As a business mentor, time management is a top ranking issue for those I serve. One of the top challenges is allowing interruptions. Here is an all too common scenario. You have planned your day. You are feeling good, inspired, and ready to attack that project that has been bothering you for months. You clear your desk. You assemble the information, and you are off and running!! And then it happens.
Mary has a problem, and she appears at your door. “Have you got a minute?” You, being the great manager that you are, pride yourself in always being available to your people. You never shut them out. They know that they are always your first priority, so in that spirit, you reply “Sure, Mary. What’s on your mind?” And with that invitation, you are in an unplanned 90 minute conversation addressing Mary’s problem. And then the phone rings. And then one of your best customers drops in. And then your spouse needs to talk to you right now! And day is off and running, and the project goes undone again, and you are worn out. And that is just the way it is.
There is nothing morally wrong with working like this. You believe that you have to be available 24/7 to anyone at anytime for any reason. You feel that it is “wrong” to tell others that you are unavailable when you are alone. After all, what right do you have to “close your door” to someone in need? What would people think if they were told that you are “unavailable?” You place a high value on being there for those you care for whenever they need you. You say it like this: “The great thing about me is that people know I am there for them.” If this is working for you, and gets you the results that you want, stop reading now.
However, if you find that you are overwhelmed quite often, not getting things done, tired, stressed, and wondering where the day went, then I want to offer a different mindset and practice. There is a way to show deep care and service to others, and also have focused, uninterrupted time to work on yourself and your priorities. Actually, closing your door is one of the kindest things you can do for others. Investing portions of your day in isolation is the best way to serve others.
For you to provide the best service, you must be at your best. For that to happen, you must prepare. Preparation doesn’t happen when you are busy. Multitasking is an illusion. You really cannot do more than one thing at the same time. Each and every encounter of the day deserves your best and full attention, and it is up to you to create that dynamic by placing boundaries and limits in your schedule and life. You must learn to practice creatively and joyfully saying no to other people. This takes humility – a realization that you are not omnipotent and limitless and indispensible. You do need rest, sleep, and recharge. To be at your best, maintenance is required!!
The first step on this new path is to consider that there is a better way to serve. It involves setting boundaries and effectively communicating those limitations in positive and supportive manner. I am assuming at this point you recognize that having regular blocks of time by yourself to focus on you, your priorities and your projects, is an essential practice to becoming the best leader you can be.
So how do you make the transition? It begins with good communication. Your family, and your customers, and your employees, and all the people in your business and life are accustomed to you immediately answering your phone, shooting back a text within minutes, and welcoming them into your office whenever they stop by. How you communicate this change to all of them is important.
You could just stop answering your phone, replying to texts, and shutting your door. The result would be a number of offended people, the loss of customers, team members quitting, and maybe even a need for marriage counseling!!!
Realize that you have trained everyone in your world to expect that you are always available. That is the current “rule of the game”. If you don’t create new agreements, you will be viewed as not caring and just being a jerk!! Also realize that whenever you begin a new relationships, such as a new hire or new customer, they bring their “rule of the game” and expectation of your availability and response time based on their belief and history. Their rule may be that if you care about them, you will always take their call, respond to their communications within minutes, and drop everything if they need you. As an effective leader, it is your responsibility to establish new rules and create win:win agreements with those you serve.
I call this positioning. You are going to re-position the people that you serve by creating new agreements. The process is simple, but critical. I strongly recommend that you meet personally with each person that will be affected by the change. For some of them, this will be a major shift, and you need to lead them through the transition. One thing you could do is ask them to read this article before meeting with you, and then begin the meeting by asking them what they thought about the article. Find out their thoughts about setting boundaries and limited accessibility. You need to introduce the concept and let them know that you are going to be managing your schedule and activities differently. The purpose of the meeting is to get their feedback and input so you can both make this change positive and effective. The message is that you want to serve them better, and this change is needed to improve and enhance the service and relationship.
You want to seek to first listen and understand what each person has come to expect from you, and also how they feel about you limiting your availability and extending your response time to them. Seek to really get their true feelings and thoughts and concerns about this change, and how they see it affecting them. Then create a new agreement with them, taking that understanding into consideration. For example, tell them that your plan is to set aside a couple of hours every afternoon for yourself, and that you will be closing your door and not responding to calls and messages during that time except for an emergency. Have them provide situations that they would feel qualify as emergencies. This would be a great opportunity to also establish a regular specific time to meet one on one with them. That will demonstrate that you are not putting them off, but that you are actually improving your communication and focus with them.
Essentially what you are doing is rising up and taking ownership of your schedule and your day. Once you have the conversations and have created the agreements, it is a simple (but not always easy) matter of sticking with it and establishing the habit. This new habit will serve you and your team well.
One last question: What would happen if all your key leaders and managers adopted this practice? Think about it, and then go DO IT!