Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Key to Success: Being Interruptible

The mark of kindness, of a mature and compassionate person, is this: interruptibility. As it turns out, this is all it takes to begin making a difference right now, wherever you are.


Photo Credit: Fey Ilyas via Compfight cc

Are you interruptible? Do you let the noise of the world collide with the busyness of your life… in a good way? If you want to be a true friend, a mentor, a difference maker, then this characteristic, this discipline, is a must.

Ways to gauge interruptibility (or the lack thereof)

Here’s how you can tell if you’re living an interruptible life:

  1. You don’t constantly look at your watch or get distracted when meeting someone.
  2. You can easily sustain eye contact with another human being.
  3. You make the conversation about them, not you (even if they’re seeking your advice or counsel).

I’m not great at this stuff, but I’m learning. And I’m realizing that my schedule and tasks and all-around busyness doesn’t make me nearly as important as I think it does.

Face it. You aren’t that big of a deal. Neither am I. Life, for the most part, is about people. So let’s make some room for them.

A quick note about interruptions

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be productive. It doesn’t mean you don’t focus on your work or priorities or have some vague notion of where you want to end up in life.

In fact, it means the opposite.

Being interruptible is the opposite of being distracted. Busyness creates stress, which requires you to escape (i.e. distractions). But a life focused on others requires a willingness to be interrupted.

Never assume what you’re doing is more important than what someone else needs from you. That’s the first rule to living a life that matters, that leaves an impact. You must be humble.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be known for being open to occasional interruptions than the guy who never veers off task. The latter is what we expect of a robot. The former, an actual human being.

Which would you rather be?

The secret to great stories

Guess what happens at the turning point of every great story? Something unexpected happens. Maybe it’s a setback or catastrophe. Maybe someone dies or gets pregnant. But something must happen. And when it does, people react.

The space in between that incident and people’s reaction is a sacred place we all can relate to. And in that space our character is tested.

Some people get mad, while others get depressed or go into denial. Even others press in and embrace the inconvenience for what it is: an opportunity. A chance to grow.

And those who choose to do so are the rare ones we remember. Some may even call them heroes.

So the question is: Are you interruptible? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • When someone comes to my desk, I try to turn away from my computer and focus on them. I have a long way to go, though.

  • “I’d rather be known for being open to occasional interruptions than the guy who never veers off task.” Me too! Just quoted GK Chesterton this morning on the blog… “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.” If we have eyes to see the interruptions are incredible blessings.

  • mhelbert

    I don’t always get this right. Ok, maybe Most of the time I don’t. But, I’m working on it. Placing the focus on others is what Jesus did. So, I guess it’s kind of important.

  • Anna

    Lovely 🙂

  • DeborahPenner

    Yes !! ” The space in between that incident and people’s reaction is a sacred place we all can relate to. And in that space our character is tested.” What do you do and why? And can it be shifted? Thankfully, yes! Once again, thanks for the wisdom here <3

  • Sabra Morris Media

    Jeff, thanks so much for this post. I often forget to take my eyes off the prize in order to focus on what’s in front of me. This post reminds me to slow down a bit and focus on what (and who) is at hand.

    • Well said, Sabra.

      • Sabra Morris Media

        Thanks! And thanks for continuing to put out such a relatable blog and newsletter.

  • Kent F

    I’m exhausted. I just got back from a funeral of a college friend who fell over dead at 51. No one worked on his health more than this friend. Shocking. His granddad lived to 92, and his dad is 83 and looks 70. He was the most interruptible person I knew. Maybe he knew just how short life can be – and it showed. Thanks Jeff – we should all learn this lesson – today.

  • Last year my focus was music. I heard the same sermon from David McGee, Louie Giglio, and Levi Lusko…all saying what a fantastic opportunity we’ve been given to use the Internet to reach people. I remembered a blog I started in 2009 – then quit a couple months later. I decided to see if it still existed. It did, and I began writing on March 26. Now it’s a daily thing, and being read in over 50 countries in just four months. Exciting!

