How Being Unreachable Makes Me More Productive

Want to know a secret? I am not always reachable. I don't always answer my phone. Sometimes, I don't check email all day. And I get a lot more done because of it.

Image remixed by Jonathan Kurten from Aaron Amat (Shutterstock).

Knock, Knock…and Knock

One day I was in my office having a meeting on an important topic. Meanwhile, a colleague emailed me. Then he texted. Then he rang my desk phone, followed immediately by my mobile phone. (I am not making this up.) And finally, he came downstairs and knocked on my door. At this point, I figured that something critical was going on, so I stepped out of the meeting to see what was so important.

It turns out he was simply looking for a reference document that he had misplaced. It was not urgent. Yet, this individual did not see the issue in repeatedly pinging and interrupting me. In fact, he was frustrated that he could not immediately reach me.

Limiting the Interruptions

I am a big believer that our communication tools are there for our benefit. Not for the benefit of others to constantly interrupt our lives. The answer to the question, "Why didn't you answer your phone?" is, "Because I was busy."

When I am working on something important, I tend to shut out all outside interruptions. I go to my unreachable island of isolation so that I can get work done.

Here are some of my favourite tactics to limit interruptions:

  • Don't Answer That Phone: If I don't know who is calling, I don't answer it. Plain and simple. That is what voicemail is for.
  • Use Privacy Mode to Limit Callers: I take control of who can ring my mobile phone by using Privacy Mode. That way only the people who I allow can actually ring my phone.
  • Only Read the Important Email: I don't read email very often. When I do, I make sure that I read the important ones first. I use the new VIP Inbox and a great service called Sanebox to make sure that my most important email is what I see first.
  • Don't Read Unsolicited Email: Lots of people complain about spam. I don't get much. But, the ones I do, I just don't read. Delete, delete, delete.
  • Use Quick Forms of Communication: A quick IM, text or tweet can be much more efficient in some circumstances. Sometimes it is not necessary to get on the phone or have a face-to-face chat.
  • I Shut My Door: When I am working on something that needs concentration and uninterrupted creative time, I shut my door. Don't let some misguided open-door policy prevent you from getting your work done.
  • Set Expectations: One of the best ways to limit interruptions is to set expectations with your team. Ensure they know the preferred methods of communications and when it is appropriate to interrupt.
  • Practise the Right to Decline: Many people feel guilty if they do not answer their phone or immediately respond to an email. Give yourself permission to decline the interruptions.

Isolate Yourself When Necessary

I can go to my own island to avoid interruptions. And I may be unreachable, for a time, while I am getting work done. You are welcome to join me.

Just make sure you turn your phone ringer off.

How Being Unreachable Makes Me More Productive [Time Management Ninja]

Craig Jarrow is the author of Time Management Ninja. The mission of this site it to help individuals and companies reclaim their time. He writes about time management, productivity and goal setting.


    I work at a school where my primary role is helpdesk (with my secondary being any number of things such as website development etc.), and even when my door is closed people still knock or just walk straight in, no matter how many times you tell them you're busy.

    My solution is to use other people in my work area as sort of secretaries. I just say to them to send all people away when I'm busy. It takes a second for them to look up from their desk and say "Oh, he's busy at the moment, come back next period" and gives me the peace and quiet to do what I need.

    And don't feel like you have to be Mr. Available either. People can live without your services for an hour and if they can't, they need to be better organised themselves.

      Well that's not right... as helpdesk you're required to be on-call, and really... when is helpdesk ever truly busy!

        I work at a junior (year 7-9) campus with 700 students. We provide them with a machine and they manage it for the year (bad idea, I know. We're changing that next year). It's a miracle when helpdesk ISN'T busy. Everything from "My computer is riddled with viruses" to "My computer caught fire" (seriously).

    My boss will often tell us that she is going into her "cone of silence" and we know not to interrupt her unless, say, the office is on fire ;-)

    Works fine as long as you have a boss that supports it. I had a boss who was the primary abuser of my time, who never would have accepted this. As it was, I was required to keep email open and respond to all messages within 15 minutes, even if (as usual) I was busy on another task. Yes, that meant I had to either notice the email notification in the corner of the screen, set a quarter-hourly timer to interrupt me usually unnecessarily to poll my Inbox, or take my chances. I took my chances, got into flow on the project I was working on, and got beyatched out many times for missing the 15 minute window. No, I was NOT working helpdesk. My primary job was getting things done, not serving users, and I earned a six figure salary to produce product. Most of the time, I've had non-annoying managers who understand the productivity implications of no interruptions, but this one either didn't understand or didn't give a crap because she didn't care whether any of her employees were happy or not. She wasn't that smart, so it could have been either.

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