From the Ask Tom mailbag –
A bit frustrated. My role dictates longer time span strategic projects, but I continue to get pulled into tactical issues on smaller pieces of that project, or tactical issue on other people’s projects. I find myself often saying “what does our process say the next step should be?” or pointing back to our documentation to find the facts. I have to stop, interrupting focus on my own project segments. How does one balance these interruptions without coming across as “that’s not my job” to address tactical daily activities?
Two things necessary. First, you have an interruption problem. Second, as a manager, you have a coaching problem.
1. Interruption problems. Do you remember when you were a student in school and had to take that final test on Friday morning? So, late Thursday night, you settled down to study for the test? You know, right after Thursday Night Football? Because you procrastinated to the last minute, you had to make sure you got in some quality cram time. And you did some things that you can adapt to today’s situation.
- You asked your roommates to take the keg of beer down to the other end of the dorm so you would not be tempted.
- You told your other roommate to take a hike.
- You took your phone off the hook (remember when phones had hooks).
- You hung a shoe on your doorknob, a signal to all that you were busy and not to be disturbed (usually a signal for other activities beside studying, but a signal nonetheless).
- You went to the library because no one would ever think to find you there.
These same strategies can be adapted to make sure you capture large (enough) blocks of uninterrupted time.
- Put a sign on your door that you are in a meeting, not to be disturbed.
- Communicate with your team that they need to cover all phone calls and visitors for the next three hours.
- Relocate, find a spot where no one will find you (temporary, of course).
You might think that might communicate your inaccessibility (it does), but remember that an open door policy has nothing to do with the door.
2. Which brings me to your second problem, coaching. In a managerial role, it comes with the territory, get over it. And, yes, you can manage it. Set aside specific blocks of time for “office hours,” and specific appointments for 1-1s for each of your team members. This dedicated time can be controlled by you to prevent interruptions when you are working on your projects.
It may seem painful to help a team member walk through documentation, but it won’t take long before the team member knows how to walk through the documentation without you. This is not a “not my job” attitude, this is mandatory for all managers to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team member. And you don’t bring that value by providing all the answers. You bring that value by asking effective questions.
Now, close your door and get back to work.