Have you ever scheduled time to work on a project while in your office? You know, two or three hours in the morning to write or research something; the time you need to get your mind wrapped around something new. If you work in an office, have a phone, or use e-mail or instant messaging, this will sound all too familiar:
While you're sitting there working, someone walks up to you and asks, "Do you have a minute?"
Over many years of executive coaching and workplace performance seminars, we have shared this scenario with people. Everyone can relate. They ALL know that it always takes "more than a minute."
Interruptions at work are a major cause of people working late hours, not finishing things on time, and having to take work home to do late at night or on the weekends. The result is you may feel like work is never done, there is always something more to do, and (sometimes) whenever we see someone, or see their name in our e-mail inbox, we get worried about what is coming our way!
What are people REALLY asking for when they ask for "just a minute?" In seminars, participants tell me people are asking for advice, opinions, permission, ideas, information, and approval. When I ask what people really WANT when they ask you for a minute, people say attention, focus, friendship, camaraderie, and understanding.
That's why it takes more than a minute! Leadership means minimizing (no, we'll never eliminate) the number of times people interrupt you, and maximizing the time you DO spend with people. Here are some ideas you can put into action today:
1. Write each person's name on a 3X5 note card. If you work in an office with 8 people, start there. Then, each morning, flip through the cards and add something to talk about or share with them. I recommend you add a project to ask them about, a compliment to share, and a few words of praise for work well done.
Once per day, make a point to speak with them one-on-one, and let them see you review the card. Make a point to let them know you[re "bunching" the items to talk about with them.
The message you send is that you think it's important, once per day, to preempt any issues as well as celebrate good work.
2. Repeat this mantra, "No, I'm sorry, I can't talk right now, I'm in the middle of something I need to focus on. When can I come and talk with you later today?" It's going to take practice, especially for those of us whom people count on to always give them "just a minute."
Give yourself a month or so to practice this, and you'll soon be enjoying longer blocks of study, writing, thinking, and research time—without the barrage of interruptions. Management thinkers and business coaches have for years explained the importance of collecting larger chunks of time to focus on significant projects. These blocks of time rarely just "show up." We actually have to schedule and use them wisely.
3. Publicize "reverse office hours." Remember in college how professors had office hours? It was time each week you cold drop by for "just a minute" to ask questions, talk about the class, or spend a little extra time learning. Well, you may need to block certain hours each week where you can NOT be reached.
Start with only an hour or so at a time for just a few days each week. This will go a LONG way to giving you the time you need to focus on your MITs (most important things).
Starting next week, pick one hour, on just one day, to "not be disturbed." Ask your team (and your family!) for help with this. Let them know you'll be working on something for one hour, and you'd really appreciate it if they could hold off on the interruptions—just for an hour. Sit down, and in that hour do as much as you can to be productive.
Work without checking e-mail, without answering the phone, without getting up for "just a minute." At the end of the hour, look at what you’ve done. Also, at the end of the hour, let your colleagues and staff (and family!) know you're available if they need anything.
The number of interruptions you deal with each day must be minimized if you're going to be as effective as you want to be. Start today by experimenting with just one of these suggestions. For a link to an online video you can watch about Tip #1 (keeping agendas for people you speak with regularly), e-mail us through our Web site today. (See the link below.)
Sidebar: Polite Interruptions
The next time you're going to interrupt someone to ask them for a minute, think for a moment beforehand. Then, when you get their attention, ask for what you really need.
"Hi Bob, I'm wondering if I could ask for about 10 minutes of your focus as I describe this situation I’m facing. I think you have a perspective that I could use in making a decision about what to do. Do you have about 10 minutes right now?"
"Hello Susan, I have this project I'm working on, and I know you've done something like this before. I'm wondering if you have about 10 minutes to help ask me some questions that will clarify my roles and responsibilities and give me some ideas to move forward?"
Set yourself up for success by asking for what you really need!
Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA, and Jodi Womack, MA, founded their training firm to enhance organizational performance through maximizing time, energy, focus, and technology. For more Workplace Performance tips, visit www.JasonWomack.com.