Q: Help! My office is located in a very visible area and I get a lot of people “just stopping by.” I don’t normally mind these interruptions, but sometimes my workload is heavy and I’m struggling to get caught up. These chats not only use up my valuable time, but also disrupt my concentration and momentum. Yet I feel rude if I try to continue working during these visits, and I don’t want to appear unsociable or uncaring. How can I remain friendly and approachable and still get my work done?
A: Your first priorities are your company and the responsibilities of your job. Therefore, there’s nothing wrong with informing the person who “just stops by” that you can’t talk right now. You can say something as simple as “Larry, I’m sorry I don’t have time to chat right now. Let’s catch up later.” If you do this a few times, hopefully Larry will get the idea. The key is not simply to send Larry packing, but to let him know that you’d be happy to shoot the breeze with him during a break and then make sure you catch up with him later. This way, you’ll get your work done but you’ll remain friendly and approachable. One way to avoid the issue altogether is to create a signal — perhaps a small flag placed on the corner of your desk. Let colleagues know that if this symbol is visible, you aren’t available for chitchat. When the flag is flying, you shouldn’t have to deal with unnecessary interruptions at all. And if Larry does have a genuine business question and needs to interrupt you, you’ll know it’s about something important.