves.

Here are four strategies I’ve found to manage those constant interruptions. Plus, I am going to give you a bonus idea, and it might be your favorite tip of all.

First, let’s look at the four strategies I consider foundational to managing interruptions.

1. Acknowledge that interruptions will happen

Why is this important? If you acknowledge and accept that interruptions are going to be a part of your day, you won’t be surprised when they come up. Plus, they will be less likely to throw you off your game. See, the emotional response you have to an interruption can sometimes derail your efforts to complete the work you were engaged in when the interruption happened. It can be tough to control our emotions, but by acknowledging that interruptions will happen, we can minimize the effect they have on our progress.

It’s kind of like traffic. If your destination is a 15-minute drive, and you leave exactly 15 minutes before you need to arrive, you’ll be OK — unless you encounter an accident, a road block, construction or some other delay. To ease your stress level and ensure you arrive on time, just assume you might encounter a delay of some sort, and leave a few minutes early. Then, if you do experience a delay, you won’t have to panic!

  • Know that every single day, you are going to be interrupted at certain times. If you’re aware of that, you won’t get emotionally derailed when you are interrupted. There were times in my career, a long time ago, when the constant interruptions I was getting hammered with made it a challenge for me to achieve my goals. But once I learned to acknowledge them as a mere fact of life, it was a huge step forward for me.
  • Build extra “margin” into your life regarding time, money and other resources. Pushing everything to the very edge often results in deficits and is extremely stressful.

2. Build the right team

Your team is the key to high performance. Whether it’s at work, in your personal life or in your volunteer activities, it is essential that you surround yourself with the right team. That way, you can all work together to acknowledge interruptions and manage them in the best way possible. When you have the right team, it’s amazing how successfully you can deal with constant interruptions. If an unexpected situation causes one team member to halt progress on a project for a little while, it’s important that other team members can jump in and keep the ball rolling.

For the first 14 years of my career, I had staff to support me all the time. In fact, I had two people supporting our team for 8 of those 14 years. But then I went several years without having any support staff. It was distracting, difficult, and challenging. I almost forgot how I operate best. I knew I couldn’t optimize my ability to live the high-performance life like that, so I hired a great assistant. Once I hired the right human to help manage all the things that happen in the day — to organize the scheduling, gather all the data, and help me be better organized and prepared than I was even before — the constant interruptions no longer halted my progress.

We do this in our office, and it is extremely effective. When possible, our front-line team members handle interruptions. If they cannot do so, they escalate it to an executive assistant. If that person cannot handle it, then the next highest level of management will get involved. So, by the time an unexpected situation gets to me, I know I need to deal with it.

Now, this streamlined approach won’t happen automatically; you’ll need to meet with your team to set the parameters, discuss the process and practice the strategy. It also requires that you empower your team members to make certain decisions on their own. If you tend to be a micromanager, requiring on-the-spot approval for every move your team members make, then this process won’t work! Not only that — micromanaging has no place in the high-performance life!

  • Prioritize getting the right humans, operations and systematic processes in place. Then your interruptions will get sifted through the colander of crazy much more effectively!
  • Handle interruptions in a specific order of staff-member succession. Knowing that your team is doing everything possible to handle interruptions before they get to you will give you a huge sense of confidence and peace of mind as you work on the tasks that only you, the leader, can do.
  • Empower your team members to make decisions on their own. The more your team has the power and accountability to succeed, as well as your faith in them, the better able they will be to get things done without having to escalate situations to you. If situations aren’t coming to you, you’re less likely to get interrupted. This is a valuable lesson when it comes to teams. High-performing teams are essential to being a high-performance leader.
  • Embrace discipline, systems and processes. I’m not always the best at organizing these essential ingredients for success on my own, but I am great at working with them on a team.
  • Talk through the process with your support staff. If I can talk through an idea with one person, I can gather all the data and all the parameters that will lead to success. Having a highly competent person working with me, I can work through a situation in my brain and figure out the path forward. The other person’s job is to help me execute those ideas and solutions. Typically, leaders are visionaries, not implementers. It’s difficult for one person to excel in both roles.
  • Work with every team member on optimizing his or her best work methods. For the highest level of success, you and every member of your team must establish parameters for success and manage barriers.