  • Mary Catherine George

    Love today’s post – truly awesome – I am interruptible – there is nothing more important than having a moment of connection and sharing with another person – I think the only thing I have to be cautious about is sharing too much time with an individual who has negative energy… I must have time boundaries in some circumstances… so, it is a fine line to walk .. Thanks Jeff for increasing our awareness of the importance of our human connections

  • Mikel Dumlao

    This post means a lot to me. I always plan things and don’t want to be bothered by anyone. Being focused and yet interruptible is an awesome skills to be a truly mature person.

  • Job Gichana

    Jeff I love your style of story telling. Whenever I read your articles I get inspired because the style is so close to how I like writing. Didn’t have confidence such inspirational stories can make great articles!

    I very much love it when I spend time to help somebody, but I’m sorry I hate it when somebody simply wastes my time; I mean, engaging in unproductive stuff. I value my time! Thanks for the post Jeff.

  • Another great post, buddy. Trust you and the family are well. Keep up the good work.

  • I must be honest and say I struggle with being interruptible. I’m often so task oriented that I miss out on other opportunities. Good reminder!

  • Tracy Stella

    Jeff, I agree with your post while disagreeing with it all at the same time. Yes, some people need to open up and be interruptible, to not be so consumed with themselves. I know I definitely used to need to do that. However, on the other side of over-correction (I’m the queen of over-correction), is someone who allows others to interrupt so much of what they are doing they lose focus on what God wants them to do. I think there’s a really great balance in there somewhere. Not trying to be argumentative about your post. I’m just trying to point out God may have some of us working on being interruptible, while at the same time He’s having others of us work on maintaining focus and not allowing interruptions (at least for a time). My sense is it’s about trusting what God is directing each of us to do in that particular season. Keep making us think, and continue the great work of inspiring others.

  • danielcdyer

    “Interruptibility” is our cooperation with the will of God. God is not interrupting us per se; it’s just that we have made plans for that day that are incongruent with His. Many of “interruptions” are just Gods way of saying, “Hey, this is what you should really be doing”; serving someone else. Our own plans keep us inward focused. God’s plans have us outward focused. How we react to the interruption says a lot about our relationship to Him.

    • Interesting definition, Daniel. Thanks for sharing.

  • Raya Zimmerman

    This is great insight! I’m a big fan of your writing, Jeff. You’re making a difference.

  • This is some of your best so far, Jeff. One of the most mind-blowing qualities of Jesus Christ was how interruptible he was. Whether is was by a little child, an invalid, or some socially awkward sinner, Jesus loved to be interrupted by needy people. If only we could be so humble!

  • DS

    Interruptible – absolutely. Sometimes almost to a fault. It’s amazing how people feel when they leave you after you’ve demonstrated their importance by giving them undivided attention.

  • Ah, I guess I am interruptible!

  • Great stuff. This has huge implications for our productivity obsessed culture where tasks and efficiency dominate the workplace. I like that you distinguished interruptibility from distraction.

    Also, this is crucial for parents. You’re not at the stage yet where your son is constantly saying “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy”. We still have stuff to do, but our children need to know we’re always accessible and will give them our undivided attention (putting down my iPhone, looking them in the eye, etc).

  • I’m very task orientated. It’s easy for me to get so involved in what I’m doing that I forget whats most important, relationships with others! That’s a great way to look at it; being interruptible! Sometimes it does need to be a conscious decision.

  • Bonny Hoeflein

    The story of Jesus on the road to heal someone’s child who is then interrupted by the woman with the issue of blood. He was interruptible.

  • rochellebarlow

    Right to the heart. I needed this today. I get so caught up in what I’m doing that I struggle to stop even for a moment to do something else. I have to force myself to get up and walk away so that I can pay attention to my children or anyone else needing me. It’s been a struggle of mine all my life. It is something I need work harder at for sure. Thanks Jeff.

    • Me, too, Rochelle. Welcome to the tension!

  • Don

    A picture of the pay phone on a blank blue wall, sad, waiting for direction, a warm hand, a listening ear, a conversation, waiting to be interrupted or to interrupt someone else with good or bad news. In the cold, the rain, the heat, it waits, longing to provide a service, to reach out and touch someone in only away a voice can. How nostalgic when you had to pay to interrupt and the person you called didn’t check the caller ID before answering. The phone rang and people ran to answer it, but today, we first look at the caller ID and then decide if the person calling is worthy of our time. Great intuition. Darkstarr.

