Four strategies for reducing interruptions
If you’re like most leaders, you spend your days rushing around dealing with emergencies, challenges, meetings and emails. Your days seem like a blur, and you struggle to articulate what you accomplished in your 10-plus hours at the office. But this doesn’t have to be the norm.
One of the biggest challenges leaders face at work are interruptions. Phone calls and texts, emails pinging all day, employees dropping in for “a quick question”—these interruptions take a serious toll on your productivity. Experts say the typical office worker wastes 40 to 60 percent of their day on interruptions.
There are a plethora of distractions that impede getting real work done. As an entrepreneur, my office is in my house. There are no people there during the work day, but there are dishes in the sink, toys on the floor and papers to be filed. Even looking at these distractions hinders my focus and concentration. When I have a big project or an article to write (like this one) that requires me to focus, I often go to a coffee shop so I can get in the zone and not get distracted by non-urgent things. Surprisingly, the buzz of the coffee shop also helps my concentration. I get more done in two hours there than I do all day in my office.
I believe your office is one of the worst places to work, because everyone knows where to find you!
Below are four strategies for reducing interruptions so you can get real work done.
Close your door.
In the age of the “open door policy,” closing your door may seem bold. But let me assure you, you cannot be productive with your door open all day. Most organizations have taken the open-door policy to the extreme, thinking it sends the message to employees that you are a great leader. Employees want leaders who are approachable and supportive, but they don’t need you to be available every second of the day. Frankly, employees might welcome a closed door once in a while, so they can focus on their work without their leader watching every move. I’m not suggesting you close your door all day, every day. But blocking out two hours a day to close your door and focus will increase your productivity dramatically.
One of my clients created signs for their team members that say “Brilliance at Work.” When an employee needs some quiet time to focus, they put this sign on their door or cubicle to signal that they are in the zone, so don’t interrupt.
Silence your electronics.
It’s not a novel idea (or is it?), yet so few leaders practice it. Part of what drains productivity is the time it takes to recover after an interruption. Even that email notification that you glance at for a few seconds breaks your concentration. Studies show it can take up to 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. It's a wonder leaders get anything done at the office. Multi-tasking has been proven to not be effective and actually hurts productivity, so the best way to get real work done is to sequester yourself and turn off your electronic devices. Even if you do this just once a day for an hour, you will see a dramatic increase in your productivity.
Start your meetings by articulating the purpose.
How many meetings do you attend each day that are a waste of time? It could be because you are trying to do too many things in one meeting. A best practice is to identify the purpose of that specific meeting, and announce it at the start. This keeps the meeting focused and on track. An example might be: “The goal of this meeting is to review the three proposals we received and decide which company will become our new partner.” Just starting the meeting and going off on several tangents wastes time.
You can also cut out useless follow-up meetings by making the original meeting productive in the first place. Fewer meetings equals more time for real work!
Reduce upward delegation.
Many interruptions leaders face are from employees. While at times you need to provide guidance and support to your staff members, some are avoidable. Some employees “upward delegate” to their leaders—they look to their manager to make their decisions. A way to reduce these interruptions is to coach your employees through the challenge. If an employee approaches you to ask how to handle a situation or project, ask her one of these questions:
- What do you think?
- What are your options?
- What might your next step be?
This puts the ownership back on the employee and requires her to think about how to approach the situation herself. If you continue to coach employees around tasks they can handle themselves, you'll start to see a reduction in the interruptions as they learn to think for themselves.
Effective leadership requires that you get results. To get results, you need time to focus on your work, not just office “emergencies.” To be a successful leader, you have to take charge of your productivity, because no one else will.
I'd love to hear from you. What are some ways you reduce interruptions so you can get real work done?
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of Envision Excellence, LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or firstname.lastname@example.org.