How to Reduce Stress Caused by Unplanned Interruptions

How to Achieve Work/Life Balance

Do you clam up when you're working on a document and hear the familiar "ding" of a new email arriving in your inbox? Does your heart skip a beat when your phone vibrates in the middle of a workday because your friend or significant other sent you a text message? Do you wince when your phone rings, or a co-worker stops by your desk for a visit?

If you do, you're not alone. As it turns out, lots of people feel anxious about unplanned communication. And it's not because they're antisocial. It's because they're busy. Really, really busy.

"You want to connect with … people and maintain a relationship, so why does communication from them or requests like going out to lunch feel like a threat?" author Elizabeth Grace Saunders writes in an article for the Harvard Business Review. "In a society where people have the ability to communicate instantly, a quick response can become an expectation. But it's an expectation that we can't always meet, especially when we're trying to get work done. This gap between expectations and what we can actually do can lead to a lot of guilt, especially when it comes to the people closest to us. When left unaddressed, this guilt can manifest in a fight-or-flight response -- we snap at people who interrupt or simply ignore attempts at connection."

If you want spontaneous communications to bring delight instead of dread, try to build some breathing room into your schedule.

"A lack of margin in your schedule can make you cranky … Instead of welcoming human connection, you shrink away from it because you're concerned it will stand in the way of keeping up with work," Saunders notes. "If this is the reason you feel irritated by people reaching out during the workday … block out times in your calendar and privately label that time 'margin.'"

Think of it as wiggle room: "Margin" time gives you enough space in your schedule that you can actually welcome unplanned interruptions instead of shrinking from them.

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