  • Love the post. It teaches great lessons in humility, creativity, and living a better life in general. Thanks, Jeff. 🙂

  • I’m learning this habit on a continual basis. You are so right; it is in these unexpected interruptions of life that our character is tested and revealed. When we learn to respond graciously, instead of react selfishly, we grow and allow space for new opportunities.

  • Jeff, this is spot on. Everyone needs to grasp this concept, thanks so much for this valuable insight. I had an experience just yesterday that embodies every aspect of what you wrote here. Great post.

  • noaefame

    Jeff, I just wrote a poem about my life now. I am just on the verge of exhaustion. Trying too many things, looking at so many advices.Looking for help from all the wrong places .Wanting someone to talk to . You so much speak a voice that is so clear and real to me. Thank you.

  • Steve Cooper

    Good thinking, Jeff. As a coach, we work in that gap between where we think we are and reality. You pull us toward better reality and that’s good. But, you sneaked us beyond simple interruptibility and right into empathetic care and concern. Did you mean to? That’s also a good thing. Thanks for the interruptin in my InBox.

  • This is one of your best articles, Jeff. In an age of over-inflated egos this message is not popular but it is necessary. A breath of fresh air to those who would follow in the way of Jesus.

  • I try to be interruptible (seriously, is that a word) with my team – I’d rather make time for them than to have them struggle without my help. I think I’m doing something wrong if my team isn’t comfortable breaking into my work when needed. I’m definitely not a big deal – love the perspective, Jeff.

  • Ckeyi

    Hi I really enjoyed this post! It helps me to remember about how God is also interruptible n available for us 24/7! I need to do that for others too… 🙂

  • Wendy Claussen

    I’ve got work to do!! Thank you, Jeff!

  • Neale Orinick

    I am a single mom to three boys who are on summer break right now. I get interrupted a lot since I work from home, but I really don’t mind. it keeps me focused on my most important job; being a mom. It makes re-writes and editing a slow process, but also forces me to manage my time more wisely.

  • venkyiyer58

    Thank you. You have just resolved an internal conflict that has been bugging me for months now. I often allow people (mostly family members) to prevail on me to do something no one can do, and every time I accede, I feel guilty about it. No more.

  • Just yesterday in my public speaking class we talked about immediacy. Interpersonal immediacy is basically the idea that you carry yourself in a way that shows that you’re willing to be interrupted. You are kind, friendly, and approachable. Like you, I have not mastered this and need to work on my immediacy, but I agree that it’s an important characteristic to own.

  • I have definitely struggled with this, particularly this past year. I began homeschooling my 6th grader because the social aspects of public school were crushing his self-esteem and making it impossible for him to learn. I had just recently decided months before that I would take what was a beloved hobby–writing–and try to make a career of it. I went from having four full mornings a week to write to squeezing in 10 minutes here and there.

    If I gave my son an independent project and then sat down to hopefully write for longer than a few minutes, he would inevitably interrupt me with a question or comment. I remained patient on the outside, but grew frustrated on the inside. However, I guess we all have to learn, as you said, that life is mostly about people. My son has quickly become a confident, happy, engaging young man–because I interrupted my dream and focused on his well-being. And what I feel when I look at him now in such stark contrast to who he was before I made that decision…well, it’s worth every single interruption.

  • The biggest challenge lies when I need to focus and then I’m interrupted. But I keep in my mind my daughter and son don’t care how many people read what I write or how many zeros are in the checking account. That quickly helps me adjust my attitude.

  • Jeff, I love the perspective you bring here.

    It reminds me of the research in “Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior (link at the end).

    Summed up: “a person in a hurry is less likely to help people, even if he is going to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan.”


