How often do you catch yourself thinking, “I just don’t have enough time to work on my business!”?
Or how often do you say to yourself, “I could get a whole lot more work done if people would just stop interrupting me all day long!”?
Probably more times that you care to admit. I remember back in my old pastoral days I would frequently say to my wife, “I’d love this job if I just didn’t have to deal with people all the time!” My wife, of course, would have to remind me they were the reason I had a job.
That said, people and interruptions are a major problem that every business owner, entrepreneur and leader has to figure out how to overcome because every minute we spend interrupted means we’ve lost a minute we could have been engaged in doing something that could actually grow our business or organization.
In fact, this past Friday, during one of my coaching club days, we were working on personal development and productivity because the leader of any organization is both the primary driver and the primary bottleneck of that organization. The obvious conclusion from that truism is that the more you grow the leader, the faster you can grow the organization (in this case, a business).
When I asked them, “What do you think are your major time wasters?” Their number two response was (after email), “Distractions.”
So, if you’re like them and find yourself constantly distracted by people (internal or external), here are five tactics that you can use to significantly decrease the number of distractions you have to deal with every day so you can spend more time working on your business.
I. Get Out of the Office
This is by far my number one recommendation. Back in my old pastoral days, both staff and church members used to think they could just drop in on me anytime and ask for help. After wrestling with how to solve this, including placing a gatekeeper between me and them, I finally concluded that the best option was to take that option out of their hands by getting out of the office.
So, on most days, I’d get to the office early, set everything up for the day, including whatever I needed my admin to work on that day—and then I’d leave for the next three or four hours and work at Panera Bread. Or, on those days when I had to be in the office in the morning, I’d head out for a three-hour lunch. There was a great Chinese restaurant right around the corner. It would take ten minutes to eat lunch and I’d have two hours and fifty minutes of interruption-free time to work on my business.
There are a number of reasons why we were able to grow by 30.5% per year for over a decade but this was one of them. I physically removed myself from being interrupted by people so I could actually work on the strategic part of my job.
Note: another variation on this theme would be, if you can’t leave your building, to move your office location. In fact, I have a friend who moved his office to the other side of his company’s building so he would be interrupted less.
Note 2: This doesn’t mean you’re not available to your people. If you work a typical 8-12 hour day, being out of the office for 2-4 hours doesn’t mean you’re unavailable. It simply means that for 2-4 hours, you’re unavailable.
So, how can you create some safe space for you, away from interruptions, by carving out time away from your office (however you define “office” which could be a field or a construction site or a gym or a …)?
II. Train Your People To Not Interrupt You
Dysfunction always requires two parties. In this case, if your people are interrupting you all the time, you need to own that you’ve allowed that behavior to exist and to continue. Think about it, when have you trained your people to not interrupt you?
On the contrary, we often fuel the problem because we like being helpful. When someone on our team has a problem, they know that the fastest (and easiest) way to solve their problem is to come to us, lay out the problem and trust that we, like the Wizard of Oz, will proclaim a solution that will magically solve their problem.
This seems like a win-win. They get their problem solved quickly and we get a quick hit of endorphins because once again, we’ve proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are, in fact, the real Wizard of Oz.
Unfortunately, this cycle is killing our productivity and stifling our staff members’ problem-solving capabilities.
The solution then is to train your staff members to not interrupt you. You start this on day one, during their onboarding. You talk about it regularly. You train them in how to solve problems. You train them to never come to you with a problem apart from at least one solution. And, this is key, when they do try to interrupt you, you send them away politely with a simple phrase
“I’m sorry. I don’t have time to be interrupted right now.”
This is critical. Just as with parenting, you have to be vigilant and consistent with following this new policy. If you give in once, they’ll assume that you’ll give in again. Don’t. Train them to not interrupt and then don’t allow them to interrupt. You are in charge. You get to set the rules.
So, how and when can you train your people to not interrupt you?
Note: another great training technique is to encourage them to ask you when the two of you can meet. “I have two questions I need to get your input on and would like to know when would be a good time to meet to discuss them?”
