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I bet you have had those days where you looked at the time and felt like you accomplished nothing that you wanted. And with office space disappearing and moving to open space designed for collaboration, quiet time is at a premium. Here are tips for managing your time that can keep your day on track and divert interruptions.

  1. Make sure you have regularly scheduled weekly meetings with your team. Many entrepreneurs believe that they spend enough time talking to their team members on a daily basis so it isn't necessary to have weekly meetings. This logic is all wrong. If you have scheduled meetings then you won't be interrupted as frequently.

  2. Create a list with your team of issues that require immediate attention, your emergency list. These issues could include: customer outages, internal system problems effecting productivity, banking problem etc.

  3. Introduce your team to your plan for managing interruptions. Let them know that you will be asking the questions in item 4 below and using the visual tools in item 5. The new process will take time for everyone to adjust to, but it shouldn't come as a surprise when a team-member asks for unscheduled time during your day.

  4. When someone does come to you for advice and counsel, ask the following questions:
    • Is this an issue on our emergency list?
    • Is this an issue that either you or I can control or influence? If the answer is no, then the discussion should end or be taken up when the right people are included. This question keeps everyone focused on resolving a problem not just in a state of worry or concern.
    • On a scale of 1-10, how important is this?
    • If they self rate at a six or less then ask: Can this wait for our next team meeting?
    • If they self rate at a 7 or greater then ask: What would it take to decrease the importance by two points? This is your opportunity to coach the team member if they don't know.
    • How much time do you need?

  5. Use visual aids to let those know if an interruption should only be for an emergency. Have two color coded signs for your workspace: one printed in RED with the words Working, Emergencies Only and the other printed GREEN with the words Visitors Welcome.

    For those interruptions that need your time, have a count down timer on your computer screen or PDA, set it to the requested time you have agreed to. This will let you and your team member know how much time remains. When you start keeping track of interruptions, over time people will be able to provide better estimates. It also provides an incentive to be more succinct in communications, something that many of us struggle with.

This process will feel awkward at first and it will take time before it becomes a consistent habit. Do a quick self assessment at the end of the day and think back on how many interruptions were managed effectively and how many weren't. Keep track of your percentage of success and you will soon see it increase and at the same time your productivity should rise as well.


Larry Hart

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