How to Limit Distraction and Feel in Control of Your Day
Everyone has priorities. For ineffective managers, it’s the next email, text, phone call, or person who walks through the door.
Meaningful work requires a closed door.
The person who always responds immediately to your email or text is distracted and inefficient.
Control your day by making appointments with things that matter.
Constantly bouncing from one thing to the next might feel important, but it’s also inefficient and ineffective.
Be proactive, not reactive, with your calendar. Schedule:
- Daily walkabouts.
- Performance conversations.
- ‘Work on the business’ conversations that end with action items.
- Think, breathe, and reflect time.
Schedule targeted walkabouts:
Don’t wait for people to come to you. Go to them.
12 targeted walkabouts:
- What matters today? (Priorities)
- Thank you for your contribution to … . (Gratitude)
- You’re really great at … . Keep it up. (Affirmation)
- What’s happening with our priority project? (Clarity/accountability) Note: If they don’t know the priority, have a ‘setting priority walkabout’.
- What are you working on? (Connect/respect/accountability)
- How could I be better at … ?” (Improvement) Note: Be specific sometimes and open ended others.)
- The next thing coming down the tracks is … . (In the loop)
- If you were the boss, what would you do in this situation? (Learning/humility)
- Which of your teammates are top performers? (Team/respect)
- What’s working for you? (Positivity)
- What do you enjoy about your work? (Energy)
- What should we stop doing? (Efficiency)
- The first response to feedback and suggestions is always the same. Thank you.
- Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.
- Separate affirmation walkabouts from accountability walkabouts.
- What’s the next step, if you move this idea forward?
- Who needs to know about this suggestion?
How might leaders and managers take control of their calendar?
What type of walkabouts might be useful for your organization?
As a Communications and Public Affairs officer, I have to say that I couldn’t disagree more with the opening line of this article. A critical part of my responsibility is to quickly respond to emails, calls, texts, and most importantly – anyone who walks in our door.
Thanks Todd. I thought there would be push back on this one. Perhaps there’s space for being responsive and closing the door. Research is showing that meaningful work takes blocks of time where we aren’t distracted.
I’ll add that a fire fighter, for example, can’t close the door on an alarm. 🙂
I’m thankful you left your comment.
I read this and thought the same. I also have a job where I need to be highly responsive. I have come to accepted it is my reality. Most days it’s very difficult to get to bathroom let alone walkabouts. Walkabouts have also morphed to virtual walkabouts. Perhaps you could address connecting these same principles in a virtual work environment where your team or other key colleagues are in several different locations and time zones.
Thanks Lucille. I feel the pressure. You remind me of a strategy I’m employed when I had deep work to do. Get out of the office. It’s interesting that sometimes we have to leave work to get work done.
I wonder, if in some situations, a disempowered workforce is a contributing factor to the challenge of constant interruption, questions, and permission-giving.
Regarding virtual walkabouts. It seems like you’ve answered your own question. Perhaps a weekly 15 minute call that focuses on forward-facing items, career goals, gratitude, etc…
I’m glad you contributed to this conversation.
Great direction on the 12 topics for walkabouts.
Thanks Gary. I wonder what other topics might come to mind?
We need fire fighters and thoughtful, deep work that is not limited or diminished by distractions. The key may be in having a clear understanding of the difference between what requires an immediate response and making time to do our best work.
Thanks Kathryn. That seems reasonable.
I agree, Kathryn. I am an Ob/Gyn who no longer practices clinically. This required both aspects: instant response (deliver a baby) and thoughtful work (planning and preparation for urgent/disaster situations, planning for a patient’s surgical procedure or creating a treatment plan). In my new role, Physician Informaticist, I deal with a daily barrage of emails, people walking through the door or stopping me in the hall with a technical problem, etc. Many of these are distractions. At times, our IT system fails in some way, calling for immediate action. Dan’s advice is not really dependent upon the type of work you do…all work has a common duality: planning and doing. Both are important but one (planning) tends to fall off of everyone’s radar.
I’ve also found that I am more effective in my dealings and in my day and what I control if I respond quickly, clearly and promptly. If I know the answer, know what I want accomplished I need to get it out and on to the ones that need those answers. I find that in this way I am able to control my day rather than let the 10s and 100s of challenges and opportunities build up and have them control me.
Thanks Roger. One thing that comes to mind, after reading your comment. First, I know what you mean. It feels good to check something off the list. I wonder if we might set aside the first 10 minutes of the afternoon hours to respond to emails, for example. In this way, we create block of time to do more than respond to urgencies. ??
Dear Dan. Thanks for this particular post. We today are digitally “chained” to our devices. And actually, that is the perfect description of them: de-VICE! As the CCO for a number of clients, what we do, say and think will frame our day and our responses to ‘incoming’ fire. By establishing protocols and funnels (as you suggested), we can minimize the collateral damage that is created. You definitely have nailed it for me, by providing a great checklist to work from. You are a great voice in the desert Dan.
