You’ve got a full hour between meetings. Plenty of time to put the finishing touches on the month end staffing report. You pull up the spreadsheet, print off your boss’s e-mailed comments, dig out your notes from the last meeting and settle down to work. No sooner do you start to enter data, than Jane wanders in, sits down and asks if you’ve heard the latest rumour about Bob down in purchasing. Before you know it, your full hour has dwindled to 17 minutes.

Controlling drop-in visitors who interrupt your workflow requires both tact and judgement. The office culture where you work can have considerable influence on this practice. If yours is an organization that encourages less-formal communication, you may find people dropping by to discuss anything from last night’s big game to next week’s big presentation.

For those days when you need a block of uninterrupted time to work on a project, here are five tips to help you control drop-in traffic.

  1. Be the visitor. If you have to speak with someone, go to their office. That way, you can control the length of the visit. When your done, excuse yourself and leave.
  2. Turn away from the door. If your work space is arranged so that you sit with your back to the door, visitors can see that you are working and they might be less likely to disturb you.
  3. Close the door. If you have a door. This isn’t workable in a cube farm. In that case, you might have to resort to the Les Nessman solution.
  4. Stand up for visitors. If a visitor comes into your office, stand up to greet them and don’t invite them to sit down. This will often shorten the length of their visit.
  5. Tell them politely. If you’re busy at the moment, ask them to come back. Set a specific appointment time if necessary.

The most extreme solution I’ve ever come across was someone who sawed an inch off the front legs of the chairs in his office. Trying to keep from sliding off required just enough effort to discourage people from staying long. With a little courtesy and the above steps, you shouldn’t have to resort to such drastic measures.