Use Unplugged Earphones To Avoid Pesky Interruptions

Use Unplugged Earphones To Avoid Pesky Interruptions

Interruptions can really disrupt your workflow. You spend time dismissing or addressing the person doing the interrupting, and then on regaining your focus. Earbuds, even those not playing anything, are a sneaky defence.

Photo by scot63us.
Using music to block out annoying coworkers is a familiar tactic. Lifehacker reader grgzfla observes that tunes are entirely optional for his own job:

I’ve been known to put them on and stick the other end into an empty pocket just to keep cubical socialites from derailing the stream of consciousness I’m working on! I can ignore their pleas for attention and not generate any hurt feelings. 🙂

I have a friend who doesn’t own an iPod, but wears the ubiquitous white earbuds nearly everywhere he goes, tucked, as grgzfla suggests, into a pocket. He’s found that people only talk to him if they really have a pressing need. So the headphones function as a passive barrier, sending out a signal that he is otherwise occupied. Strangely, people feel more comfortable interrupting a person who is obviously intently working than a person wearing headphones.

If wearing earbuds is against your office’s rules, what other subtle yet effective techniques could you use to minimise interruptions?


  • I’ve just been ‘centralised’ with a larger IT Group, so I’ve moved from having my own office, to an open plan office with 12 other people. The 12 others had always been in open plan so it was a little bit of a culture shock for everyone when I arrived. The one major difference I noticed was that everyone chatted to everyone all the time while still doing their work, whereas I was used to closing the office door, and having a soundproofed office previously, having absolute silence. We have a larger number of tools on our desks and one day, when it was particularly chatty I popped on my industrial protective ear muffs for when I use Large power tools. Instant silence and after a couple of mins, everyone was self-concise of how much noise they had been making and started to keep their voices down. Even if they don’t see you wearing them, it doesn’t matter because it is absolute silence anyway! I only need to use the earmuffs once a week, but they are 1000 times more effective than the white iPod deterrent (previously tried, I kept plugging them in and playing music – I found this to be more of a distraction 🙂

    Authors note: Don’t overuse the earmuffs, you won’t hear when everyone else goes for coffee, and you will have earned a coffee with all the extra work you will be doing!

  • This trick still seems to work against those very aggressive charity hawkers that are becoming a common sight in Sydney. But I suspect that it’s only a matter of time.

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