Thanks Anthony. I believe the expectation from leaders that everyone jumps when they text or email causes inefficiency and adds unnecessary stress. Couldn’t we just say that we respond at the top and bottom of the hour to emails/text, etc?
I should probably try to add some DAY into my schedule of distractions. Working home and alone and being interested in a zillion different things, I am ALWAYS spread really thin, and I hate to let an email go unanswered for an hour, even. Even for someone in India where it is 3 am when I finally read it.
Herding cats and frogs defines my day, but then I CAN pretty much focus on what I WANT to focus on. But I simply cannot imagine things otherwise and I do what I do with a great deal of flexibility and choice, while at the same time feeling guilty about not finishing three or four different books I have framed or completing the two new team building games or the three different Square Wheels toolkits, etc. Heck, I should paint my kitchen door today and maybe I should go do that now, ya think? (grin)
Thanks Dr. Scott. Your comment is perfect!! 🙂 Oh look, squirrel!!!
How would you feel if you were in the emergency room with a traumatic injury and your doctor kept pulling out his phone and responding to every text or e-mail that he received? He would probably feel important (but you wouldn’t), and you’d see him as uncaring, ineffective, and inefficient. Is that how you want your co-workers to see you?
When you say “Constantly bouncing from one thing to the next might feel important, but it’s also inefficient and ineffective,” you’ve said a mouthful. When you’re out there fighting fires (i.e. dealing with the last crisis), you feel like you’re really doing something, but, at the end of the day, what have you accomplished? The next crisis has probably already happened and you’re always behind, playing catch up.
By definition, anyone who has to “track compliance” frequently finds themselves behind. It’s like trying to find the cause of the crisis after everyone went home. One spends an inordinate amount of time bouncing around gathering information in hopes of finding out what went wrong and what corrective actions were taken. All is not lost. By taking time to evaluate the root causes of the crises, you can define the systemic causes. Once you know the systemic causes, then you can prioritize and proactively figure out how to reduce the number of individual crises; whether by the magnitude of the crises or by sheer number of incidents. For example, if everyone in a group is doing a task differently and it isn’t working or is causing more work, maybe the group needs a procedure, an updated procedure, or training on a procedure.
Turn off the e-mail notification and schedule times to check e-mails. Put your phone across the office so you don’t immediately check to see whose calling, you can always call them back.
Like everything else, it is about balance and doing what is needed to perform to the level of one’s own expectations and job / life requirements. We all know people who turn everything off and are unreachable and that sometimes makes sense, unless their child is in an accident and they need permission to operate.
We know people with open door policies who are continually interrupted and who do their work at home or on the commute to work. Stats are that a very high percentage of people who check email at breakfast and at dinner and even when on vacation. (http://performancemanagementcompanyblog.com/2012/08/01/working-while-working-and-while-on-vacation-too-2/)
No silver bullets here. Just the need for perspective and some useful tactics to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.
Balance. Work and Life, actually.
This is exactly how I reacted/responded to the first line. Balance. There are many times when fire fighting is necessary, but you also need to close the door from time to time and work on fire prevention… and you need to be intentional about it. That is the only way to make enough room in your schedule for efficient fire fighting when it is appropriate and necessary. That is what makes a manager most effective. That, and having the endurance to keep at it over time…
Another post providing much food for thought and reflection on work habits and leadership habits. I love the term “targeted walkabouts” since it is so easy to let walkabouts degenerate in to just aimless wandering if we get off-task. It’s a bitter pill to realize that we as leaders can become the distraction that keeps others from focusing on their work. But it was important to me to see and be seen in person where the work is being done.
On the topic of “open doors,” I worked for one sheriff (“CEO”) who insisted on a literal open door policy for command staff personnel. For me, that was when the “leave work to get work done” technique was discovered. I was lucky to have several sites in my area of responsibility where I could go on walkabout and find an unoccupied desk to use for an uninterrupted hour or so of focused work away from the office. It was surprising the number of people who would walk into my office unannounced for vague purposes, but would never bother to call my cell or try to locate me if I was away from my physical office. Of course, coming to work early or staying late created some additional uninterrupted work time when necessary. I also found that many emails and memos sent to me actually required no action on my part; often they were merely “CYA” messages creating a paper trail, or confirmation of decisions already made or actions already taken.
Really depends on your calling, doing what’s needs to done!
Prioritize is my way, and that works for me, I’m fortunate to get up from my desk and walk away for 5 or 10 minutes, and it does help! Then there are days it is up against the wall, non stop bombarding from all directions, your ready to just “scream” and I step back and realize it my journey!
You all have choices, do what works best for you!