Lately I’ve been hearing from lots of business owners about the challenges they have dealing with all of the interruptions in their already busy day. They have a plan going into the day, and 10 minutes later their whole day has been thrown off plan by an unexpected email or phone call. The good news is that these interruptions are usually related to having customers/clients/patients and it means your business still has plenty to do. The bad news is that they can make it harder to deliver great service if they get out of hand.
So the big challenge is coming up with a strategy of dealing with interruptions that allows you to serve both your clients and your business well, to work both IN as well as ON your business. Some people think of this as a “time management” problem, and I want you to take that phrase out of your vocabulary, and replace it with “self management”. I also want you to accept the fact that we live in an almost completely interrupt-driven world, with technology providing us with great productivity gains and at the same time becoming so intrusive to create productivity losses when we don’t have the tools to cope. Here are 3 of my favorite tools and one recommendation for coping with the numerous interruptions in our businesses and lives.
The first and most powerful tool is all in your head – it is Acceptance. Until you have built your business and your team to the point where they run the business without you (and then they get the interruptions and need to read this), you will need to accept the FACT that there will always be interruptions, and simply plan for them. That leads me to the second tool – Planning.
While interruptions can come at any time, there are probably consistent days and times of day when they come more often. Plan activities for those times that can easily be interrupted without hurting productivity.
If your Monday mornings are always disrupted by unexpected emergencies, then stop planning productive work for Monday mornings. Being surprised Monday after Monday is simply not paying attention if that is when you always get interrupted the most. The first two hours of my Monday mornings are simply planning for the week. I don’t need two hours to do this, but I also know that Monday mornings is when I get the most emails that require my attention before my clients get their weeks started. While interruptions can come at any time, there are probably consistent days and times of day when they come more often.
Planning also means scheduling your days more wisely than you currently do. Many business owners I know book themselves solid from 8-5, often not even allowing time for lunch. All we know for sure about scheduling that way is that it doesn’t work. Going back to the first tool – Acceptance – we know that there will be interruptions, so we have to schedule open slots in both the morning and afternoon to accommodate reality.
The third tool for coping with interruptions is Prioritization. There will always be more to do than you will have time for, so make sure you prioritize well and get the right things done. Sometimes this will even mean shutting your door or turning off your phone/email for a period of time. Teach your team how to interrupt you based on the priority of the matter. Don’t let them interrupt you with things that they should know how to do. Use simple statements like “How did we handle that last time?” or “What did we agree to the last time that came up?” to both shorten the interruptions AND teach them that they already know the answers and do not need to interrupt you for that topic ever again. Teach your clients the same – let them know how to reach you for routine matters vs. for emergencies, and don’t reply instantly to matters that don’t require an instant response, that sends the wrong message.
Now that you have my top three tools, here is my top recommendation, which will seem hard to implement at first, but I guarantee it will change your business and your life. Treat your business as your #1 Customer. That’s right, your business (and your team) are your #1 customer.
If you are still time-challenged after trying these, let’s schedule a 30 minute call to talk about how to implement strategies that will work for you.
Author: Mark McNulty, Business Coach in Louisville, KY