“Do you have a second?” If that question makes you cringe, it’s probably because you’re constantly interrupted by the people you manage.
It’s not their fault. They actually do need your input, your guidance, your decision, your two cents. And you do want to be available to them.
Closing your door isn’t the answer. When people see a closed door, they assume something private is going on inside. In most offices, anything private tends to be bad news. Closed doors make some people nervous. The rest of them will just knock and come on in anyway.
So how are you supposed to get anything done yourself? The trick is to put some limits on the time you’re open to interruptions. I know, that’s harder than it sounds. But it’s worth a try. Here are some possible solutions, each with their own pros and cons:
1. Schedule a weekly meeting with everyone on your team. I’m actually not much of a fan of this one, partly because I like to have as little of my day scheduled as possible. But also, most things they need you for can’t wait a week. By that time, the opportunity has passed or the decision has been made — without you.
2. Train your team to interrupt you only on the hour. If you need to be available for things as they come up through the day, let your people know that you’re available at the beginning of every hour. If someone needs five minutes, they can have it then. If they need 10, that’s fine too. But after that, you’re going to be focused on your own work until the top of the next hour.
3. Have them send you an email. An email is infinitely less interruptive than someone at your door knocking to the rhythm of ”shave and a haircut, two bits.” Sometimes the folks in Tribe’s studio will email me that some project is ready for me to see. When I get to a stopping point in what I’m doing, I’ll walk down there to see it. The danger here is that managers get in the habit of responding only by email, when so many issues are resolved more quickly and easily in person.
4. Make the rounds. (Otherwise known as MBWA: Management by walking around.) This one won’t eliminate interruptions, but it might cut down on a few. When you’re between meetings or need a break from what you’re doing, get up and walk around the office. You could even try responding to interruptions by saying you’ll come by and see them shortly.
5: Caution sign. This is my new favorite. I asked our office manager to order Tribe one of those plastic orange caution signs. It’s exactly like the one our security guy puts out on rainy days to warn tenants that the lobby floor is slippery. I think it says “Wet Floor” in both English and Spanish, with the universal graphic of a stick man falling. When anyone at Tribe is facing a particularly tight timeline or really needs uninterrupted time to think, the caution sign goes beside their desk our outside their door. It saves us from being snappy with each other, since it deflects the interruption before any human interaction is necessary.
Negative interactions are the unspoken downside of not managing those interruptions. If we’re constantly interrupted, even the most even-tempered among us will eventually snap and snarl.