Thursday, September 25, 2008

Interruptions Love a Vacuum

This week my two most frequent sources of intra-office distraction are away. One might suppose that a consequence of my being left to my own devices more than usual would be that I would have more uninterrupted time in the office. I hasten to add that I enjoy these distractions, and in fact distraction isn't the right word, as much of the time we are working on something or at least talking about it.

But no. While working in my office this week, I have noticed that I have had even more interruptions than usual, and, instead of spending my time talking with an interesting colleague, these interruptions have been quite random.

Examples from one typical day this week:

- Random students (not from my class) stopped by to ask directions to another building (three separate incidents);

- Random students stopped to ask directions to the restrooms (two separate incidents);

- Publishing rep stopped by to ask if I can convince more of my colleagues to use my textbook (short answer: no);

- Student known to me but not in my class stopped by for advice about his Future; I am not the undergrad advisor and the student is not interested in my field of research, but he said he saw my door open and just thought he'd see what I thought about some possibilities;

- Three different staff members on separate occasions saw my door open and stopped by to say hi or ask a non-urgent question; I am happy to talk to them (I even like 2 of them), but ..

I am just glad that everyone has a cell phone now and I don't get the "Can I use your phone?" questions from random unknown people anymore.

Yes, I could close my door. I do close my door if I absolutely do not want to be interrupted, but in general I don't like sitting in my office with the door closed during the day. In addition to the random interruptions, there have of course been visits from students and colleagues with whom I want and need to talk, and for them I leave my door open.

My hypothesis about the increase in interruptions this week is that many of them would not have occurred had my colleagues not been out of town. Every once in a while a random person will interrupt a conversation I am having in my office and ask directions to the restroom or another building, but I think it is more typical for people to be dissuaded from a random visit if they sense that someone is in the midst of another conversation in their office.

My other hypothesis, which I tested as I typed this, is that if I bring my laptop to a cafe, no one will interrupt me to ask me for anything, unless I happen to sit near a coveted power outlet.


Anonymous said...

I just moved to a new office this semester, and the first thing I did was turn my desk around and move the big 5 drawer lateral file so that it was perpendicular to the wall, basically constructing a little cubical that blocks my desk from the view of the door. If anyone wants to talk to me, they have to come all the way into my office and poke their heads around to see if I'm in here. I figure it should discourage casual drop-ins. Being at the end of the hall doesn't hurt either!

Janus Professor said...

The most exasperating interruption I get is when people mistake me for an admin (my office is between two admin offices and I am female). These interrupters can be quite rude and demanding. I empathathise for the admins that have to deal with these people on a day-to-day basis!

Anonymous said...

Is the world so boring or annoying that even the small interruptions disturbs you so much? If you go to unknown place, do you struggle all your own for finding directions/restroom etc, or if possible try to get some help? what about hiring a personal secretary (of course on your money!) who will sit near your door to answer all these people?

Anonymous said...

I, too, like to leave my door open so that the people I want to talk to feel welcome. When someone I don't want to talk to enters my office, I immediately state firmly, "I'm sorry, but I can't talk to you now." If they keep talking, or try to ask when I can talk to them, I just repeat, "I'm sorry, but I can't talk to you now." No matter what they try to say, I just keep saying the same thing: "I really can't talk to you now." And I turn away from them and back to what I am doing.

And just to be clear, I am very respectful of other people's need for the same sort of control over their own time. Whenever I walk into a colleagues office, the first thing I say is, "Can you talk now?" And if they say, "Now is not a good time", I just say, "No problem", and immediately leave.

Anonymous said...

For better or worse, many of us have very high workloads and it is very hard to get into the flow of work with constant random interruptions (as opposed to work related, or infrequent interruptions). I agree with Physioprof - we should not necessarily be available for answering all queries about everything. If I was up for that, you could put 'Goddess' on my door.

Anonymous said...

As much as you may like it, having the door open is your problem. Simple as that. Dr Dave has a suggestion, but even if your door is open then this signals that you are in and you will be disturbed.

I have an "in/out" sign on my door. If I am out I put it to out, if I am in I slide it half way across - i.e. neither in nor out. Many students report they came to see me but went wawy as they did not know I was in (they didn't knock, duh!). However my grad students know this means I am in and so will knock if it is important, but leave it till later if it is not.

If you wnat to keep your door open, the trick is to get an office that is out of the way. I had a chance to move to a much bigger, nicer office, but it was on the ground floor near the reception area (where students congregate). I chose to stay in my shoe box on the 3rd floor (stairs!), and I also get a good cardiovascular workout each day!

Anonymous said...

Close the Door!