How to Stay Focused in an Age of Constant Interruption

In the past couple weeks I’ve been asked by a few different people in leadership positions, how to work with inherent and constant interruptions in their workday. One minute you’re engaged with an important project and the next someone calls you up or walks into your office with an urgent matter that needs attention. This constant moving back and forth interrupts focus and creates frustration that makes it difficult to concentrate. It’s a vicious cycle.

What it’s important to recognize is that being yanked back and forth and getting caught up in an auto-pilot of increased frustration isn’t going to make you more effective at work (or at home). We can also accept the reality that this is inherent in our workdays, especially now that we live in a 24X7 world where people expect us to be available at all times.

To minimize interruptions, the most basic thing a person can do is schedule times during the day that are uninterruptible times of complete focus. Whether you’re in a management position or not, you can make sure people know about these hours and then have an open door policy the rest of the time.

Another way to minimize interruptions is with ear plugs. I was given the suggestion by someone recently to put ear plugs in and that helps keep out the phone and noise interruptions in the environment. Try it out and see if ear plugs make you more mindful.

If you can’t avoid getting interrupted or if your mind wanders off to focusing on other things, you can try a short practice to recenter and refocus. In my upcoming book The Now Effect: How this Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life (Atria Books, 2012) I have a section called Training Ground which gives a number of short ways to dip back into a space of awareness, ground to the present moment and refocus.

One practice might be to engage the mindful check-in. This is a practice where you’re just pausing and dropping the question into your mind, “Where am I starting from right now?” You begin just checking in with your body, noticing any tension or tightness, checking in with how you’re feeling emotionally, and checking in with your mind to see if it’s busy or calm. If it’s busy, what is it busy with? Then reset your intention to refocus.

Practicing and repeating this between interruptions allows your mind to get used to the idea of recentering and refocusing. Over time this will become more automatic as your body and mind tend to naturally begin to refocus between interruptions.

As always, don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself as a discipline and see what happens over time. Your experience is your best teacher.

Please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

2 Responses to “How to Stay Focused in an Age of Constant Interruption”

  1. Cynthia Maldonado says:

    I’ve recently bought the workbook in Spanish language. I did it because I think i’m too sceptic to start with some oriental meditation, I needed something a little more “scientific” but I’m not feeling any results; I’ve just began with the first chapter and i’m pretty sure that I have to be patient, but I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong, I’m able to pay attention in my own body and I appreciate that but I was expecting to feel connected everytime with myself and I haven’t achieved that.
    I want to know what I need, want and truly desire the whole time.
    I read this article about non-stoping tasks at work (‘cuz that’s my case) but I guess I need to become more systematic.
    Could you please help me?

  2. Andy May says:

    Hi Cynthia, I’m taking the 8 week MBSR course, and speaking to people who have already done it, some say they didn’t feel any benefits at all until after the 8 week course, and then found it helped immensely. Be patient, the effects can be very subtle and not immediate. Thinking you’re doing something wrong is part of the practice, just keep doing it. Hope this helps.