Finding yourself staying late at the office or taking work home with you? Noticing that if you get to work before anyone else arrives, you get so much more done?
That culprit sabotaging your time management could be the way you handle—or don’t handle—those pesky interruptions!
Now if you are a manager you probably place value on being “available” to your employees. You want them to feel that they can come to you with problems, that you’re not going to shut them out.
You espouse the “open door” policy. And that attitude is terrific! But you can remain “available” and still have some time to think, to do those activities that require concentration. And that means
closing your door.
No, you won’t stay barricaded behind a closed door all—or even most—of the day. But you’ll need to let your employees know that there are times when the door will be closed because you are needing to work on something with full concentration. The next step is to tell your employees what to do when your door is closed. Do you have an assistant with whom they can leave a message? Is there a place to leave a written message? If not, you can get one of those plastic holders doctors use outside their examining rooms for patient files and tape it beside your door.
Problem is, if people are used to interrupting you, they are likely to continue even when your door is closed. So you’ll have to educate them. “ Nancy , I’m trying something new to better manage my workload. I’ll be closing my door for brief periods when I’m needing to concentrate on something, so when that happens I’m asking you to please leave me a message (specify where, how) and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible. Will you be willing to support me on this?”
Why ask for her support?
Because you want her verbal agreement; people are more likely to follow through on an action if they’ve made a verbal commitment to do so. Also, Nancy is human. She’s likely to forget a couple of times and knock on or open your door without remembering. When that happens, all you need to do is give a quick reminder (“Sorry, remember our agreement?) and she’ll make a hasty exit.
What if your office doesn’t have a door? If you work in a cubicle, arrange it so that you will face a wall when you are working rather than looking at the open space. People are much more likely to
begin a conversation with you (and you with them) if you are seated where there is natural eye contact.
What about energy vampires—those people who always have to talk to you at length in the halls, at the water cooler, in the restroom? The ones who drop by your office too frequently and stay too long? The folks who take up your time out of neediness, insecurity or just because they love to socialize? It helps to put a time limit on your interaction with such a person. “Sue, I have just three minutes; how can I help?” But that’s only half the strategy—the other half is to follow through with what you’ve stated. This may mean setting an appointment to talk further. Or if the person is in your office, standing up and saying “Sorry, I really need to stop now.” By the way, you don’t have to give the other person a reason you need to stop. You might feel it’s okay to end a conversation if you have a meeting to go to or have to leave the office for an appointment, but it is just as okay (and necessary) to stop a conversation because you want to control your time.
People, of course, are not the only source of interruptions. What about that phone?While there are a few businesses in which it is absolutely essential that people answer their own phones at all times, most often such a policy is unnecessary. If you have an assistant,
teach him/her to screen your calls and when to interrupt you. If not, let your calls go to voice mail. You can check your messages after you’ve finished an activity so see if it is necessary to return the call immediately; otherwise, batch your return calls to a convenient time.
How about email? Don’t allow yourself to be interrupted by responding instantly to the “you have mail” signal from your computer. Again, batch your email reading into a few convenient times during the day. It’s a tool to serve you, not a taskmaster to enslave you.
The point is that making yourself as interruption-free as possible sets a boundary that protects you from being continually at someone else’s beck and call. The benefit: control over your time—not to mention your sanity!