Stop the Small Talk, Gain Back Your Time

focus Jun 10, 2021

You know that sinking feeling when you realize you’re in a conversation with no end in sight?

Instead of focusing on what’s said, your mind is running through your To-Do list for the day.

I realized last week that I lost about 30 minutes of my most productive time chatting with our carpet cleaner. Working from home allows for lots of time saved, but contactors and home maintenance workers can sabotage your productivity.

Small Talk Within Reason

I tend to be the type to pretend that I’m not home when the doorbell rings (thank goodness for video doorbells). On the occasion when I need to let someone into the house, I’m always polite. Probably too polite, which is what gets me in trouble. However, I genuinely appreciate the value of good help, and I think a few minutes of niceties go a long way.

“How are you? Can I get you anything? OK, here’s where we need help.”

Sound the Alarms

When you’ve gone beyond the small talk, and the bells start going off in your head, it’s time to take action. Say, “can I interrupt for a moment” and recap the point the speaker is trying to make. You can even soften the interruption by telling a story that relates to whatever they were trying to communicate. Most importantly, quickly end the conversation by stating you have to get back to work. This interruption method is broken down into more detail here.

I know interrupting isn’t my favorite thing either, but if you’ve taken the time for a little small talk, you’ve earned the right to protect your time. Honestly, I don’t care about how you treated the stains at the strange cat lady’s house.

It’s Not Just What You Say

Congratulations, you’ve broken free of the black hole of meaningless conversation. You are safely back into the peace of your office or absorbed in whatever is on the top of your TO-DO list. And what’s that? There he is again…the contractor has broken into your productivity zone.

Of course, if this is a legitimate question or request, you’re going to get them what they need. However, that’s not always the case. A powerful tactic to ward of this attack on your time is to deploy body language. Keep your eyes on the computer screen (or whatever is holding your attention). Avoid eye contact and give short responses to their attempts to restart the conversation.

It’s not rude (this is your time), and they should get the hint.

If All Else Fails, LIE

Yep, a little white lie here isn’t going to hurt anyone. If you get to recapture your precious work time, it’s going to help.

If your visitor still isn’t getting the hint, invent a meeting or conference call you have to jump into, pop in those earbuds, and close the door (if you can). This distraction will allow you both to save face and keep your nose to the grindstone.

Working from home can be a luxury if you learn how to protect yourself from the interruptions. Throw a comment below and let me know how you ward off unwelcome distractions when working from home.

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