  • Elisa Choi

    Hi, Jeff. This is a unique post. I have never thought of such a thing. The funny thing though is that I didn’t realize I have been doing that all along. The things you’ve mentioned:
    You don’t constantly look at your watch or get distracted when meeting someone.
    You can easily sustain eye contact with another human being.
    You make the conversation about them, not you (even if they’re seeking your advice or counsel).
    To me it’s a natural for me to always focus on others especially if I am talking to them. I find it rude that people would look at watches or their celphones when talking. Looking at the other person’s eye is respect to me. Lastly our conversations are always about the other person. Anyway I cannot believe I can relate so much in this post. Thanks!

  • Focus, awareness, and being mindful are awesome disciplines. I know this sounds crazy, but isn’t our connected life making us more interruptible by shortening our ability to focus?
    Thank you Jeff for the nudge to be present with people and to really hear them.

  • Kimberly Amici

    I go back and forth between being interruptable and not. I would like to get better at this, be open to people and not so frantically busy. I stay busy to feel important sometimes. My “rest” is realy just a distraction…but I am slowing down and being more intentional, especially when it comes to my children and having fun this summer.

    • I totally get it. I tend to waffle, as well.

  • A great reminder, Jeff!

  • I am interuptible to certain people. With others it is based on their level of need. If they are in deep trouble then of course Id help but if it is they just want to vent, then in the words of Paulie Walnuts from The Soprano’s “Hey, I got my own fu@king problems”

    Thanks Jeff

    Aaron Morton
    The Confidence Lounge

  • Vanessa Stewart

    Apparently I really need to hear this message this week. Last Sunday at church the sermon was about the character of Jesus. One of the characteristics that we discussed was the fact that Jesus was interruptable. That really struck a chord in me. And a couple of days later, I read this post. I think (ok..I know), I have work to do in this area. I need to be more interruptable. Thanks for a great post and reinforcing a concept that God is working on me about.

  • Laura Harris

    I am not always interruptible. Great lesson. I need to learn to listen better and be willing to be distracted from my plan.

    • Honored by your reply, Laura! Thanks.

  • Thank you Jeff. I needed this reminder and may need it again and again. I can admit my weakness of sometimes living for tasks rather than relationships. Like you, I am learning and growing and I choose to be a compassionate, caring and connected woman who welcomes interruption into my life.

    • Thanks, Tammy. You do this better than most, in my book.

  • Kaia Calhoun

    Hi Jeff, I just started reading Wrecked today. Thank you for following your passion and sharing your words and experiences. I enjoy your stories AND your writing style. It actually is just what I needed right now as I’m reassessing my passions and applying them to my photography business, writing, and work life over all. Anyway, Wrecked came recommended by David Molnar (he photographed my husband, from Citizen Way) and I’m so grateful I downloaded the audio book! Blessings on your writing escapades.

    PS. I am officially a “follower” and looking forward to reading more of you!


  • This is a great reminder on how to be better people. I am ALWAYS interruptable for my close friends and family – even when they try to let me get my work done. However, I tend to be less so for others. I think it comes down to balancing my own work with others needs. But, I think we can all be more giving of ourselves in our daily lives

  • Rob Horton

    Thanks for this reminder. I read this just today while sitting in my living room (so I’d still be accessible to my family) and catching up on mail while organizing a few project ideas. You see recently, I’d been considering sealing myself off from the rest of the house while I work. I had gotten to the point where my work was causing me stress, and I felt I had to “get away” in order to work but then the getting away would create both stress AND guilt for not be available to my family. I know there is a balance there which it often seems everyone but me has found. However this article reminded me of great truth. Humbleness and being the guy that has time for everyone. My project will get done but the cost can’t be my family’s perception of me or that of my integrity. Thanks!

  • Lisa Shaw


    I recently signed up for your posts. I really enjoyed this! Great reminder!


  • Kirbie Earley

    I struggle with this as well. I keep my office door closed because I sit near a lot of loud talkers, and yet I always tell people to knock – I’m always here. At home, I’m almost interruptable to a fault, as I generally drop everything if one of the grand-babies (or more likely their moms) needs something of me. On the other hand, I’m a great interrupter…something else I work on.
    I enjoy your posts. Thanks for sharing your learning.

  • Laura Harris

    Of all the posts you have ever written, this is my favorite. You know me well enough to understand – I am not really good at being “Interruptible.”

    • I get it. Me neither. Everything I write is usually based on my own struggles.