Work, Interrupted

dominoes-1902622_640I was having one of those days.

My to-do list was maxed out, and I had just closed the office door to start working my way through it. That’s when the phone rang. Forty-five minutes later, I hung up and turned my attention back to the first item on my list. I didn’t get very far, however, before there was a knock on the door. This time, two hours passed before I could once again try to focus on my work.

But the pattern had been established. My day unfolded into a steady game of Wack-a-Mole. Texts, phone calls, walk-ins, and emergency emails – all conspired to keep me from my to-do list. Each time I thought I was free to finally tackle my agenda, a competing priority would appear. I would get interrupted.

Don’t you just hate interruptions? Doesn’t it drive you nuts when other people decide they need your assistance to move their agenda forward? In fact, wouldn’t work be a whole lot easier if we could just get rid of the people?

I read once that the company of the future will only have two employees; a man and a dog. The man’s job is to feed the dog. The dog’s job is to keep the man from touching the equipment. It seems like any time work (or life for that matter) gets messy, there are people involved. We’re just so needy. So, we keep interrupting other people. And we keep getting interrupted.

But what if we’re looking at this the wrong way? What if we shifted our perspective just a little bit? What if we viewed people as the priority instead of the problem? What kind of impact would that have on them, on our business, and on us?

What if we welcomed the interruption?

We work so hard to automate and digitize. We focus on the numbers and the checklists. We manage by policy and procedure. I’m afraid that, if we’re not careful, we’re going to wind up working for that company of the future. If we keep treating customers and coworkers as problems to be fixed or nuisances to be removed from the equation, we might just succeed.

Here’s the thing – people are the point.

It’s in the middle of the interruptions that real work gets done. That’s where the meaningful discussions take place. That’s where ideas are born, decisions are made, and problems are solved. It’s in those fleeting moments of actual human interaction that connections are made and lives are improved.

Isn’t that why we work in the first place?

Now that I think about it, the days I feel like nothing gets done are some of my best days. When I leave the office, my to-do list might be full, but so is my soul. I’m exhausted because my energy has been expended in the best possible way. Yet somehow, I’m energized. I’m excited about the possibilities that have emerged because of my interactions with other people.

Work isn’t about spreadsheets and call reports and items on a project plan. Those things are the real interruptions.

I’m not suggesting that you ignore your to-do list. I still have mine, and I plan on completing it. But should you feel the need to interrupt me, that’s OK. I won’t complain.