Third, although it might sound like an oxymoron, you can schedule interruptions:
- Establish several "open" times throughout the day when anyone can stop by—at your convenience. Try alternating one hour closed door, one hour open. In most situations, people are fine with waiting as long as they know when they will be heard.
- Begin the conversation with "What can I do for you?" rather than "How are you?" The latter is an invitation to chat. You want to get straight to the point.
- Ask how long each person will need. Fifteen minutes? A half hour? You can choose between setting up the meeting for later or saying something like, "Let's talk now; I've got a conference call in 20 minutes." This approach forces people to stick to the amount of time they've requested.
- Rehearse a few comfortable exit lines in case someone gets you at a bad moment. For example, "I'm in the middle of finishing a project; can we talk this afternoon?" or "I'd love to help you out, but this week is impossible."
- Even for people whose interruptions you take anytime, there's no offense in asking when they need the request filled. Within the hour? The day? You'll be surprised how often there's no rush.