There are fun interruptions. Like when my wife or my children stop by the office to say hello.

There are messy interruptions. Like when someone you care about is in crisis and needs help.

There are annoying interruptions. Like when someone drops a gallon of milk on the floor.

There are life-altering interruptions. Like a chronic diagnosis. Or a death.

A wise person told me to pay careful attention to the interruptions, because much (most?) of the real ministry happens in these important moments. I agree.

But in order to have the presence and poise to pay careful attention to these “good” interruptions, we also have to have the discipline to shut out the bad interruptions.

How do you tell the difference? What should take priority? Here are some general guidelines:

  1. Is the interruption human or nonhuman? A flesh-and-blood person in front of you should take precedence over digital notifications of news, scores, and social media. (Can you turn off the notifications on your apps so that you’re in charge of when you see the information?)
  2. What is the interruption interrupting? In person meetings take precedence over phone calls and text messages.
  3. How old is the person urgently seeking your attention? Children should often take precedence over grownups. Elders take precedence over peers.
  4. How urgent is it really? Almost nothing is as urgent as it feels. We jump to check chimes like they are fire alarms. All of us are smarter than Pavlov’s dog–yet just as conditioned to respond to the people making money off of our attention.
  5. Responsibilities take precedence over concerns.