3. Qualify and prioritize

If you execute the first two strategies well — acknowledge that you will get interrupted and then build the right team — you will be able to execute the third strategy: qualify and prioritize the interruptions. You cannot do this well without executing those strategies first.

In this step, you are assessing the importance and urgency of an interruption. Does it need to be handled now, later today or tomorrow? Do you need to handle it, or can you delegate it to someone else? When you qualify how urgent an interruption is, then you can prioritize it according to your available resources.

I don’t really mind interruptions, but I love to be focused and disciplined, and I love the success that comes from performing at a high level. So of course I perform better without interruptions. However, a lot of people with high energy or with ADHD actually enjoy some distraction to break up their routines. What you have to be careful of is that the disruptions are not derailing you.

  • The next time you’re interrupted, pause, think and process. When an interruption comes your way, stop what you’re doing — pause. Then think about how to qualify the interruption and how to prioritize it based on the data you have before you. Finally, process what needs to happen to execute that decision.
  • Delegate effectively. This is a skill that many leaders struggle with at first. You can’t handle all your strategic planning and high-level work while also handling every interruption that surfaces. It is critical that you become effective at delegating work that others can handle well — maybe even better than you!

4. Find pockets of time when you can welcome interruptions

This might sound crazy, and counterintuitive to managing interruptions, but it’s not. There are pockets of time in every day when you will be between projects, calls and meetings. Seize those opportunities to speak with your staff members about the best way to handle an interruption that surfaced earlier.

One day, as I was preparing to record a YouTube video, an emergency came up that needed my attention; my staff was not able to address it. I needed 10 minutes to pause, think and process and to make some decisions. So I started and stopped recording a little late. By handling the interruption quickly, I prevented it from spiraling into a bigger interruption later in the day.

  • Build a buffer of time into your schedule. Leave pockets of time available in your day to handle unexpected situations. Use those pockets of time to build and action plan and steps to solve the interruption soon, rather than waiting until the end of the day. This can prevent the situation from getting worse.
  • Use that time to delegate. If it’s a situation you can delegate, discuss the execution strategy with your team members, and give them a chance to ask questions and clarify your intended outcome.

Bonus tip: Do your most important activities when you’re less likely to be interrupted

This bonus tip might be the most important strategy I’m discussing here — that is, to do your most important activities at the time of day when you are least likely to be interrupted.

Let’s say you’re taking an afternoon nap that you feel you deserve after a challenging week, and you are getting interrupted constantly. That is going to be really annoying, and your period of rest won’t be restful at all.

The key is to figure out when you are the least likely to be interrupted, and then plan your high-focus activities — like your nap! — during that time. During a 24-hour period, what is the least likely time you’ll be interrupted? If you’re a new mom or dad, guess what? You’re probably going to be interrupted all night long by your children. So you will want to avoid scheduling your high-focus priorities during the time when you’re trying to get the children to sleep.

I have found high success with early-morning time. I start my day slowly and enjoy early mornings to prepare myself for the day. This is a time when my family is the least active. I know that once I get into the office, I won’t be able to have quiet time to think and plan.

  • Determine what times of day you are least likely to be interrupted. Then use those times to handle your most important high-focus work. At what time of day can you get the most done? This might not look the same every day. Guard those times closely!
  • Encourage every member of your team to do the same. And then communicate that information so everyone knows when each team member’s high-focus time. That way, the entire team can try to honor each individual’s high-focus time.


What types of interruptions have knocked you off course recently? To what extent would the strategies discussed here have helped you minimize their level of disruption to your day? If you are a high performer, or striving to be one, managing interruptions well is one way you can become exceptional — better than most. If you have strategies for managing interruptions that I didn’t mention here, I’d love to hear them!