Handling interruptions?

Subject: Handling interruptions?
From: Geoff Hart <Geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 08:28:01 -0400

Peter Jones observed that anything that <<... interrupts the
flow of work, and takes the author away from the task in
hand, reduces efficiency.>> and wondered <<How do
technical communicators deal with interruptions?>>

I work primarly as an editor, and I've got an open-door policy
(since I'm lucky enough to have an office rather than a cube).
If I truly need to be left undisturbed, I close the door. Anyone
who needs me enough to ignore the closed door will still
knock, but because the closed door is so rare, it sends a pretty
strong message. In a cubicle, you might have to invest in a
hanging curtain, a six-foot-tall plant that you can move into
the doorway (cacti are singularly effective), or an octagonal
traffic sign borrowed from the local street corner. Back in my
pre-office-with-a-door days, I took my manuscripts down to a
concealed corner of the library and worked there. When
people figured out where I was hiding, I changed hiding
spots. (Ah, the games we played!)

On the other hand, I find that I can't work for hours without a
break on a single project; I need to get up, walk around, get a
drink, check out the library, schmooze with my SMEs, or
read some e-mail every now and then. I definitely lose some
time doing so, but make up for it by renewing my efficiency
when I return to the work. Interruptions work well too for
keeping my brain challenged with new stimuli or giving me
time to mull over a problem before trying to write down the
solution, so I don't usually object to them.

<<In particular how do you become 'transparent' as an author
so that whatever you are doing may be picked up, at any
time, by another author with the minimum of backtracking?>>

I'm not sure why another author would want to pick up where
you left off; this suggest you mean much longer interruptions
than I'd at first thought. If that's the case, the trick is to always
start your work with a good outline, and don't let someone
stop you until you've finished enough of the point you're
working on that it's clear where your successor needs to
continue. If the interruption is truly so urgent that the person
needs you NOW, it's still very rarely so urgent that you can't
list a series of point-form notes on what you were about to
say before you have to leave. And better still, if you strongly
confront someone ("I'm in the middle of something; can it
wait for a few hours?"), you'll usually find that the emergency
isn't all that emergent after all.

<<For example, reading this item is an interruption of your
usual work [2]. How have you arranged that you, or a
colleague, are able to pick up where you left off before
reading it?>>

Well, first off, I don't have any other colleagues who can do
my work, so that's not an issue (I'm the only editor here).
Second, I don't let this interruption occur unless I've got a few
minutes between jobs to deal with it. If I'm too busy, I'll
cruelly keep you dangling, awaiting my answer with bated
breath. (Yes, I'm evil. <g>)

<<If your work is specifically to read my correspondence I
should be most interested to know who you work for.>>

Well, I _could_ tell you that, but then I'd have to kill you. But
don't worry.... you can rest assured that we're doing it for
_your_ benefit. <g>

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Who needs rhetorical questions?"--Anon.

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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