III. Schedule “Got a Minute” Meeting Time Each Day
I still think that one of the best ideas from Chet Holmes’ classic, “The Ultimate Sales Machine,” was his “Got a Minute” pads and sign-ups. At the time, Chet was running several companies for Charlie Munger (Warren Buffet’s #2). All day long he was being interrupted by people asking, “Hey, Chet, got a minute.” And it was killing him. He knew he was in reactive mode and couldn’t achieve his objectives that way.
So his solution was to practice number two above. He trained his people not to interrupt him. But then he added a twist. He gave them pads of paper with the words, “With Chet” at the top. Personally, I’d create more generic notes with something like, “Got a Minute for ________” (so you can use this pad for anyone).
He then did two things. One was he asked them to hold all of their questions until the weekly meeting. And second, if their “Got a Minute” question couldn’t wait, he scheduled time each day for people to sign up for a slot to talk with him in 10-minute increments. Brilliant!
I love the sign up for a slot option. But even if you don’t have your people sign up, at a minimum, take back control and decide when they can interrupt you. For example, M/W/F 10 a.m. – noon and T/R 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. or M-F 11:00 a.m. to noon and 3:00-4:00 p.m.
So, when can your people schedule their “Got a Minute” meetings?
IV. Limit Their Distraction Time
As you probably know, Parkinson’s Law states that work fills the amount of time allocated to it. In other words, if you don’t set start and stop times, virtually every task takes longer to complete. This same principle applies to interruptions. If you don’t set a stop time, the interruption will take longer and you’ll lose hours every day.
So, instead of allowing wide open interruption times, why not limit them by setting a stop time right up front? Why not say something like this, in response to the Got a Minute interruption,
“I’m swamped right now. I only have five minutes max for this. Can we solve your question in under five minutes or less?”
If not, schedule a time to talk during an open block. Note: did you notice how Chet did this with setting 10 minute Got a Minute meetings?
Once again, as the owner/leader of your business, you need to/get to set the rules. Why allow yourself to be constantly interrupted for wide open amounts of time? Why not limit them.
So, how can you begin to limit the amount of time your people can interrupt you for?
V. Refuse to Be Complicit
I mentioned this idea above (in tactic #2 about training) but it’s so important I thought I’d end with it because I don’t want you to miss the principle within the principle.
In order for you to be interrupted, you have to allow others to interrupt you. The easiest image I can think of is a parent and a child. I’m sure you’ve observed that there are some parents you meet whose kids interrupt them all the time and others whose kids don’t (and when they try, the parent usually says something like, “Johnny, I’m talking with Mr. Johnson. You know better than to interrupt me when I’m talking with someone else”).
In order for you to be interrupted, you have to allow that behavior to exist, which makes you complicit.
- Maybe you haven’t trained your people correctly
- Maybe you get too much juice from being Oz
- Maybe you’re afraid of conflict
- Maybe you want to be liked
- Maybe you fear your own irrelevance
- Maybe you’ve never seen a leader put their foot down and not allow interruptions
- Maybe you have a belief that “Good leaders are always available”
- Maybe you’ve preached for the year that you “always have an open door” Etc.
Whatever the reason, you’ve been complicit … up until now. Today is the day you take back control and say, “I’m no longer going to be complicit in allowing people to interrupt me!”
So, are you ready to take back control and no longer be complicit in allowing others to interrupt you whenever they see fit?
I hope so. Why? Because the only way you’re ever going to build a truly great and scalable company is if you have the time to work on those projects and strategies that can deliver the kind of growth you desire. In order to get there, you need to create systems that will minimize the number and length of interruptions that enter your day and life. The following are a great start.
- Get out of the office
- Train your people to not interrupt you
- Create “Got a Minute” meeting space each day
- Limit their distraction time
- Refuse to be complicit
If you regularly engage in these five tactics—and have the discipline to stick with them—you’ll radically reduce the number and length of interruptions you experience everyday, which will, in turn, allow you to invest more and more of your time in building a more scalable version of your business.
To your accelerated success!