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Time Management for Interruption-Based Professions

Let’s face it – we’re all busy, and that can make it difficult for us to manage our time, no matter how diligent we are about organizing, scheduling, and re-scheduling our tasks.
Written Nov 02, 2011, read 1407 times since then.


Let’s face it – we’re all busy, and that can make it difficult for us to manage our time, no matter how diligent we are about organizing, scheduling, and re-scheduling our tasks. Having a routine schedule can make it easier to streamline and group our tasks and activities, but not every profession or job lends itself to this sort of regularity. 

When I work with professionals in fields like real estate, public relations, and sales, much of their work is predicated on the fact that they are going to be interrupted many times throughout their workday. These interruptions are usually well-warranted, as the things that generate revenue for these professionals often revolve around quick decisions and it’s-happening-right-now updates from clients, partners, or vendors. If your work falls into one of these interruption-based professions or one that has a similar level of required responsiveness, there’s often no choice other than to work with these interruptions. But how can you be responsive to the needs of others while still having some semblance of a manageable schedule?

Block your day. Although you’ll probably have lots of interruptions throughout your day, you can still start with a basic framework for how you’d like your day to go. The key is to have your schedule be more loose and flexible than someone who has a more predictable structure for their day. I suggest creating small blocks of time for your various daily tasks – phone calls, emails, sales, client service, etc. – so you can have a skeleton of what you’d like to see happen from hour to hour. The major difference between your schedule and the schedule of someone who deals with fewer interruptions is this: if you are expecting lots of interruptions, have small time blocks instead of big ones, and leave lots of blank, unscheduled space in between them. That way, you’ll be able to shift your blocks around and adjust your tasks and projects as you deal with daily fires and interruptions. When things are scheduled back-to-back-to-back, making schedule adjustments is much more difficult.

List your tasks. With an unpredictable schedule, it can be hard to know what task to do next when you happen to have a few moments of time in between interruptions. With sudden downtime, many of us simply default to working on email, which can become a major black hole for your time. For this reason, it’s essential to have a running list of the tasks are key to you and to your business. Take a few minutes and write down all the tasks and projects that are important for your business to move forward. 

Identify key priorities and duration. Once you’ve made your list of tasks, take a few minutes and note how long you expect each task to take, and the order in which you’d like to tackle your tasks. Maybe you’d like to spend an hour on a client proposal, or half an hour writing your next blog post or newsletter article. Note those details on your list. Without a clear priority and duration for each task, it’s very hard to choose which task to work on next. 

Fill the open spaces. You’ve now created a schedule with lots of open spaces between your time blocks, giving you flexibility to deal with interruptions. As you shift your scheduled blocks around, you’ll see your open spaces between tasks shift as well. Use your task list to take advantage of these open spaces by plugging in your priority tasks into the free times in your calendar. Since you’ve listed the duration of each of your tasks, you can now clearly see whether your tasks will fit into your open time slots. 

Having an interruption-based profession can be both exciting and challenging. The key to managing your time effectively when you have days that are always in flux is being flexible and adaptable, and making sure your time management strategy accounts for the way you work. You can’t expect your day to flow the same way as someone else who has a more predictable schedule – but you can still get things done!

Professional Organizer 
San Francisco, California 
Joshua Zerkel

Joshua Zerkel is a Certified Professional Organizer® and the founder of He specializes in helping entrepreneurs leverage technology so they can be more productive, organized, and get more of the right things done.

Learn more about the author, Joshua Zerkel.

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